For several years, I suffered from plantar fasciitis in my left foot. A series of medical treatments and advice did nothing to ease my pain and sometimes even increased it. Nonetheless, I solved this problem, and my experience directly controverts much of the medical advice that I received. Then I developed plantar fasciitis in my right foot, and I successfully used the same approach. So I offer this testimonial in case others find it instructive.
In a separate post, I’ll cover what didn’t work. But here is what I have done to ‘cure’ my plantar fasciitis:
- I walk barefoot whenever possible, to strengthen my feet as they have evolved to operate. When my feet are cold, I walk around the house in socks.
- I ride a bike for exercise. Proper foot placement has made all the difference. I used to place the middle of my foot (where the arch would be, if I had one) on the pedal, with the ball of my foot extending over the front edge. Cycling like this definitely did not reduce my pain. Now I place the ball of my foot squarely in the middle of the pedal. This consistently reduces and often eliminates my pain, even after hilly rides longer than ten miles. I believe that this is because proper pedaling stretches the foot, mimicking the exercises shown to me by medical practitioners.
- I use shoes that allow me to walk in a manner as similar to walking barefoot as possible. My first choice is highly flexible sandals that have no heel – either Xero Shoes or huaraches from Mexico. Otherwise, I usually wear zero-drop/minimalist/barefoot shoes – currently the Ipari Hanas from Xero. Finding such footwear actually took my problem from ‘manageable’ to ‘solved.’ Wearing them, I could painlessly hike around a college campus carrying a heavy backpack, which I could not do while wearing, for example, trail-running shoes from Brooks. Wearing huaraches or minimalist shoes, I trudged through several South American cities for a month one summer – often carrying a very heavy backpack – without plantar fasciitis recurring.
- I devotedly performed the stretches that doctors and physical therapists had shown me, even on days when I felt no pain. I have since reduced my stretching without symptoms recurring.
- I carefully eased back into exercising. I started by walking briskly (sometimes barefoot). I would walk one minute longer each time that I exercised. Then I graduated to running by mixing in running one minute at a time, up to a half hour of running. I limited the time to avoid re-injuring myself, and I would not run two days in a row. Finally, I graduated to playing tennis, which I can now do for three hours at a time without hurting my foot. (My back and ego are another story.) I can play full matches on successive days.
- I used my $200, custom-fit orthotic inserts on rare occasions, just for safety’s sake. Such occasions included moving very heavy furniture and wearing dress shoes. However, I have eschewed their use in recent months without untoward effect.
Why it worked
The medical doctors told me that I should avoid any activity that would stress my feet. Two of them told me, to paraphrase: “You may just have to give up running for the rest of your life.” The orthotic that they had prescribed encased my foot into the ‘proper’ shape, relieving my foot of the need to adjust to my gait. It seemed to me that the doctors were telling me, in essence, to give up, to stay weak but protected. At the same time, they admitted that they didn’t really know why some treatments worked more often than others or in some patients instead of others. (I’ll detail my many unsuccessful treatments later.)
I’m not a medical doctor, but I am one of anthropology. And I just couldn’t believe that, for 200,000 years, Homo sapiens had been suffering chronically from plantar fasciitis because they lacked orthotics and expensive shoes. It seemed much more likely that the condition that had made this injury possible was weak feet and an unfortunate running motion, especially since I’m severely flatfooted and a little pigeon-toed. Moreover, I developed plantar fasciitis by running in shoes. (I probably worsened it by running through the pain.) I eventually decided to mimic the walking and running of our shoeless ancestors, since our feet are much more likely to have evolved to facilitate a shoeless stride than to have evolved in response to shoe -wearing – the latter being, in evolutionary terms, a recent innovation.
So, after years of following medical medical advice to the letter, I decided to ‘go rogue.’ I simultaneously strengthened my feet and changed my gait by going shoeless. And it worked!