If you’ve ever felt your feet cramp during or after a run, the cause might be an inflammation of your plantar fascia–a thick band of tissue that connects your toes to your heels. Plantar fasciitis in runners–a terrible nuisance at best.
You may have gotten it for running too much too suddenly or from running shoes that are a poor fit for you or simply because you have a certain foot structure. No matter how you got it, you got it.
In these cases, pain reduction is the name of the game. So let’s go over what this entails.
A quick caveat first: athletes–and everyone else–should always see a doctor if they experience persistent pain. Many running-related injuries start out the same way. But some are much more dangerous than others. You may think you have low-grade plantar fasciitis when in reality you have a stress fracture or a ruptured ligament. Medical professionals can rule out serious issues with X-rays and MRIs. When it comes to a runner’s feet, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Home Treatments for Plantar Fasciitis in Runners
The good news is that plantar fasciitis in runners can be easily treated at home once a doctor confirms the diagnosis. Treatments range from night splints to the RICE method to over-the-counter pain medication. Each treatment option has its specific requirements and athletes may have to try a few combinations before they find the best fit for their needs.
Night splints are exactly what they sound like: splints that are worn overnight. They are specially designed to keep a person’s plantar fascia and calf elongated overnight. This should help increase the flexibility of the muscles and tendons. The more flexible these areas are, the less likely they are to tighten up and cramp or become damaged
Plantar fasciitis in runners is a recurring issue. This means that athletes are more likely to experience relapses once they’ve injured their plantar fascia. However, relapses are less likely if the runner wears properly fitted shoes. Some doctors may recommend shoe inserts for just this reason. You can purchase inserts over-the-counter or you can have them custom-made by your podiatrist. It all depends on the individual runner.
Over-the-counter pain medications are the go-to relief option for many injured runners. The most effective are ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. And while it is nice to take the edge off an injured tendon, runners should be careful. Nobody should run on an injured tendon, even if the pain meds make the injury painless. Running on an already injured foot could cause the tendon to snap or rupture. It could also lead to more complicated issues like stress fractures.
The RICE Method
This suggestion is fairly straightforward. If runners rest their injured feet when they first feel pain, the injury is unlikely to get worse. Runners with plantar fasciitis should also incorporate gentle stretching during the rest periods. This will prevent the tendon from tensing up due to pain or disuse. And, as stated above, a flexible tendon is much less likely to develop issues in the future.
Plantar fasciitis often causes swelling. Athletes can apply ice or a cold pack to their foot for up to twenty minutes, three times a day. It is important that athletes never apply ice directly to their skin, however. This will cause skin damage and, potentially, do more harm than good. Always wrap ice in a plastic bag and a towel before applying.
When an injury swells it is usually due to blood and other fluids rushing to the injured area. It is the body’s way of trying to protect the injury from further harm. But it can also be painful. Compression socks (like ours) or wrap bandages can force some of the fluid to relocate. This will reduce the swelling and, potentially, the athlete’s pain level. It is important to pay attention to bodily cues, however. If the area hurts worse or if it looks discolored, remove the compression device and consult a doctor.
Elevation is yet another way to reduce swelling for Plantar Fasciitis in runners. Athletes can elevate their foot above their heart for twenty to thirty minutes a few times a day. This will direct blood flow away from the area and reduce swelling. You shouldn’t let the foot not become cold to the touch or discolored, though. If this happens, lower the foot and, again, consult a doctor.
Medical Interventions for Plantar Fasciitis in Runners
The vast majority of plantar fasciitis cases are resolved at home. There are, however, rare cases where medical professionals have to step in. The majority of these cases end at the physical therapist’s office. But there are a few extreme options for athletes whose plantar fasciitis pain is out of control.
Every sports injury is a little different. Physical therapists are trained to treat sports injuries while taking these differences into account. When it comes to plantar fasciitis, those differences can change where the therapist focuses their attention, which exercises they recommend, and how often the stretches are performed.
Some common stretches are calf stretches on the edge a staircase and picking up marbles or towels with your toes.
Any interventions beyond physical therapy often require pain levels that prevent athletes from using their injured foot. They also require several doctor visits and attempts at all other forms of treatment. Once other options are exhausted, however, a doctor may suggest a steroid injection. Athletes should not count on these injections as permanent solutions, however. Multiple injections will weaken the plantar fascia and may cause it to rupture.
Some doctors now prefer injections of platelet-rich plasma. It reduces an athlete’s pain without the risk of a rupture. The practice is still gaining traction, however, and is not always available.
Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy
Most people have probably never heard of extracorporeal shockwave therapy. This is due, in part, to the fact that it doesn’t always work. It is rarely prescribed and is usually reserved for chronic cases that will not heal. This method uses sound waves to promote healthy tissue growth in the tendon and muscles affected by plantar fasciitis. It can cause bruising, numbing, pain, swelling, or tingling and may not yield results.
This is another procedure for Plantar Fasciitis in runners that may not be well-known. But unlike shockwave therapy, it is consistently effective. It is a minimally invasive procedure that uses an 18 gauge needle to flush out damaged tissue around the tendon. Healthy tissue is entirely unaffected.
The most severe cases require surgery. Doctors will detach the plantar fascia from the heel bone to prevent further injury and damage. This is only used as a last resort, however. Detaching the plantar fascia will weaken the arch of the foot and may lead to other complications.
Small Lifestyle Changes
These final suggestions may not reduce the pain of plantar fasciitis. And they may not prevent the condition from developing again. But all of them can help keep a runner’s feet healthy.
Runners should wear supportive shoes and try to maintain healthy body weight. This will support their arches and reduce the stress on their feet. It is also a good idea to regularly stretch your arches and ice the plantar fascia for fifteen to twenty minutes after a run. And, finally, runners need to cross-train. This means hitting the pool, the weight room, or the stationary bicycle a few days a week. Cross-training reduces the consistent strain on our feet. It also strengthens other muscle groups to help support those affected by running.