The Rocky Road to Running – Coming Back from Plantar Fasciitis

Ever walk barefoot on the gravel beside a train track???

Ever walk barefoot on the gravel beside a train track???

I have been writing this post for some time now – about three months – working on it here and there and mulling it over in my mind as to what points I want to make and where I’d like this road to lead.  Let me just start by saying that all opinions in this post are my own and are not based on medical advice, etc, etc, etc.  In other words, read it with a grain of salt. 🙂  It’s going to be about how I’m recovering from the infamous plantar fasciitis (what’s worked, what hasn’t worked, ways to avoid it, etc) as well as why injuries form running are so annoying in general….which calls for a second disclaimer: I am not complaining about my life nor my injury, become I am still super happy that I can sort of still run, that I have a body with all its limbs functions, that I live where it doesn’t get too cold or too rainy, and that I am not pregnant right now and working on running through a pregnancy.  All things for which I am very grateful. 🙂

I will be completely candid here and say, though, that one of the reasons having my running curtailed bothers me is that, although I truly enjoy running in and of itself (the feeling of my feet flying over the pavement, the lightness and freedom, the peaceful time to myself with music, the endorphins produced which make me more cheerful for hours), I honestly love what it has done for the way I look as well.  I’ve never set out to “lose weight” any time in the past 15 years, but since starting to run 3 1/2 years ago I have consistently felt more at ease in my own skin, and in my own jeans.  There isn’t any “Biggest Loser” -type dramatic before-and-after, but I came across a few pictures last month taken in 2001 and was really struck by the changes I can see, so I thought I would post those old pictures here to remind me some day to keep moving.

These were taken 3 years after I graduated from college, and a year or so after we were married, and a year before I was pregnant with our first child:

Playing tennis in South Carolina (that's a ball in my hip pocket), Summer 2001

Playing tennis in South Carolina (that’s a ball in my hip pocket), Summer 2001

Hiking in upstate New York, Fall 2001

Hiking in upstate New York, Fall 2001

So then I went on a facebook odyssey looking for the post-running equivalent pictures, to the best of my ability.  Here are a few taken when baby number 5 was about 9-12 months old, back in 2011, when I had been running for nearly two years, having taken off 6 months during that pregnancy:

A few days after John returned from deployment, July 2011

A few days after John returned from deployment, July 2011

Heading out to play the pipes at the pub - Spring, 2011Heading out to play the pipes at the pub – Spring, 2011

Unlike some of my other friends (you know who you are!) I don’t lose all my pregnancy weight in the first few weeks postpartum.  Daniel is now almost 8 months old, and I still weigh about 5-7 pounds more than I did the day I walked in for my first prenatal visit with him (I even trained for and ran a marathon – 26.2 miles – when Daniel was 3 months old – meaning: I am not someone who easily and quickly ‘drops weight’); however, even now I’m about 8 pounds less than I was the day I graduated from University many moons ago in 1998, and about 3-5 pounds under what I was in these 2011 pictures.  So do I miss running when I’m injured? ABSOLUTELY! And do I miss what it does for me in so many ways? YOU BET.  I like feeling and looking my best because I think it translates into so many other areas of my life.  But – I digress. Before-and-after, there you have it. Back to the injury…

I’ll start out by just inserting and editing the part I’ve been writing in the past – and then I’ll interject with some things in italics.

It’s been a long, rocky (quite literally) road to recovering from Plantar Fasciitis (hereafter referred to as “PF”), and as the guy who writes the blog “Chi Running” noted – I would not wish PF on my worst enemy.  That is exaggerating it a bit, yes, but I think this injury is something particularly lame (pun intended) because its cure is so elusive.  A break – have it set, wait a prescribed amount of time, and it should heal.  A sprain – stay off it, do this and that, wrap it, it should heal.  A friend of mine had a torn calf muscle which has never really healed over a VERY long period of time, so I really shouldn’t complain.  Either way, the fact remains, PF is quite painful (oh, that’s good – PF=Painful Foot) and is hard to fix; often people have recurrences of it the rest of their lives because it is next to impossible for them to remove the causes of it.  One solution could be to stop running – if running is what caused it – and then once you’ve healed, you shouldn’t get it again, right?  Not so much.  All sorts of things can contribute to it, so even if you can take away what seems to EXACERBATE it, you often are left with the underlying causes.  I am not going to detail PF here, since anyone interested in it can google it all day and find enough information to fill several tomes, but I will quickly say it is a pain felt right where the arch of the foot connects to the heel.  Often, since there are several tendons and muscles in the foot, the pain can radiate from this spot up through other areas of the foot.  It sometimes throbs constantly, and at other times it only hurts when one walks (or runs or stands) on it, and then again it sometimes just hurts when pressed, like a bruise.  I have experienced all three of these which I will describe here before I go into how I am working on curing myself of Plantar Fasciitis.  That is quite a bold statement, but I’ve waited out this post until I could conclusively make it; that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.  I am still experiencing some pain off and on, but I’m running again, so I call that a victory. 🙂  I am really only posting about it so that if some poor soul finds herself in my same predicament, perhaps she will locate my blog through a search and will be able to find the help contained therein and will rejoice evermore! 🙂  I found information for this post (and then tried what the people suggested) on several other blogs, and I’m going to reference them as I tell you my PF story.  Stop reading now if you have no interest in running or recovery from PF or avoiding PF. 🙂

I’ll start with the “run”down of what occurred.  In September, about one month post-partum with baby number 6 (I had run up until three days AFTER my due date, so when I started running again mid-August, it was not “from scratch.”)  I was finishing up a ten mile run (my longest run since the baby, my long run for that week) with a downhill portion at quite a good clip, and I stepped on something with my right foot.  It seemed sort of like a walnut – large, round, not pointy like a rock.  It caused me to sort of limp into the finish, but I didn’t feel “injured.”  About two weeks later, after another long run or two, on a routine 6 miles, my right calf muscle started to cramp up.  I immediately related it to the pain from stepping on that thing a few weeks earlier.  I took a week off from running, but with the Marine Corps Marathon scheduled for October 28, I needed to keep increasing my mileage, or I was never going to make it.  At this point I had booked a hotel room and bought a plane ticket for Christine to come down for the marathon, John had put in for leave, and we were hoping I could still run in the marathon.  After a week of the stationary bike and lots of massaging of my calves, I was able to return to running, seemingly no worse for the wear.  On October 12, we moved into our new house on the Naval Base, and for the next few days I was on my feet until the wee hours unpacking boxes.  Each night we went to sleep with my comments of “my goodness, my legs are so sore!!!” ringing in my ears.  I was tapering for the marathon by this point after my last long run – only 16 miles that weekend because that took me three hours – so there were just some shorter runs once I was in the house.  The floors are hardwood on a cement slab, and I was walking around in my high-end flip-flops (ie well-supported arches similar to Birkenstocks) for about twelve hours a day, sitting only long enough to nurse the baby and such.  It was a busy time, and I thought since I wasn’t running as much it was a good time to put my extra energy into unpacking the 17,000 pounds that had just been delivered.  A few days before the marathon my feet (both of them) started to hurt.  Around this time I had also been running with a different form, favoring my calf muscles by trying to stay off my toes a bit more because of the previous soreness.  It was enabling me to keep up the marathon training despite the previous leg injury, but I think overall, combined with my long hours on such hard floors, it was starting to cause another injury – plantar fasciitis.
During the week leading up to the marathon I switched to only wearing extremely supportive shoes around the house every time I got out of bed.  I also took them off to ice my feet a few times a day.   I continued to run because nothing hurt while I was running – not my calves, and not my feet.  There were the tell-tale PF signs — extremely painful feet first thing in the morning when I got out of bed or any time I’d been sitting more than 30-45 minutes.  Also, whenever I pushed on the spot where the swelling was the worst, there was intense pain.  I was fairly certain by this time that it was PF (self-diagnosis,) but I was hopeful for the marathon since we would spend the few days beforehand in hotels and off my feet (doing lots of driving) and I felt that my floors were the main culprit.  I ran the marathon, albeit, in a lot of pain (none of it in my foot or calves, I might add) and then took a week off from running.  My feet both continued to hurt every morning and off and on throughout the day.  I was still icing them and reading about it online, and I thought staying off my feet for the week might solve the problem.  After the marathon I went on three easy runs and felt fine.  On my fourth run – my first time to run speed intervals since having the baby – my right foot suddenly had quite a bit of pain on the last half mile, and I ended up limping home.  This was the final indication that I had a serious case of PF, and I took to the web in earnest, trying to figure out how bad this really was.  All over the internet people were talking about it – how persistent PF can be, that you shouldn’t got back to running until it’s completely healed, how easy it is to keep reinjuring it, etc, etc.  Nothing too promising.  So, it was back to the bike for a few weeks.  Then a tentative half-mile run (not bad) and a three mile run (oops) which convinced me I was far from healed.  Finally I went to the doctor the first week of November (a month after the marathon) and had the PF confirmed in order to receive a referral to a podiatrist through our military insurance.  I couldn’t wait for the appointment, though, to start working on my recovery, so I ordered the night foot brace and started wearing it.  Here is the basic brace:
I also ordered the pamphlet (not cheap) called The 5 Minute Plantar Fasciitis Solution.  One reviewer went so far as to say, “For over 1 year I did everything else… 3 cortisone shots…2 different podiatrists, 2 different pairs of custom made orthotics, every device money could buy, 1 chiropractor, hot laser treatments, one M.D., daily Chinese foot massages, and acupuncture (which actually did give ‘some’ relief)….and lots and lots of money…I finally bought this little book…which seems expensive by the page…read it…and did the exercise shown, and I was cured in 2 weeks. No podiatrist, or M.D. ever told me about this simple treatment… Every podiatrist should read this book. Really, try this first before you waste a bunch of money on everything else.”.
I stayed off my feet as far as running went, from December 8 until mid-January (January 15 was my first half mile run again – but we’re not to that part of the story yet. :))  That meant a lot more time on the stationary bike, usually 4-5 days a week and 20 miles at a time (60-65 minutes.)  It was a good workout, but it was just that: a workout.  And that is NOT what running is to me.  I LOVE how I feel when I run, before, during, and after.  I do it because it is enjoyable to me.  (When I was pregnant this last time, I actually felt light and buoyant when I ran, and occasionally fast, like I was my old self again.)  Biking has not really been that way, but I have come to look forward to it a bit, especially since I get to watch tv the whole time (heehee). This was great for me during the Christmas season because it led to several neat gifts for my husband which I saw on daytime talk shows (We don’t have cable or anything here, so the only tv I normally watch are the series which I choose on Hulu – Biggest Loser, The Office, Once Upon a Time, and Glee, and the ads are always the same.)  After around three weeks of the night brace and the stretching prescribed in the 5 Minute book, I was feeling pretty hopeless still and no closer to being able to run, since the pain was still there all the time.  I then ordered a “Strassburg Sock” which looks like this:
My experience with the sock was not that great because I suppose I had it too tight one night (this was discussed in the reviews as well), and my big toe tendon has been a bit tender and painful (hurts easily when I do this or that) across the top of my foot, enough so that I stopped wearing the sock at night after a week and can’t bring myself to go back to it.  By January 8 – a month off of running – I felt not a smidge better in reality.  I am not sure how I would have felt if I had tried running at this point, because I was waiting until I was all “healed up” before trying to run again.  FINALLY, FINALLY, I went back to the internet on the night of January 13.  I spent an hour and a half surfing the web, going from one link to another as I kept finding new ideas.  What could I do for my feet???
Here is what conventional medicine says and is the reason why I still have not made that appointment with the podiatrist:  Wear a brace at night in order to keep your toe from pointing.  Stretch the arch of the foot multiple times a day.  Keep your foot not only flexed at night, but stretch the toes up all night (the Strassburg sock.)  Reduce the swelling where your heel bone is attached to the fascia through the use of either topical anti-inflammatories, anti-inflammatories taken by mouth, or cortisone shots.  Stop running.  Wear shoes with exceptionally supportive arches.  Wear custom orthotics in your shoes in order to fully support your arches all day.  Use alternating heat and ice in order to reduce swelling.
So far, I had done several of these things on my own, and I was unwilling to use drugs or shots to reduce the inflammation.  So what point was there in going to a foot doctor?  Why is it that people would rather stick needles in their feet than find another way?  Probably it is because they don’t know that there IS another way.  I know it must sound pretty smug to claim that I am getting over this pretty bad case of PF without shots and such and using methods which fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but that is exactly what I’m doing.  If you’ve tried everything else and still suffer, then keep reading.
I am SO THANKFUL that it is finally gone, and that I am running again.  How did it happen?? What did I read January 13??  Would you like to read it, too??  I found this article on the Chi Running blog that said:
“This debilitating (not to mention annoyingly persistent) injury can happen to runners and walkers alike. And, it’s harder to get rid of than a condo in a recession. I’ve had my bouts with it and I’d like to offer anything I can to those of you who either wish to recover from PF or avoid it altogether….”So, yesterday, when I felt that all-too-familiar tinge of discomfort on the front of my heel I spent no time getting to the fix. I ran directly to a neighbor’s driveway which has a deep layer of crushed granite gravel covering a space about 6′ wide by 20′ long. As soon as I got there I took off my shoes (left my socks on) and began walking back and forth over the gravel. It’s a gnarly driveway and, as you can imagine, uncomfortable (a huge understatement) to walk on without shoes. After about 10 minutes of this self-inflicted torture I put my shoes back on and continued my run.

“As predicted, it worked like a charm. All sense of any soreness on the bottoms of my feet was totally gone and, I might add, has never returned. In fact, my feet felt so alive and energized by my “torture walk” that I had one of the best runs I’ve had in weeks. My legs were much more relaxed and my feet we’re happy as little clams.

“So, if you’re ever feeling even the slightest nuance of a case of PF coming on, I highly suggest you bite the bullet and find yourself a nice, lovely stretch of gnarly granite to walk across. If are already dealing with a full-blown case of PF it’s even more pertinent that you take matters into your own hands and short circuit the time you spend having to deal with one of the most persistent running injuries there is. This is one of those rare instances in my Chi Running practice when I would agree with the old adage, “No pain…no gain.””

Ow.  That sounds pretty painful – walking on gravel.  Really??  But how about comparing that to having cortisone shot into my feet with needles?  Let’s try a little self-inflicted pain first, with proper pain management techniques (Labor and delivery came in handy here as I walked on gravel using breathing techniques to relax and listening to powerful music to get me through 7-10 minutes of intermittent pain.) before resorting to modern medicine’s “fix,” eh?  I also stumbled upon a blog entry from Christopher McDougal, the author of Born to Run, a book on running using the correct form and for great distances. (This book inspired me around this time last year to begin Half-Marathon training at 4 months pregnant and to run my first 13.1 miler at 6 months along – followed by a 10K at 7 months.)  I didn’t go looking for him, but I probably should have, since I already knew I share a lot of his philosophies when it comes to running.  I don’t know why someone like me – all into chiropractic, alternative medicine, and using nutrition as “drugs” – went straight to the “mainstream” recommendations for PF.  What was I thinking!?!  I know.  Post-marathon brain-haze brought me to this.  Haha.  Anyway, modern medicine isn’t all bad, I know, but I should have done more research from the start.  Here’s what I read on Mr. McDougal’s blog:
“PF Cure:
lose the shoes.”
Now, I had tried to go “barefoot” about 2 1/2 years ago when I was starting fresh back to running after the birth of Greer.  At that point, a few months into using Nike Free’s and experimenting with Vibram Five Fingers, I had some pain across the top of my feet that scared me off truly minimalist shoes.  I glimpsed my first pair of Newtons right around that time, and I was sold on them from then on — they encouraged my forefoot strike yet cushioned it a bit and took the pain away in my feet.  I was sold, and I never returned to the thought of going barefoot.  What I realized from these two blog posts, though, was that the PF wasn’t just caused by my new floors, but the way I WALKED on my new floors.  It wasn’t caused from not wearing supportive enough shoes or from having too little cushioning on the floors, but from the fact that I continually walked with a hard heel-strike – regardless of the hard floors or the flip-flops.  I realized I needed to walk AND run as if I were barefoot – by being barefoot as often as possible – in order to strengthen my feet and correct my form.
I decided that night upon reading these things that I would start walking on gravel the very next day.  I would try running the day after that.  I would take off my shoes and walk barefoot at home as much as possible in order to STRENGTHEN my feet in a safe way.  I just know that WHEN I’M BAREFOOT IN MY HOUSE, OUTSIDE ON THE SIDEWALKS, ETC, I walk in a completely different way than I do when there is any shoe on my foot.   Walking on the gravel hurts – I’m not gonna lie.  I’ve been going over to some railroad tracks across from the gym and have walked 7-10 minutes to the same music on my workout playlists (because I NEED it.)  I BREAK A SWEAT doing it, even though I’m walking slowly, because the pain is sometimes THAT intense.  (Update: two months later and I walked on gravel for ten minutes yesterday with barely any flinching – it’s definitely easier now!)  

My original post is waaaaay too long, so I will continue with the recovery story tomorrow.  Suffice it to say, I eventually progressed to barefoot walking on the gravel, quite a bit of completely barefoot running, along with intermittent biking still whenever the pain has resurfaced and I’ve needed to take a short running “break.”  Check back in for more details tomorrow if I haven’t bored you to death already! 🙂

"Stop kissing me Mama!!"

“Stop kissing me Mama!!”

7 thoughts on “The Rocky Road to Running – Coming Back from Plantar Fasciitis

  1. CRAZY!!! I would never have believed reading that barefoot is better–except coming from you. I can’t wait for your next post on this. Hurry!!!

  2. Pingback: The Vampire Bite – part 2 of 2 on Plantar Fasciitis Recovery | Who's running this place anyway?

  3. Shared this with my 2013 miles challenge group. Several people there have been battling PF themselves so I thought I’d give them another idea to try.

  4. Long, but nice read… lol PF is indeed, one of the runners’ enemy. I had PF and it was really painful. I couldn’t walk straight for several weeks. My uncle, who had the same injury, had stem cell therapy and it worked for him, so I tried it too. I was scheduled for 3 weeks treatment with my ortho surgeon, Dr Grossman and it went well. 3 days after the last session, I had fever and my right foot was swollen, but it went back to normal after 2days… All in all, the experience was fine… I never had problems with my right foot again til now..

    • Sorry to hear about your pf! Mine still hurts a little every time I’ve been sitting or lying down, or when I massage it. Other than that it is doing well, and I have made it up to running almost nine miles completely barefoot. I’m pretty happy just to be able to run again because I felt like if I’d waited til it was completely better I’d still be waiting…

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