Fix Heel Pain Fast – Effective Plantar Fasciitis Treatment

Article by Lucas Rockwood

If you suffer from heel pain that feels worse in the morning when you get out of bed, you may have plantar fasciitis. This common connective tissue injury affects an estimated 10 percent of people and is so painful it can feel as though you’re stepping on nails.

Plantar fasciitis is uncommon in yoga, so I hadn’t had much experience of it, until I started running during the COVID-19 lockdowns and needed to get out of the house. I ran slowly at first, but loved it, and within a few months I was running 25-30 miles a week.

However, soon after buying new running shoes, I developed pain in my heels. It got so bad I limped to the bathroom each morning, and it took me about 20 minutes before I could even pretend to walk normally. My right heel hurt all day long. So I tried running less, running more, running indoors, and then outdoors, ice, massage balls, you name it, but nothing helped.

I searched online for a solution and discovered that much of the popular advice for plantar fasciitis can often make things worse. I’ve since learned that the plantar fascia is a very different type of tissue than muscles, tendons, or ligaments, and it heals differently, too. I’ve also learned that just like me, most people injure their plantar fascia not through slips and falls, or sporting accidents, but by doing healthy, active things that should, in theory, be helpful not hurtful. Finally, I learned that the solution to plantar fasciitis is usually simple and pragmatic once you understand what’s going on.

Anatomy of The Plantar Fascia

Your plantar fascia is a web-like band of connective tissue on the bottom of your foot. Fascia is a very interesting tissue in the human body, and there are dozens of different types made up of collagen and elastin in different percentages.

Fascia often gets lumped into conversations about tendons, ligaments and muscles, but it’s a very different type of tissue. Unlike those other connective tissues, fascia is highly innervated, highly vascularized, and loaded with sensory neurons called mechanosensors.

The good news is that because of its blood supply, it can heal quickly. But because of all its pain receptors, injury can be completely life-altering and that’s likely why you’re reading this article.

The “itis” in the term plantar fasciitis refers to inflammation that may or may not be present. Perhaps more accurate, we often suffer from plantar fasciopathy or degradation of this tissue, either with or without inflammation. In either case, the cause of injury and healing protocols are similar.

Causes of Plantar Fascia Injury

Since my own struggles with plantar fasciitis, I’ve worked with dozens of yoga students privately struggling with the same issue. In the vast majority of cases, just like me with my shoes, something changed right before the onset of their symptoms. With that in mind, I’d encourage you to open up a calendar and look back to about a week before your pain began, to determine what changed.

Common inciting incidents for pain include:

  • Starting a new workout
  • Changing the intensity of your workout
  • Modification of an existing exercise routine
  • Footwear changes: new shoes, no shoes, wearing worn-out shoes
  • Changes to your diet or stress level

Unlike most injuries where something goes wrong, plantar fasciitis often occurs when you’re doing something healthy and new, so people are often reluctant to admit that their very best choices land them in pain.

How to Heal a Plantar Fascia Injury

You’re probably wondering whether to take time off for your foot to heal. However, your fascia heals through scarring, and scar fibers need stress and functional movement to align properly and to strengthen. Left immobile, your scar tissue will form, but it will likely be unorganized and lumpy, potentially creating more problems in the future.

My own solution was very simple. I ditched my new shoes and bought a wide toe box, zero drop shoe with a very stiff and thick sole to reduce mobilization of my plantar fascia during exercise. Next, I slowed down my jogging pace and focused on zero incline, indoor treadmill training, to again reduce the amount of force on the fascia. Lastly, I focused on upstream mobilization, specifically stretching my calf muscles. Within two weeks, I was only limping in the morning. By the end the month, I was back up to running 30 miles a week, pain free.

Here are five key healing protocols I recommend:

1. Keep moving… slowly

No hill sprints, no stair climbing, no skipping rope, stick to walking and slow jogging. You need to move to heal, but anything that keeps you up on your toes or anything high intensity can further aggravate your plantar fascia.

2. No barefoot walking or wearing flip flops

I once went a whole year without putting on a pair of shoes (I lived on the beach). Even today, I rarely wear shoes for more than two hours each day. But while healing, I had to change that. Think of the stiff bottom of your shoes like a splint for your plantar fascia. It’s not forever, but for now, keep that foot supported.

3. Stop stretching your plantar fascia

The tissue is damaged and possibly inflamed. The last thing you want to do is stretch it and do more damage. You need to stretch your calves, not your feet.

4. Stop taking painkillers before exercise

Sure, plantar fasciitis pain will disappear if you take 500 mg of ibuprofen, but guess what? The injury is still there. The only thing that’s changed is that you’re unable to feel it. As a result, you will almost inevitably push right through it, causing more damage. There is a time and place for painkillers, but taking them pre-workout is a recipe for disaster.

5. Eat healing foods

Soft tissues like vitamin C, zinc, copper, and sulfur-rich foods. It can also be helpful to consume omega-3 fats to naturally combat inflammation. You can get these nutrients from whole foods or through supplements. They can make a big difference during healing. If you choose nutritional supplements, please check with your doctor first. Some helpful nutrients and daily quantities to consider include:

  • 500 mg vitamin C
  • 10 mg zinc
  • 2mg copper
  • 1 gram MSM (sulfur)
  • 1g per 1lbs body weight of protein

Corrective Exercises

To relieve tension on the plantar fascia, we stretch upstream at the calf muscle. This will improve ankle dorsiflexion without placing excess tension on the bottom of your foot. Most calf stretches are taught with the heel up in a lunge or hanging off the edge of a stair. These are fine, but not when you’re nursing a plantar fascia injury.

The key is to keep your heel grounded to focus the tension up and away from the foot, while increasing range in your calf muscles. This two-minute stretch routine will do exactly that. Aim to do these stretches once a day and only ever perform them after exercise, never before.

Download the PDF pose chart

Gastrocnemius Lunge

Your gastroc muscle splits and crosses at the knee. It can only be effectively stretched when your leg is straight.

  • Position yourself in front of a wall.
  • Step backwards into a lunge, ensuring your back leg is straight and your heel is pressed down firmly into the floor.
  • Place your elbows on the wall in front of your head. Keep your front foot light on the ground.
  • Hold for one minute, inhaling through your nose to the count of four, exhaling through your mouth to the count of eight.

Soleus Stretch

This is the most common style of calf stretch, just remember to drive your heel down.

  • Stay in front of the wall from the previous stretch, in a lunge position.
  • This time bend your back knee, but again ensure your heel does not lift off the ground.
  • Hold for one minute, inhaling through your nose to the count of four, exhaling through your mouth to the count of eight.
  • Switch sides and perform both stretches back-to-back on the other leg.

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