Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a healthcare professional. I’m a recreational athlete with an interest in endurance sports and a healthy lifestyle! Please seek medical assistance if you think you have an injury or illness.
Back in March, I started feeling some pain in my heel. It started as a little twinge every here and there, and finally I started feeling it consistently every morning when I woke up. Being as I was sidelined by stress fractures last year, I went directly to my doctor. An x-ray and clinical exam later and it was official: plantar fasciitis. In the very earliest stages. While it’s certainly frustrating, it’s not something to stop me from running as long as I don’t ignore it. It’s a high maintenance and relentless injury to deal with, and requires constant attention.
I like to document injuries and provide as much information as possible on my symptoms, diagnosis and treatment in the interest of helping anyone that may find themselves in the same situation as me. I hear people talk about plantar fasciitis and how it often is an annoying injury that keeps them off their feet. Of course, runners are often affected by this condition and it causes hiccups in training plans and race schedules. I always hear people talk about it and would stretch my arches and calves to prevent it. In the past, I’ve felt my arches get sore and thought that I had plantar fasciitis so I’d simply stretch some more. It wasn’t until I really got plantar fasciitis that I understood what it was. The plantar fascia is the flat band of tissue (ligament) that connects your heel bone to your toes. It supports the arch of your foot. If you strain your plantar fascia, it gets weak, swollen, irritated, and inflamed. Consequently, the heel or the bottom of the foot hurts when standing or walking . Not the best thing to have if you happen to be a runner…
I did everything my doctor suggested, and more: rolling it out with a tennis ball or frozen water bottle and all kinds of stretching. I used my foam roller to roll out my calves, and took Epsom salt baths. I started taking turmeric supplements and incorporating tart cherry juice and other antioxidants for inflammation into my diet. I didn’t take ibuprofen because I don’t believe in using NSAIDs to mask pain to get through a workout. I think it tricks the body into thinking it’s recovered from a hard race or workout when you really aren’t…but that’s a post for a different day. At night, I’ve been wearing a Futuro night splint to sleep to keep my foot flexed and avoid doing more damage when taking my first steps in the morning (if you thought compression socks were sexy, they’re nothing compared to a night splint!). I continued with my scheduled mileage and races, and it never got any worse. It also never really got better – just remained status quo. So, I decided to try something a little different. I went for acupuncture.
Heather Shoup, owner of Balanced Acupuncture in Bethlehem was recommended to me. She has has a degree from Lehigh University in Psychology and underwent extensive training in three different styles of acupuncture. Besides word of mouth recommendations, I felt very secure in choosing her as my acupuncturist due to her background in healing and extensive education. I scheduled my first appointment for after the Sugarloaf Marathon.
On my first visit, I was tasked with filling out new patient paperwork, much like I would if I were visiting a doctor for the first time. Only this paperwork was much more extensive and detailed, and really covered a lot in terms of past medical history so she could get a good understanding of my background. When Heather was ready to see me, she went through everything with me and explained thoroughly how acupuncture works. Acupuncture uses the energy in the body and trigger points to heal and treat different conditions. It’s basically what you expect: tiny needles placed on certain trigger points in different areas on your body. There’s a whole lot more to it than that, but the one thing everyone wants to know is, “Does it hurt?” I don’t think so. I think it’s kind of glorious.
The good news is acupuncture absolutely provides immediate relief to my symptoms. The not so good news is that it has not resolved the plantar fasciitis issue completely. I can tell when Heather removes the needle that is “releasing” the tightness in my calf muscle causing the plantar fasciitis, because that one does ache a little bit. Plantar fasciitis didn’t happen to me overnight, so I don’t expect it to be fixed overnight and I like the results I’ve gotten from acupuncture. It still stands that the best long term remedy I’ve found up to this point is simply stretching my calves and arches. Being as the location of the plantar fasciitis is on my heel, it signifies that the underlying issue is calf tightness and so I focus on stretching and foam rolling that area the most.
I’m still working on getting this all sorted out, but my best advice is not to ignore heel pain. It’s not going to “just go away” unless you deal with it, whether it be with stretching, icing, acupuncture, etc. If you live in the Lehigh Valley, I encourage you to go and check out Heather at Balanced Acupuncture. I’m still not healed at this point, but if I were ignoring it I’m certain it would be far worse.