This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “How Ultrarunners Can Handle Plantar Fasciitis”, please leave it below in the comments section…
With the perfect foot structure and the perfect stride, a runner’s weight would efficiently travel from the heel, through the arch, and on to the balls of his feet every time his feet strike the ground. In this ideal scenario the arch would slightly compress to absorb the force and then spring back to its original state. If only the majority of runners were so lucky to both have perfect feet and strides. In reality, they get foot injuries like plantar fasciitis.
The greater distance of an ultramarathon multiplies the stress and pressure on the feet tenfold. Thus it wouldn’t be surprising that this particular injury is more likely to occur among ultrarunners. As with any other running injury, the best way to handle plantar fasciitis is to learn how to recognize it and know the possible methods to prevent or treat the injury.
Your heel bone and the balls of your feet are connected by thick tissue called plantar fascia. They’re located at the bottom of your feet and support the arch. The condition develops when force and weight doesn’t travel properly across the arch making it overstretched. The constant stress and pressure of running create very small tears along this connective tissue. Eventually these accumulate to the point where it becomes inflamed and you’re feeling pain at the bottom of your feet. Plantar fasciitis is commonly classified as an overuse injury which means it gets worse with too much running. Thus it’s not surprising that a lot of ultrarunners experience this condition as no other endurance athlete could be so easily accused of ‘running too much.’
The most often described symptom of this injury is pain that accompanies the first steps of the day, just right after getting out of bed. The given explanation is that during sleep your tendons and ligaments naturally tighten up, so those first steps or first stretches of an already injured plantar fascia in the morning become pretty grueling. Depending on the severity of the condition, the pain can range from merely irritating to feeling like your arch is being torn apart.
Differentiation with heel spurs
There’s an associated injury called a heel spur that can be confused with plantar fasciitis as the pain is felt at nearly the same location. A heel spur is actually a small growth on the heel bone that could be triggered by injuries to the plantar fascia. Pain from a heel spur is due to the muscles and tissue rubbing against the growth. Press up and backwards where the heel and arch intersect. If there’s pain, there’s also likely a heel spur. Alternatively, press strongly against the middle of your heel with your thumb. Pain there could be indicative of plantar fasciitis. Of course the best way to be certain is to let a doctor, especially a podiatrist, examine your feet.
Being an overuse injury, you have to temporarily reduce your mileage. This may not be so easy to do as some runners report that the pain actually goes away during running. Pain or no pain, you need to give your feet a chance to recuperate.
To lessen the morning struggle, you may want to stretch your calves and feet muscles and ligaments before getting out of bed. It would also help to consistently avoid going barefoot. Use of night splints may also help as they keep the plantar fascia stretched during sleep thus reducing the shock to the ligament that the first step of the day brings about.
Making leg and feet stretches part of your warm up routine is a good preventive approach. After a race or training session, you might also want to put some ice on the bottom of your feet to reduce the inflammation. If the pain is particularly acute, then anti-inflammatory medication might be necessary.
Using supportive implements such as arch straps and supports can also aid in mitigating the condition. These accessories can give the ligament some allowance so that your arch doesn’t have to stretch too much. There are various types of orthotics for the feet that you might want or need to discover through a podiatrist.
Do you have questions about plantar fasciitis, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.