I’m a Physical Therapist, so that means I never have any issues with pain, right? Wrong! About 3 years ago, I had my first personal encounter with plantar fasciitis. Although I’d treated this foot condition dozens of times in the clinic, this was the first time the plantar fasciitis patient was me. Here’s how I resolved my heel pain for good.
The Problem: Plantar Fasciitis
A common problem, plantar fasciitis causes sharp, stabbing pain in the heel and foot. It’s usually worse after long periods of inactivity, such as sleeping or sitting. If you’re ever greeted by stabbing heel pain once your feet hit the floor in the morning, then you know all about plantar fasciitis.
I did, too, but in a clinical sense. As a physical therapist, I had treated a ton of people with heel pain and all sorts of foot and ankle injuries. Ironically, despite helping others combat this problem, I had developed it myself.
Once I started to experience plantar fasciitis symptoms, I endeavored to treat it head-on. I was motivated not only to get rid of the pain as fast as possible, but also to trial the strategies I use for my patients in the clinic.
In a way, I was running an empirical experiment. Would the treatments I recommend to patients actually work for me? And could I figure out how to resolve my own heel pain?
If I failed, I knew I would feel like a total fraud, limping around the clinic as the physical therapist who couldn’t treat his own heel pain.
But I was up for the challenge. So I started my self-treatment the same way I start all my patients’ treatments: with an evaluation.
My PT Self-Evaluation
During a typical PT evaluation, the therapist endeavors to learn about the patient’s past medical history, activity level, and the cause of the injury. We do this by looking at medical records, if available, and asking the patient a series of questions.
I didn’t sit myself down with a pad and paper, but I did stop to consider one question that I now ask my patients: Did I change my footwear recently?
Looking back, I realized that the problem of plantar fasciitis pain began after I bought a new pair of shoes. In my purchasing gusto, I had failed to check something that I now urge all my patients to look at.
The problem with most new shoes lies in the insert, or the cheap piece of foam they call an insert. Unless the shoe is specifically designed to provide arch support and heel stability, you might as well be walking on flip-flops all day. And in case it isn’t clear, flip-flops are not good shoes for plantar fasciitis (though a couple of these sandals may slide by).
And I’m not talking just about sandals; even athletic shoes can fall prey to the flimsy-insert failure. I wear athletic shoes in the clinic, and it was after I had bought a new pair of work shoes that I started having heel pain. Without considering the insert, I had laced on my new pair of shoes straight from the box and worn them all day for a week.
I like to be active with my patients, so I move a lot and perform many of the exercises with them throughout the day. But despite this healthy activity, pain had begun to flare up along the inside of my arch and heel.
Stretches and exercises are primary ways we combat plantar fasciitis in the clinic. But what I discovered is that sometimes they’re not enough.
Treating Plantar Fasciitis Heel Pain
When I first started to feel pain in my heel, I immediately employed a few calf stretches and exercises to help strengthen my foot muscles. That’s a good strategy in most cases and will definitely help prevent plantar fasciitis in the long run. But in the short term, I needed to address the root of the problem to keep it from getting worse.
In truth, there are many causes of plantar fasciitis. You may experience heel pain from a sudden change in activity level, such as trying out a rigorous running routine at the turn of the year. Or if you’re like me, you settled for a pair of unsupportive sneakers. Other factors such as age and weight can also play a role in developing plantar fasciitis.
To resolve my heel pain for good, I needed to address my footwear problem. But I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of buying another pair of shoes.
My Solution: Tread Labs Shoe Inserts
Instead of shelling out big bucks for better shoes, I swapped out the part of my shoes that was causing the pain. Thankfully, the thin inserts were easily removable, so in their place I inserted a semi-custom shoe insole from Tread Labs.
Now with new-and-improved shoes, I continued my calf stretches and exercises. Within 2 weeks, the plantar fasciitis pain went away completely, and I discharged myself from personal PT. Follow-up appointments with myself indicate that the pain hasn’t returned.
The Difference Footwear Makes
From this experience, I rediscovered the importance of footwear for foot health. I also learned that one can’t rely on a shoe brand to meet the needs of every individual customer. It’s up to each of us, as the consumers, to take charge of foot health and find shoes that will support and sustain our activities.
Now anytime I buy new shoes, I always ensure they have a removable insert. And if the inspection comes up short, I add a supportive insole like Tread Labs.
A New Plantar Fasciitis Treatment Tool
My bout with plantar fasciitis has also helped me help my patients. Besides encouraging them to evaluate their footwear, I can now recommend a quality insole whenever my patients need one.
I’ve been using Tread Labs shoe inserts ever since my first brush with plantar fasciitis, and that first pair lasted 2 years. I recently upgraded to Tread Labs’ Pace insoles, which you can read about more here. All in all, Tread Labs makes quality products that work, last, and don’t cost an arm and leg. Check out this article for the full line-up of Tread Labs inserts that I recommend to my patients.
Physical Therapists experience aches and pains, like everyone else. Pain is ultimately unavoidable, but how we respond to and evaluate it makes a huge difference on recovery.
If you’re experiencing plantar fasciitis pain, it’s crucial that you identify the root cause or any factors that may be irritating your plantar fascia. For me and many others, the problem was footwear. Now after experiencing and resolving plantar fasciitis for good, I always make sure my shoes have proper support.
Need more help fighting plantar fasciitis? You can read other time-tested strategies here. I’ve also researched some of the best-rated shoes, boots, and sandals for plantar fasciitis. There’s no reason why you can’t start feeling better today!