Erin Stair, MD, MPH- Follow me on Instagram!
Am I about to unveil a cure for plantar fasciitis?
Heck, no! But as someone who has tried everything, I can offer a tip that has helped me. Plantar fasciitis is a terror to treat. It lasts a long time and can make life miserable. I’ve struggled with plantar fasciitis off and on for years. I have really flat feet, arches that would make the beauty industry cringe, in addition to being a soccer player, Krav Maga enthusiast and avid runner. When the bottoms of my feet hurt to the point of impacting my daily run or even just walking, I’m miserable. Running is my antidepressant.
What is plantar fasciitis?
In simple terms, plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the plantar fascia, or connective tissue that connects from your heel to your toes. When the tissue is strained, tightened or damaged in some way, inflammation ensues. Since it’s an inflammatory process, swelling and pain are common symptoms. While fascia is connective tissue, recently there has been a lot more studies on the functioning of fascia. It’s actually quite complex, with metabolic, hormonal, lymphatic and sensory functions. My sister, a certified Myofascial Release Therapist, has told me that fascia can even store memories. Sometimes, when she’s working on a patient, those memories, some good, some traumatic, are brought to the surface, and people respond accordingly.
Back to the cure for plantar fasciitis:
My go-to therapy for plantar fasciitis is the bed of nails. In case you’ve never heard of it, I’ve attached a photo. The bed of nails is more accurately a meditation mat with tiny plastic needles, essentially an acupressure tool. My friend Josh sent it to me and claimed it worked great for meditation purposes. I have used it for meditation once or twice,but where I find it benefits me most is for my plantar fasciitis.
Anyone who has suffered from plantar fasciitis will tell you that it hurts most in the morning, when you first get out of bed and put your feet on the floor. Mine tends to flare up after a long run on hard surfaces, which is basically every decent running route in NYC. A physical therapist told me to roll my foot over a tennis ball or a frozen water bottle. I’ve done this, but don’t get much relief. I’ve tried reflexology and massage therapy and get some relief- depending on the strength of the masseuse. Someone even told me to try scraping a butter knife on the underside of my foot. Believe it or not, this has worked for me on occasion, but it doesn’t feel very smart or safe. I used to run without insoles, because I have wobbly, soccer ankles and felt more grounded, but after a longer bout of plantar fasciitis, I started running (and walking) with insoles. They’ve helped.
One day, keeping in mind the tenets of acupuncture and acupressure, I decided to try standing barefoot on my bed of nails. I’ll be honest: It hurts a lot at first. For your first time, I recommend not stepping on the bed of nails with your whole body weight. Hold onto a chair/table and lower gently onto the bed of nails, if only to alert your body to the feeling. That might be enough for some people. While I started out doing that, I find I get the greatest relief by standing unsupported with my whole body weight on the bed of nails. I do it for at least ten minutes at a time. (That’s a long time, but if I do it for less, I get no benefit.) I dig my heels into the bed of nails and sometimes rock back and forth from the heel to the toes. When I do that, I can feel my foot fascia loosening and breaking up. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, and yes, it hurts, but ( and people with plantar fasciitis will understand this), the pain is temporary and a welcome relief compared to the nagging pain of plantar fasciitis. During a plantar fasciitis flare up, I have trouble sensing things on the bottom of my feet. My feet feel numb, bloated and heavy. I don’t understand why, but the bed of nails has improved the sensory function of the bottoms of my feet.
How is the bed of nails a cure for plantar fasciitis?
Okay, it’s not a cure. We’ve established that. This is a painful, long-lasting, nagging syndrome. I don’t know exactly why the bed of nails helps, as I’ve come up with this method on my own. The bed of nails may serve as a temporary myo-fascial release. Perhaps it stimulates blood flow or breaks up fascia restrictions. Oddly enough, now I crave the bed of nails when I have a plantar fasciitis flare up. Yes, crave. My flare ups tend to get worse when I’m premenstrual, possibly due to the increased bloating/water retention in my feet, and on those days, I use the bed of nails around 4-5 times a day, usually up to 15 minutes each time. I stand on one leg, do squats and sometimes various yoga poses. You don’t have to do that. As mentioned before, standing on it with support will be enough for many people.
Of course at the end of each “Nails” session, I assume the above restorative yoga pose, with my best buddy Barnaby by my side. It’s healthy to reverse that blood flow every now and then. 😉
Other things that have brought some relief:
- Myofascial Release- Find a certified myofascial release therapist. Don’t just go to anyone.
- Swimming more- running less
- Salt baths and making the letters of the alphabet with my foot in the tub. ( I do this, because plantar fasciitis makes my whole foot and ankle stiff.)
- Stretch your calves as much as possible
- Use a foam roller on the front and back of your calves
Whatever you do, do NOT buy cheap shoes. I bought a cheap pair of ballet slippers and sneakers off of Amazon, wore them a lot around the city, and I think that caused my most recent plantar fasciitis flare-up. The support was awful. I used to be less fussy about shoe support, but now I’m obsessed with it. It’s important. Spend a little extra on shoes that feel good and support your arches. In some cases, a great pair of supportive shoes might be the cure for plantar fasciitis.
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Order my new Book, A Parody on the Wellness Industry that Spares NO ONE:
Grab a ZENBand for your next flight or meditation session!
Read my fast-paced novel, based on a provocative true story ( featured on Psych Central) that will blow your mind, Manic Kingdom.