What Causes Plantar Fasciitis in Runners?

Are you a runner? Do your feet often hurt in the morning or the first few steps after getting up? As the most common cause of pain at the bottom of the heel, according to The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, plantar fasciitis injuries plague lots of people who are constantly on their feet—including runners. Plantar fasciitis can be very painful for athletes and non-athletes alike. Understanding what causes plantar fasciitis can help prevent it from occurring as well as speed up the recovery process if you are experiencing it. In this post, we discuss what causes plantar fasciitis and what steps you should take to treat it.


Table of Contents

 

What is Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis (PLAN-tur fas-e-I-tis) is one of the most common causes of heel pain. It involves inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes (plantar fascia). 

The plantar fascia attaches to the heel bone (calcaneus) and to the base of the toes. It helps support the arch of the foot and has an important role in normal foot mechanics during walking. See this video from Mark Manual  explaining plantar fasciitis.

Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis in Runners

Plantar fasciitis sufferers feel a sharp stab or deep ache in the heel or along the arch of the foot. The plantar fascia begins in the sulcus of the foot and runs along the plantar surface of the foot with three insertions in the plantar calcaneus: medially, centrally and laterally.

Another telltale sign of the condition: You feel pain as soon as you put your foot on the ground in the morning. The morning hobble you may experience comes from your foot trying to heal itself in a contracted position overnight. Taking that first step out of bed causes sudden strain on the bottom of your foot, resulting in pain in your heel or arch. The pain can recur after long spells of sitting, but it tends to fade during a run once the area is warmed up.

A third symptom those running with plantar fasciitis might experience is pain during push off while hitting your stride.

Diagnosing Plantar Fasciitis

Your doctor might suggest an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to make sure another problem, such as a stress fracture, is not causing you pain but most often this is not necessary.

Sometimes an X-ray shows a piece of bone sticking out (spur) from the heel bone. In the past, these bone spurs were often blamed for heel pain and removed surgically. But many people who have bone spurs on their heels have no heel pain.

Why is treating Plantar Fasciitis important?

Plantar fasciitis is one of the most persistent conditions that many athletes are faced with. Whether it's due to sudden trauma or the result of repetitive strain, once damaged, the plantar fascia can be incredibly resistant to healing. It is estimated that as much as 7% of the Canadian population will be diagnosed with plantar fasciitis.

Due to the resistant nature of diagnoses in plantar fasciitis, it is important to seek treatment early. Research shows the sooner treatment is started the sooner symptoms resolve. For athletes, plantar fasciitis can impair the ability to train properly, interfering with practice and competitions. 

Plantar fasciitis can be a stubborn sports injury and unfortunately, the time until resolution is often six to 18 months, which can lead to frustration for patients and their health providers, but with a dedicated treatment plan and team, recovery times can be shorter. Some studies have shown that rest is the treatment option worked best, but asking you to stay off your feet for several months may not be reasonable. Many sports medicine physicians have found that outlining a plan of “relative rest” that substitutes alternative forms of activity for activities that aggravate the symptoms will increase the chance of compliance and lead to a full recovery.

For Runners, plantar fasciitis-related heel pain tends to strike those who overtrain, neglect to stretch their calf muscles, or overdo hill workouts and speed intervals.

Wearing worn running shoes or constantly running on hard surfaces like asphalt or concrete can increase your risk of the condition. And to top it off, wearing high heels all day and then switching into flat running shoes may also increase your chances of heel pain from plantar fasciitis.

Finally, biomechanical issues may also cause plantar fasciitis. Those issues include high arches or flat feet or even excessive pronation.

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What treatment options are available for Plantar Fasciitis?  

There are a variety of treatment options and injury management available for plantar fasciitis pain. Stretching and strengthening exercises or using special devices may relieve symptoms. Typically, athletes do not have to completely refrain from training if treatment starts early enough in the disease process. In general, if there is no limping, a runner can continue to train while treatment occurs. They include:

  • Physiotherapy. A physiotherapist can show you a series of exercises to stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon and to strengthen lower leg muscles. A physiotherapist might also teach you to apply athletic taping to support the bottom of your foot.
  • Night splints. Your physiotherapist or doctor might recommend that you wear a splint that stretches your calf and the arch of your foot while you sleep. This holds the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon in a lengthened position overnight to promote stretching.
  • Your doctor might prescribe off-the-shelf or custom-fitted arch supports (orthotics) to help distribute pressure to your feet more evenly.
  • Shock Wave Therapy. In this procedure, sound waves are directed at the area of heel pain to stimulate healing. It's usually used for chronic plantar fasciitis that hasn't responded to more-conservative treatments.

Other treatment options include:

  • Icing and Medication. ...
  • Steroid Injections. ...
  • Gastrocnemius Recession (surgery)
  • Chiropractic care

Some studies show 83 percent of patients involved in stretching programs were successfully treated, and 29 percent of patients in the study cited stretching as the treatment that had helped the most compared with the use of orthotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), ice, steroid injection, heat, heel cups, night splints, walking, plantar strapping and shoe changes.

At least one other study backs up the benefits of using myofascial release (think: foam rolling or self-massage) to help address plantar fasciitis pain. Research also shows that stretching (particularly the plantar fascia itself, but also the calves) can help to alleviate the aches associated with the condition.

While the running shoes you choose are important—you don't want to wear a worn-out pair or one that doesn’t support your gait—what shoes you wear when you’re not clocking miles also matters. The key feature to look for in all shoes is arch support. And keep in mind that walking around barefoot or in flimsy shoes can delay recovery.

5 Reminders for plantar fasciitis care

Resolving plantar fasciitis can be overwhelming, here are 4 simple reminders to keep you focused on recovery.

  • Get treatment early
  • Specific stretches and exercises may be beneficial
  • Get assessed by a physiotherapist or other medical professional
  • Be aware of overtraining
  • Be patient

What next?

Plantar fasciitis can be very painful so be sure to seek professional help. This challenging and debilitating condition is treatable and with some time, effort, and support you can get back to the activities you love pain free. Check out our other blog posts on plantar facsiitis for more treatment strategies and supports. At Human Integrated Performance, we are here to help. Check out some of our other posts on plantar fasciitis. Learn more about our physiotherapy services here. Contact us to get relief from your plantar fasciitis.

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FAQ

Will plantar fasciitis ever go away?

Yes, with proper care and treatment, most cases of plantar fasciitis pain will resolve and pain will be eliminated

Is rest the best option for treating plantar fasciitis?

Complete rest for plantar fasciitis is not realistic for many people. Relative rest and modified activities are excellent options to treat plantar fasciitis.

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