How I fixed my plantar fasciitis

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.

What worked

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.

In short

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!

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8 responses to “How I fixed my plantar fasciitis

  1. Pingback: What didn’t cure my plantar fasciitis « IFS

  2. Pingback: Huaraches from Invisible Shoes: Review « IFS

  3. I never had plantar fasciitis pain while wearing shoes and beginning to run. I have been walking and runing mosty in Five Finger Vibrams and some barefoot running and walking for the last six months. Recently, I have developed the pain in the underside of my foot near my heal (plantar faciitis classic syndrome). Any suggestions? I want to continue to walk and run barefoot!

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  4. I’m certainly not qualified to make serious recommendations, and I don’t know how common my experience is. BUT, if it were me: 1) I wouldn’t run barefoot or in my sandals on paved surfaces. That seems like too much pounding, especially if you’re heavy. (I would walk in them, though.) For me, that’s the beauty of the Nike Frees or other “minimalist” running shoes: the right amount of cushioning for pavement. 2) I would temporarily stop doing what hurts until the pain subsides. Then I would slowly build back, as detailed in the main post. 3) I would warm up thoroughly before any run (not before walks), and I would stretch a few hours afterward, using the stretches that are easily found by searching online.

    Finally, for me walking with my foot exposed to the elements is intrinsically pleasurable. But the pain of plantar fasciitis overrides that pleasure. If I had to choose between the two (and happily I don’t), I’d wear the shoe without pain rather than go barefoot with it.

    Truly finally: I don’t wear the Five Fingers because: 1) like many people, my second toe is the longest, and the Vibrams squish it; 2) it covers my foot, killing the pleasure of exposing my foot, and 3) the ones I tried on had molding in the instep, which I found uncomfortable and unlike going barefoot.

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  5. My plantar fasciitis got worst because I ignored it (thinking that it could heal itself) and I continued running and playing tennis… The level of pain gradually increased, only then I decided to have it checked. I went to the nearest physical therapist in town and he booked me for PT sessions of almost 3 months. I didn’t bother to ask why my foot remained swollen and painful even after several PT visits… I was able to finish the therapy and waited for 3 months but the pain was still there, so I consulted a sport’s injury doctor, Dr Purita of Stem MD, he introduced me stem cell therapy and scheduled me for the treatment of 4 sessions after the initial evaluation. The therapy was great and I only waited 3 weeks to feel and see the beneficial effect. I am hoping that the effect will last and I also hope that you will be able to find the appropriate solution for your PF too.. I wish you well… Be Happy! 🙂

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  6. I am an 11 year old girl in a small town with a gymnastics center I train 16 hours a week and I am going to an exclusive Newfoundland games in 2014 I have recently found out that I also have plantar fasciitis and am frantically icing it stretching the tendon so I will eventually beat this annoying setback

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  7. Pingback: Xero Shoes’ Ipari Hana: Hands-on Review | IFS

  8. Pingback: Xero Shoes’ Amuri Venture: Hands-on Review | IFS

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