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Does Your Heel Ache? 7 Ways to Treat Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of foot pain (specifically in the heel). After I started showing symptoms of it (and consequently started complaining about it) I was surprised to find out that this rather fancy sounding condition affects many more people than I ever suspected.

By
Brock Armstrong,
Episode #413
Photo of a female runner with heel pain

2. Massage

Massage therapy is one of the most popular forms of dealing with plantar fasciitis. Our body’s soft tissue areas are composed of muscles, connective tissues, and tendons, and massage therapy can loosen those tight muscles and encourage upset tissue to relax. Massage also increases blood circulation to the injured areas which increase nutrient and oxygen uptake in the tissue.

Very often the tension in the plantar fascia is caused by, or results from, tension higher up the leg. In my case, getting some deep tissue massage on my calves provided significant short term pain relief. 

3. Roll Out Your Feet

Gently rolling out your affected foot for a few minutes can really help loosen up your plantar fascia, which can make it less irritated. I have a tiny device similar to a rolling pin that I use for my feet, which I keep by the yoga mat and couch for those times when I just want to space out on a Netflix show but still do something good for my body. You can use a tennis ball, a golf ball, a fancy Kinesio ball, or anything else that fits under your foot and can be rolled around. Physical therapist Kelly Starrett has a video explaining how to do this on his Mobility WOD YouTube Channel.

Pro Tip: If your heel is acutely sore, roll it out with a frozen water bottle. You get the massage benefits and the icing pain relief all in one.  

4. Alfredson Protocol

The Alfredson protocol is actually most often prescribed for Achilles' tendinopathy but I had a brave (and clever) physiotherapist who thought outside the box. The Very Well Health website explains how to do this protocol...very well, but in a nutshell it is: a basic calf raise, performed with your heels hanging off of a step or platform, focusing on the eccentric (or lengthening) part of the movement. 

After you have done that for a while, you can start doing a more ballistic version of this movement called a Heel Drop. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. Just like the Alfredson Protocol, you stand on the edge of a stair and do a simple calf raise. Then you basically let go, drop your heels and allow all of your body weight to kick off a "repair me" response in the affected tissue. It's not as painful or scary as it sounds once you get used to it. 

5. Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy (ESWT)

This treatment can be compared to having a tiny jackhammer applied to your body, which is kind of fun but also kind of freaky. In ESWT, sound waves bombard your heel to stimulate healing within the ligament. This is thought to work by creating microtrauma in the tissue, which initiates a healing response. Blood vessels then form and increase the delivery of nutrients to the affected area. The microtrauma is thought to stimulate a repair process but also helps to relieve pain. The Very Well Health website has a great article about Shockwave for PF. 

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