Thursday, May 30, 2019

My Journey Through Plantar Fasciitis

Months ago I started feeling foot pain during and after running. Little did I know I was entering my first bout with plantar fasciitis. Here's how I've coped with this scourge.

Phase 1: Denial. I chalked the pain up to simple muscle soreness. Surely I was pushing my running to the next level and some discomfort was to be expected. To some degree, this held true. The pain in my right foot went away. But the pain in my left foot persisted. After the third run in a row where the pain was significant, I knew I had to do something.

Phase 2: More Denial. I decided I'd give myself two weeks off of running. Surely absolute rest would fix it. Never mind that I continued to stand at my desk and my left foot continued to hurt. Still, I felt like it was getting better. After two weeks of no running I went for a jog. Within minutes, the pain returned and I had to stop. That was quite a moment of despair.

Phase 3: Google can fix this, right? I finally had to face it: I was injured. I made an appointment with a podiatrist, and in the mean time did some Googling. Typically, using the Internet to self diagnose is a bad idea. I figured I'd end up deciding I had foot cancer or the the like. But in this case my symptoms matched plantar fasciitis to a tee. It wasn't just my left foot that hurt, but it was my left heel. And the fact that the pain was worse stepping out of bed in the morning made it even more obvious that I'd named my curse properly.

I'd only ever heard of plantar fasciitis in passing, and it was always hinted at as an unshakable condition. These discussions conjured up images of a chronic disease; the same way someone might say their crohn's is acting up.

Phase 4: Taking Action. While I was waiting for my doctor's appointment, I adopted two new strategies. One, I lowered my desk to a sitting position. Man, that provided some immediate relief. I also ordered a mat to stand on and will at some point re-introduce the my standing routine. I also did some research and found a series of suggested exercises to help runners recover from injury. I've lost the source of this list of exercises (sorry oh brilliant list maker!), but the routine was as follows:

The first time I finished this routine I noticed something remarkable: my heel pain was gone! I was cured! OK, not so fast. The pain did return. But it was a relief just to know that I could affect this pain in some way.

Pushing my luck a bit, I tried going through the routine and then immediately going for a run. I started my run with zero pain, and after a few minutes I felt a dull ache. Still, I was able to complete my run with minimal discomfort. This was another sign that my running life as I knew it wasn't over.

I can't recommend the above workout highly enough. I awkwardly made my way through the exercises the first few times, but with practice I could tell that I was gaining small measures of flexibility, balance and strength to perform the exercises with a modicum of grace. Sticking to the same exercises is almost certainly a recipe for disaster, but I'm telling you, the above sequence is a winner for runners.

Between the sitting and the exercises, I found that I could resume my running. At times the heel pain would disappear, and other times it would flair up. Whatever was going on wasn't a simple linear equation: I'd feel like I was on the mend, and then bam! I'd found myself with a burning pain in my left heel.

Phase 5: Seeing a Doctor. Given how clearly my symptoms matched the plantar fasciitis descriptions I'd found on the web, part of me felt it was excessive to see a doctor. I'm glad I ignored that instinct. The doctor took x-rays and confirmed my diagnosis. She also gave me the same set of stretches and advice I'd found all over the web. But it was comment that the plantar fasciitis would go away that I suppose I really needed to hear. I could make it go away faster by doing the stretches and exercises she prescribed; but just by the nature of the injury, it would eventually correct itself. What a relief to hear those words.

It's now been a few weeks since seeing the doctor and I've been keeping up with my stretches. I've also started wearing orthotics in my shoes and have plans to switch to more supportive shoes. My left heel pain still flares up occasionally, but I can tell that things are clearly improving. The pain in my heel no longer dominates my thoughts during my run. Every day it looks more and more like my journey with this bout of plantar fasciitis is coming to a close. (And yes, I realize that posting this before completely recovered is tempting the evil eye; but I'm willing to take that shot.)

If you're struck down with plantar fasciitis don't panic. Own it. Do the stretches. Follow the conventional wisdom. You'll get better.

Update: Sue also adds this advice: I also recommend getting the night brace, if it comes back. It is amazing how quickly that augments the exercises. I speak from much experience. I fought the brace for a long time but oh my goodness it really does help.. Thanks Sue!

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