What didn’t cure my plantar fasciitis

As I recounted in a previous post, I apparently have cured my plantar fasciitis by going against medical advice and walking barefoot whenever possible. In this post, I would like to review the medically prescribed treatments that didn’t work. I tried quite a few approaches over several years, and I eschewed only the final, most draconian alternative. Some of these treatments border on quackery.

Tried and worked

Stretching has helped to alleviate my symptoms and perhaps has contributed to my eventual cure. However, by itself or in combination with any other medical advice or intervention, it was insufficient. Now I feel fine without stretching regularly.

Tried and didn’t work

  • I underwent physical therapy, consisting mostly of ultrasound, stretching, and massages. This actually increased my pain on a day-to-day basis. Usually, it became excruciating about an hour after I left the therapy center, even if I was sitting down.
  • I had a very expensive shockwave operation, under general anesthetic, as a next-to-last resort. I had developed doubts about the treatment’s efficacy after agreeing to it. The brochure explaining the procedure noted that something like 60 percent of patients experienced a successful recovery from plantar fasciitis, but in a footnote it said that a slightly lower percentage of patients recovered fully if they simply skipped the operation and followed the post-op instructions to rest for a month. That is, the main benefit of the shockwave therapy was to get patients to rest! Sadly, it didn’t work for me.
  • I received cortisone injections at least twice. In neither case did I receive any perceptible, lasting benefit. Amazingly, the doctor suggested a third attempt, just in case. Perhaps equally distressing, one time he applied local anesthetic to the wrong foot and started aiming the very long needle at it. When I reminded him that my left foot was the right foot, he decided to make up for lost time by not waiting for the local anesthetic to take effect. I remember very clearly having that  long needle pushed slowly into the bottom of my foot.
  • I was prescribed and fitted for expensive orthotic inserts for my shoes. These kept my feet from having to adjust to support my weight as I walked. That is, they weakened my feet while protecting them from injury. However, wearing them did not cure my condition. Several times, I became pain-free for a significant period. So I would begin to ease out of using the orthotic all the time. The pain recrudesced every time.
  • A orthopedic specialist practically prescribed particular athletic shoes for me to wear.  Apparently, they were designed to structure my footfall to make it as different from walking barefoot as possible – lots of cushioning and support. My problem began to diminish only when I chose to junk the shoes and walk barefoot. I now happily wear the least-coddling shoes possible. Also, doctors told me that dress shoes, with heels, would be the best kind of shoe and would not need an orthotic insert. My experience has been that wearing them results in the most pain.
  • Doctors cavalierly told me – a reasonably fit man then about 40 years old – that I might have to stop running for the rest of my life. Gullible, I took them at their word, but I believe that this inactivity only prolonged and exacerbated my problem by weakening my feet.

Not tried

Finally, the orthopedic surgeon who had helped to perform the shockwave operation told me that the only remaining treatment had the highest success rate. He would open up the bottom of my foot and indiscriminately cut half of my fasciae. He told me that he had no idea why this procedure worked, he could not even see which fasciae were damaged. I feared that this operation would permanently weaken my foot, reducing my capacity for high-intensity athletic endeavors. I suspect that much of his success rate with this operation was due to: 1) disgusted former patients refusing to continue contact with him, which is how I reacted to the shockwave operation, and 2) as with shockwave, the benefits of forced, post-operative rest.

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28 responses to “What didn’t cure my plantar fasciitis

  1. Three words: DDR.

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    • Ha! I had to Google “DDR plantar fasciitis” to find out what ‘DDR’ stands for. The search yielded plenty of hits. And it makes sense to me. Thanks.

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      • hehe. I play barefoot. I played 3-6 songs a night for 2-3 weeks, and voila. After ~18 months of suffering, I felt 75% better. I still feel it constantly, but it’s not debilitating anymore. I can lay on my mattress on my back and not have it hurt. I can drive…

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      • Interesting — who’d a-thunk it?

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  2. Seriously? Good Lord. I’m all about the bare foot thing, but what is it with these quacks?

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    • Yeah – at least some of these treatments had to be wrong, but the same two (highly recommended) doctors are responsible for all of them. It seems as though they would try anything that someone claimed would work until something did work. Bring on the leeches!

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  3. When you started to walk barefoot, for how long time did you walking sessions last? At what surfaces? Did you walk despite of pain?

    I have had my PF during 2.5 years now and have tried all the non-working treatmets that you describe, and I am now thinking of trying barefoot walking. A couple of times I have walked barefoot in the forrest, and that has mostly been a sensational feeling. However, when walking barefoot indoors or on other hard surfaces I feel pain both while walking and afterwards.

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    • I started out walking barefoot indoors at home, all the time. My house had a mix of carpet and linoleum. I would have preferred to walk barefoot outdoors, too, but the ground in Tucson was too hot and rocky. I wore huaraches whenever the weather and the social situation made it practical. So I waited quite a while before going on training walks barefoot or wearing huaraches (I moved). Getting Nike Frees, to simulate walking barefoot at times when I couldn’t actually go barefoot, really increased the amount of time I could devote to strengthening my feet.

      By the way, if walking barefoot were painful to me, then I would try the Frees. Also, I should note that my weight has always been moderate (160-170 lbs.); heavier people might need to strengthen their feet more gradually or using different methods.

      Also, it may be that the term “plantar fasciitis” misleadingly refers to conditions that are different from each other. So I can believe that some people recover in different ways.

      I hope that this helps!

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  4. Thanks a lot for your reply!
    I have a pair of Frees. When I used them for longer walks I started to feel pain after a while. Therefore I returned to my shoes with orthotics. Recently I have realized that the muscles in my foot are more or less atrophied after more than two years with orthotics. I guess I need to build up my strength cautiously. When I walk barefoot indoors it starts hurting rather soon. However, it feels unexpedtedly good when I walk barefoot in the forrest, so I will continue with that.

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    • Maybe walking in the forest creates less stress on the foot because of the soft, uneven ground. In my recovery, after each setback I just started cautiously again, reminding myself to add only a little stress on the foot at a time and to give it time to recover between exercises.

      Good luck with it!

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  5. I also cured my PF with barefoot walking. I get it every once in a while if I wear shoes too much. The chiropractor recommended doing that coupled with deep tissue massage (followed by icing) directly on the fascia. That hurt SOOO bad! My husband had to press straight down with his thumb on the muscle and then move it around. AGONY. But afterwards I did feel much better! I also used arnica gel a few times a day and took it internally to help with the inflammation/pain while it was mending.

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  6. I have had PF off and on (more on than off unfortunately) for about 3 years. Lately it has hurt even when sitting during the day. I am a heavy person, but trying and clawing to lose weight and this constant injury doesn’t help. I am also diabetic where the docs always say, never ever go barefoot. However the other day I was fed up and haven’t had my shoes on since. I haven’t gone anywhere so it has just been here at home. But I have to say my foot is feeling light years better so far. I pray it heals all the way up so I can start walking again for weight loss. But I wonder, how have you done when you return to your running? Did you use traditional shoes for harder exercise or do you use the ones that simulate being barefoot?

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    • I hope the healing continues. Personally, I used only barefoot-simulating or -approximating shoes. Whenever I briefly used regular shoes, my pain returned (plus they felt mushy). I should reiterate that I’ve always been relatively slim, in case that makes a difference.

      Last year I developed plantar fasciitis in my other foot while wearing cheap, conventional shoes to play tennis. The barefoot approach is going well, but I’ve bought Brooks Cascadia 7 shoes for trail running, and they feel great, too.

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  7. Thank you much for replying. I am thrilled to see other people had good experiences with being barefoot helping, so it gives me some new hope. I think I am going to have too look into the barefoot simulating shoe thing, because obviously leaving my home barefoot won’t go too well for the most part.

    For the record, for me a lot of this started when I went to wearing crocs all the time. They were so light and squishy and my feet actually felt so protected. I got to the point any other shoe feels terribly painful except crocs or knockoffs of them.

    But yet, I have this irritating PF that doesn’t want to die either. So hopefully barefoot walking will get me fully better and from there….different shoes I think are gonna be a must. Thanks again.

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  8. I just got pf and I was wearing crocs too… I think they may have caused it. Too soft, every time they squish it puts pressure on pf over and over? I’m not sure I trust them anymore. Or maybe it was a different shoe? I sure wish I knew what caused this!!!!!

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  9. I was using crocs too. I think they were ok until it got really hot temps they got more squishy! Maybe it was that combined with the cipro for my sinus infection. Stretching helps. I’ve been trying more strengthening (tip toes anyone?) lately as well as barefoot. Hopefully I can figure it out. It’s been almost six months and it comes and goes. The Nike frees helped tons at first, but do I have to buy a new pair? I also bought the cushion, so maybe illl start with that. Trying to switch shoes around more lately too… Stretch and strength! Maybe i just need a vacation? Good luck!!!!

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  10. I have had PF for about 6 years, I ditched the orthotics and stiff shoes, went barefoot or only wear shoes I can twist and bend and the PF is pretty much gone, can’t believe it. I look forward to strengthening my feet and getting better every day! Thank you for your blog, it gave me encouragement.

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  11. I too have found going BF helps my PF. I wear, and would say need, orthopedic soles for running, but wearing shoes, with or without soles, when I’m not running only further irritates my PF (when I’m having a bout of it—not that often in the last few years I’m happy to say).

    I’m flatfooted. I don’t know if that’s got anything to do with it. But maybe the “wear shoes” advice is for those who have arches. Anyway, great to find this entry and see others have experienced the same thing despite the usual advice we get.

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  12. I ‘m presently finding great results with barefoot walking, but I started slowly in my pool as to reduce stress put on my fascia, since, my foot muscles where so weak from wearing orthopedics. Super encouraging!

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  13. I’ve not long been diagnosed with of. Went down the doctors route, bought myself a splint….ouch…worn it twice, never again, woke up in agony with my toes burning. I lessoned the tightness of the straps, wasn’t affective so I lessoned them more until the thing was nearly falling off & it still didn’t stop the burning. I threw the thing across the bedroom.
    Now I’ve read about going barefoot. I love my sandals & flip-flops but were told they were bad for me, in fact any shoe without support was bad.
    I’ve got elated reading about the barefoot method…love my flat non supporting shoes & am going to invest in some huaraches.

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  14. I agree I started wearing some cusotm made orthotics and my feet just became reliant on them. can stretches help get rid of plantar fasciitis?

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  15. Yes! (https://ifsblog.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/how-i-fixed-my-plantar-fasciitis/) I’ve gotten plantar fasciitis several times, and now my recovery is relatively quick. My formula is barefoot + rest + stretches. The best stretches for me are 1) squats and 2) lying on my back and pulling my foot back with a towel. Someday I’m going to do an illustrated blog post about this.

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  16. Pingback: How I fixed my plantar fasciitis | IFS

  17. Pingback: Tight Muscles Are A Good Thing (Here's Why) - Engaging MusclesEngaging Muscles

  18. I enjoyed your blog and shared it on facebook page. I make custom sandals that mimic barefoot walking. http://www.facebook.com/trippssandals

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  19. I’ve been told that my pain sounds like plantar fasciitis but I’ve haven’t been to a podiatrist, I guess I should because I just can’t see me sounding the rest of my life off my feet as much as possible because they hurt so bad all the time. My right foot is really bad so I wear inserts in my shoes that I put on when I wake up and take off at night, they stay right by the bed. I can only be on my feet for a few hours a day, if that long. If I go barefoot, wow, it’s severe and what’s worse I take pain meds for back, neck and fibro and my feet still kills me. Do I have fasciitis? My pain is in my heel, inside arch, calf and sometimes the tendon on back of heel, only a couple of times, for I don’t know how many years now, maybe up to ten, that I’ve had that walking on glass pain after I walked about 20′ from the bed in the mornings. This is ruling my life, any advice would be greatly appreciated. 😔

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    • Wow, that’s rough. What works for me (https://ifsblog.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/how-i-fixed-my-plantar-fasciitis/) might not work for you. But I do simple, quick warm-up exercises for my feet each morning, even on days when I’m so weak that I can barely do anything else. Before getting out of bed, I do ten circles in each direction, and, more importantly, I bend my toes back toward my face and then point them away from my face ten times, too. When I have plantar fasciitis, I make sure that I sit up on the edge of the bed for a few seconds, with my feet dangling down, before standing and walking. All of this is supposed to increase my flexibility and blood flow and reduce my pain. (If I were in the pain you describe, I’d see a doctor or physical therapist, too. They have other stretches that have helped me a lot.)

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