Plantar fasciitis- no, I hadn’t heard of it either. I wish I had.
In recent years I began to keep a simple account of my walks over five miles. On an Excel sheet I note route, miles, weather, conditions underfoot and crucially, any issues with the body, it is aging after all. On 1 February 2015 I completed another section of the North Downs Way, sixteen miles from Folkestone to Wye, a rather lovely part of the Downs if a bit muddy in places. Making my notes in the evening I recorded that I had a bit of a pain in my left heel, nothing much, but over the next week it never went away. I had also noticed that I had recorded a sore heel following my walks throughout January. Like most people, I immediately sought self-diagnosis on the web. That was when I discovered Plantar fasciitis.
I have never been one to bother my doctor. However this time I was concerned and decided that it was time he earnt his money. I made a non-urgent appointment and a week later was the first appointment of the day, a commuter special at seven in the morning. It took him five minutes to confirm the problem. Ten minutes later I was shocked to find myself signed off from work for a fortnight with strict instruction to refrain from walking, the first time that has ever happened to me.
My plans, my ambitions, my lifetime of walking for enjoyment, my long walk, were now at risk. Simple research revealed that like so many others, Plantar fasciitis had entered my life. I soon found out that my brother had suffered from it, as had my uncle. It is an incredibly common ailment that around one in ten people will get at some point in their life. Yet I had never heard of it. Most common between the ages of 40 and 60, I was slap bang in the middle. Athletes and hikers frequently suffer from it, as do the overweight; I chose to put myself in the former at-risk category.
The main symptom is pain, usually on the underside of the heel. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia. This is the strong band of tissue that stretches from the heel to the middle foot bones; it supports the arch and acts as a shock absorber. Treatment is usually a combination of rest, good footwear, heel pads, painkillers and exercises.
I was now on an enforced rest but not content with simply sitting with my feet up, it took little effort to research and pull together a series of appropriate simple stretching exercises. The sort of exercises that, if I had known of the risk, I could have been doing for years. For now at least, these form part of my daily routine. Plantar fasciitis usually goes with time but can reoccur. For now, my walking is on hold while I fix myself. My regret is that I was unaware of the risk before my injury as these exercises may have helped reduce the chance of it occurring.
Plantar fasciitis- Exercises:
Stand about 40 cm away from a wall and put both hands on the wall at shoulder height, feet slightly apart, with one foot in front of the other. Bend front knee but keep back knee straight and lean in towards the wall to stretch. The calf muscle will tighten. Keep this position for several seconds and then relax. Repeat ten times then switch to the other leg. I tend to be concentrating so much that I find it easy to lose count, so slightly moving fingers across as the count progresses keeps me on track. Now repeat the same exercise switching legs.
Stand on the bottom step of the stairs with feet slightly apart and with the heels just off the end of the step. Hold the banister for support. Lower the heels, keeping knees straight. The stretch in the calves is very apparent. Keep the position for 30 seconds, then relax. Repeat six times.
Sit on the floor with legs out in front. Loop a towel around the ball of one foot. With knee straight, pull toes towards the nose. Hold the position for 30 seconds and repeat three times.
Sit on a chair with knees bent at right angles and feet and heels flat on the floor. Curl toes, lifting foot upwards, keeping the heel on the floor. Hold the position for a few seconds and then relax. Repeat about 10 times.
I try and repeat all the above exercises at least twice a day. At the end of the day I finish off with a deeper massage of each foot. Crossing the heel over the other leg, the plantar fascia is firmly massaged, taking time to work through the bands of tissue thoroughly. There is an excellent short piece of film that describes it far better than I:
The above stretching exercises are for home, I have little opportunity to complete these in a work environment. The additional exercise below works well while sitting at a desk. A rolling pin or drinks can is recommended by some but I don’t tend to keep either in a desk drawer at work, however a tennis ball is an ideal alternative.
Whilst sitting in a chair, put the tennis ball under the arch of a foot. Roll the arch over the object in different directions. I try and perform this exercise for a few minutes for each foot at least twice a day. It is best done without shoes on.
I was able to locate two foot massagers that work quite well for me though possibly not for everyone. One was a Foot Rubz from Due North- this is a small hard ball made of PVC with 160 nubs around the surface. Rolling this below the foot does massage the muscles and works well in the office or sitting at the computer at home. However I feel that I get more benefit from a 100% wooden massager from The Body Shop. Rolling this across the sole in different directions really does work into the muscles and sinews. I use this before a deep massage of the plantar fascia with the fingers.