Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of foot pain. According to Dr. John Gallucci, a dual licensed physical therapist with over 25 years of experience, most people with plantar fasciitis experience sharp stabbing pain in their arch, near the heel. Additionally, there can be localized swelling.
In the morning, people with plantar fasciitis often have stiffness and pain when taking their first few steps. Standing after sitting for long periods of time creates similar discomfort. Other issues can mimic plantar fasciitis, so it's crucial to talk with a medical professional for a proper diagnosis.
After you get assessed, here are some tips for you to use along with exercise dos, and dont's to ease your pain and reduce plantar fasciitis flare-ups.
Dr. Gallucci cautions that if you're experiencing tightness in your calf or Achilles tendon or pain at the heel of your foot, these can all be warning signs of plantar fasciitis. This is when you need to back off of your exercise routine. If the pain persists after rest, seek a medical opinion.
Being overweight makes plantar fasciitis symptoms and pain worse due to the added strain on your foot muscles and tendons. According to the CDC, achieving a 10% reduction in body weight can significantly improve your health. Plus, feeling more comfortable in your body will increase the amount of exercise you're able to do. In the wise words of Michael Scott, it's a win-win-win.
Wearing correctly fitting footwear is essential. You need shoes that support your activity, properly fit your feet, support your arch, and don't put a lot of pressure on your feet or toes. Avoid flat shoes like flip flops and high heels as daily footwear. If you participate in sports, purchase athletic shoes designed for that type of activity.
Sitting or standing too long makes your body ache in general. Taking a break to stretch and move keeps you from getting stiff. When possible, set timers or reminders to move, even if it's for a minute or two.
Plantar fasciitis pain isn't the same as soreness from a workout where micro-tears occur, and the body heals, forming muscle. This pain is your body's way of saying something is wrong. Pushing through can lead to tears, ruptures, and heel spurs.
"Anything that increases pain should be stopped. Trying to [push] through it can lead to tears. Slow down and modify workouts. When you've been symptom-free for 7-10 days, it's okay to gradually return to normalcy," says Dr. Gallucci.
Stretching before exercising is a must to warm up your ligaments and muscles. As your heart gets pumping, blood flow increases to muscles helping them operate more efficiently. Having your body prepared for movement reduces your risk of injury. If you've been prescribed arch supports or a brace, wear those as ordered by your doctor to protect your body.
Consider supportive equipment as well. Buoyancy belts and AquaJoggers are two of Dr. Gallucci's favorite tools that he recommends to patients. Being in the pool is low impact and very gentle on the soles of your feet. Plus, you can grab one for under $40, making it easy on your wallet.
Being told you can’t run is crushing if you're a runner. But if you push your luck and continue to run with plantar fasciitis, you're going to set yourself back even further by risking more severe injury. Take 7-10 days off from running, as Dr. Gallucci recommends. During this time, ice your feet, and once you're pain-free, gradually build back to your previous distance and speed.
Low-impact activities are your best friend if you have plantar fasciitis. They'll keep you active with less risk for further injury. Some activities to explore include swimming, cycling, yoga, and gym equipment that doesn't put a lot of pressure on your feet.
Completing repetitive movements is another risk factor for developing or flaring up plantar fasciitis. So, Dr. Gallucci recommended cross-training. As mentioned above, swap out high-impact exercises for low-impact activities.
Frozen foot rolling stretch
Seated foot stretch
Now you know the ins and outs of exercising with plantar fasciitis and reducing your risk of flare-ups. Remember to follow the instructions of your healthcare team. Once you’re ready to get back into the swing of things, take it slow.
A certified personal trainer with additional experience in injury prevention can help you create a gentle routine that can be adjusted as you recover. Share with them the exercise restrictions, if any, your doctor or physical therapist has provided.
Dr. John Gallucci Jr., MS, ATC, PT, DPT is the CEO of JAG-ONE Physical Therapy and sits as the Chair of the New Jersey Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Dr. Gallucci is also the Medical Coordinator for Major League Soccer (MLS). Visit his website https://www.jagonept.com/ and follow his company on Facebook @JAGONEPhysicalTherapy or Instagram @jag_onept.