When you consider that with each step our feet absorb a force several times our body weight, it’s not shocking that about 15 per cent of running injuries
strike the foot.
The nagging bite of plantar fasciitis – tears or inflammation of the tendons and ligaments that run from your heel to your toes - is the top foot complaint among runners. The Runner's World survey found that 10 per cent have struggled with it this past year.
The pain typically feels like a dull ache along your arch or the bottom of your heel. And watch for an urge to sprinkle ibuprofen on your corn flakes: the pain usually peaks first thing in the morning.
Are you at risk?
Runners with very high or very low arches are vulnerable to plantar fasciitis, according to Saxena, because both foot types stretch the plantar fascia away from the heel bone.
Other causes are extreme pronation (excessive inward rolling of the foot), supination (excessive outward rolling of the foot) and upping your mileage too quickly.
Tight hip flexors, weak core muscles and a history of lower back pain can also contribute. “Back problems and core weakness can lead to subtle changes in your stride that you will feel in the feet,” says Merrill.
Can you run through it?
This is a notoriously nagging injury and running through it, while possible, can delay the healing process. Recovery time can range from three months to a year, but six months is typical, Saxena says. In chronic cases, a complete break is best.
Pool running and swimming keep pressure off your feet, while cycling and elliptical training help to maintain fitness – but avoid them if they cause pain.
Roll your foot over a frozen water bottle for five minutes, five times a day, Saxena says. To stretch your plantar fascia, sit with one leg crossed over the other so your ankle rests on your knee.
Grab the toe end of your raised foot and gently pull back. Because calf tightness can be a factor, Merrill recommends using a foam roller to loosen them up. He also stresses the importance of core work such as planks and back extensions.
“When I see someone who has had plantar pain for years, they’re almost always lacking core strength,” says Merrill. “Sometimes all they need is to do some core work and their heel gets better. A stable core reduces stress on the spine and stops the transference of pain to the foot.”
Prevent a relapse
Make sure your shoes match your foot type by getting your gait analysed by a specialist running shoe store, podiatrist or physiotherapist. Custom-made orthotics may help the problem.
Stretch and massage the plantar fascia several times a day, and in the morning, hang your feet over the edge of your bed and roll your ankles. Schedule in some core work at least twice a week.
Magdalena Lewy Boulet, who is a 2:26 marathoner, struggled with plantar fasciitis that became so severe, she contemplated ending her career.
“I got on a rehab routine that included active isolated stretching and it cured me,” she says. “Now it’s part of my maintenance routine – 15 minutes, twice a day.”
How to proceed
Stop running: Arch pain and tenderness that doesn’t fade – even once you’ve warmed up on your run.
Run with caution: Pain when you get up after sitting for a long time, or during the first few minutes of a run.
Go run: Pain-free all day, including your first steps in the morning. Walking barefoot on hard ground is fine.