Such a Heel! Plantar Fasciitis Can Stop Your Exercise Effort

Patient Expert

In July 2008, I experienced some foot pain, but felt that I could work through it by exercising. Therefore, a round of Australian tennis doubles with two friends sounded wonderful in order to enjoy the warm weather and to burn a few caloriesBy the third game of the match, it was time for me to play the singles court. The first rally went just fine, although I don't remember who won the point. After a good serve to start the second point of the game, we started to rally. One of my friends hit an off-speed shot to my backhand. While standing around the baseline, I remember shifting my weight from the balls of my feet to my heels and then -- realizing that the shot was going to fall shorter than I expected -- shifting back onto the balls of my feet to start sprinting toward the ball. But a stabbing pain in my right heel caused me to stop dead in my tracks. "I'm through," I said, hobbling gingerly to the courtside bench.

How little did I know how true that statement would be! I was through with exercise for quite awhile while I waited for the heal pain - also known as plantar fasciitis - to subside.

Many people don't know what plantar fasciitis entails. "My first thoughts about plantar fasciitis, when I heard a friend of mine had it, were that it sounded like a good excuse to get out of doing something that required standing," Kathy said. "However, the Lord works in funny ways and when I developed my own case, I ate my words."

So what is it? According to , "Plantar fasciitis is a painful inflammation of the plantar fascia, a fibrous band of tissue on the sole of the foot that helps to support the arch. Plantar fasciitis occurs when this band of tissue is overloaded or overstretched. This causes small tears in the fibers of the fascia, especially where the fascia meets the heel bone. Plantar fasciitis is common in obese people and in pregnant women, perhaps because their extra body weight overloads the delicate plantar fascia. It is also more common in people with diabetes, although the exact reason for this is unknown. Plantar fasciitis also can be triggered by physical activities that overstretch the fascia, including sports (volleyball, running, tennis), other exercises (step aerobics, stair climbing), or household exertion (pushing furniture or a large appliance)."

Leslie developed this injury from standing a lot working retail sales and teaching step-aerobics classes five years ago. She went to a podiatrist who fitted her with orthotics and gave her specific stretches to do at night and especially in the morning. "I still wear the orthotics in my workout shoes but for the most part, I don't wear them," Leslie explained. "To avoid having this injury again, I try to buy new workout shoes more often and stretch when I start to feel pain. If I know I'm going to be standing or walking for long periods, I try to be cognizant of wearing more supportive shoes."

Kathy's case started slowly, and she admits she waited too long to see a doctor. "I started noticing pain in my right heel after I had been sitting or when getting out of bed," she recalled. "It was like a million little needles were stabbing my heel and the arch of my foot.  I had started walking in earnest to lose some weight and the pain was becoming unbearable and even affecting my hip because I was favoring my foot when I walked.  I felt it most when I was just sitting and relaxing.  Not knowing about the cause or what was going on internally, I was making it worse instead of treating it."

Kathy's doctor wrapped the foot and prescribed anti-inflammatory medications. Thirty days later, Kathy returned to the doctor still in pain; the doctor suggested a cortisone shot. "I will tell you that it was one of the most painful injections I have ever had!  I made not one iota of difference in the heel pain," Kathy said. She took steroid pills, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and over-the-counter drugs without any relief. She also tried arthritis cream, foot wraps and ice downs without any success. She also wore a foot brace to bed which kept her food at a 90-degree angle.

What did work for Kathy? Orthotic shoe inserts from a specialty store have made a tremendous difference.

Inserts also made a big difference for me. Until I got them, I could only be comfortable wearing a pair of Crocs. As I struggled to get back to normal, I (like Kathy) found that the pain moved as I adjusted my gait. First it was in my right knee, then my left knee, and then my left ankle; all were caused by the adjustment I made to my gait in order to cope with the plantar fasciitis. Finally, I went to a specialized store and purchased inserts for both my exercise shoes as well as for flat shoes.

I also tried stretching exercises, based on advice from Leslie. These exercises also made a difference. A You Tube video by Dr. Brian Abelson and Dr. Tarveen Ahiuwalia provided great information and exercises that I found beneficial.

Going through plantar fasciitis is a humbling experience. It really made me realize the importance of proper footwear and stretching. The good news - I gingerly returned to the tennis court for the first time this weekend. I stretched a bunch prior to hitting and wore inserts in my tennis shoes. For the first few rallies, I really was careful in my movements. But 30 minutes later, my confidence in my ability to move without pain had started to return and I began running down a few shots. I wasn't back to form, but I feel like I'm making headway.