15 DIY Ways to Relieve Plantar Fasciitis
(& Sore Tootsies in General)
Pain in the feet is a pain in the butt. It can be utterly debilitating. But, even if it's just an occasional inconvenience or episodic condition, wouldn't life be grander without it?
I was inspired to do this post because I ran into a friend the other day who said she's been suffering from plantar fasciitis lately. That dredged up memories of my struggles with the condition. And all the things I tried, that were recommended to me or that I came across in my research for relief.
This post has plantar fasciitis center of mind. But most of the suggestions could be applied to feet that are screaming for any number of everyday reasons.
What is Plantar Fasciitis?
The Mayo Clinic gives a terrific, succinct overview of plantar fasciitis. Check it out if you're unfamiliar with the condition; I don't want to mess with perfection. You can also find as many videos on "What is PF?" on YouTube as Imelda Marcos had shoes.
Heal Thyself (or at Least Help Thyself)
So, what are some ways to take the bite out of those barking dogs? Here's a comprehensive list to get you started. Experiment and, hopefully, you'll land on at least a handful of tactics that help you.
Stretching & Strengthening Exercises
Stretch and strengthen are the order of the day. Stretching unkinks the tissues in your feet, while strengthening improves structure, stability, balance, etc.
There are a gazillion pins, posts and videos with suggested exercises, so I'm not going to regurgitate that here. Start out with gentler stretches and strengtheners and feel free to use props (like a wall or yoga strap) to facilitate. Try some out and see what works for you. But, in general, these exercises work the feet, lower legs and hamstrings — it's all connected, yo!
Deep tissue massage is especially effective. While it may not be so comfortable during the massage (trust me, I know), this approach can help provide longer-term relief. By working out the knots, you're getting rid of what's pinching nerves and tweaking your muscles/tendons.
Consider adding lavender essential oil (to a carrier oil) to up the relaxation factor of your kneading and take advantage of the anti-inflammatory powers of lavender.
You can easily do self-massage, but if you can swing a professional therapist: even better.
Specifically tennis or lacrosse balls. Cheap and easy to get your hands (feet) on, maybe get one of each. Tennis balls are a bit gentler as they have more give. Lacrosse balls are firmer and more rigid, which can be helpful for getting in to those particularly dense muscle knots.
Whether you should go hot or cold really depends on the underlying cause of your PF. But here are some general guidelines.
To reduce pain and swelling, go for an ice soak. Opt for heat when you want to warm and loosen your muscles. You can also alternate between heat and cool (a few minutes of each), but should finish with a round of cool. And many sources recommend avoiding heat treatments for the first 2-3 days of a flare-up (and suggest that you should only use mild-moderate heat when you turn the temp up).
Feel free to add a drop or two (literally — this stuff is potent!) of lavender essential oil to your tub to boost the anti-inflammatory effects of your soak. I'm also a big fan of Epsom salt — which can draw out toxins and soften the skin a little — in my [foot]baths (dissolves best in warm/hot water).
Frozen Water Bottle
Not sure who I got this tip from but THANK YOU! This is similar to rolling a tennis or lacrosse ball under your foot to apply pressure to knots. With the added benefits of ice.
So, it mechanically works on the muscle knots, reduces pain and swelling with cold, and cools your hot feet (and body). Truly a great self-care option.
I leave a bottle in the freezer (in a bag, otherwise: eww!) so it's ready to go. In the summer this thing's a godsend.
Granted, not the sexiest of apparel. But in the case of foot pain, it's ok to let function take priority over form. If it means you get some relief....
There's got to be a compression stocking for everyone's needs. They come in a variety of styles and colors: trouser socks, toeless, calf sleeves, with zippers, knee-highs, thigh-highs, pantyhose, sport socks. They come in a few standard strengths classified as mild (8-15 mmHg), medium (15-20 mmHg), firm (20-30 mmHg), extra firm (30-40 mmHg).
The mgHH part tells you how much compression there is. With graduated stockings, there's more pressure on the bottom part of the stocking than the top. This promotes fluids that might want to pool in your lower extremities to circulate back up and through your system as they should.
For everyday usage, I tend to use the 15-20 mmHg or 8-15 mmHg socks or stockings; for airplane time I bump up the compression level. With good results. While these can get a bit hot, I still prefer these stocking to regular pantyhose-like knee-highs because they give great support. Sometimes — like when I'm traveling and know I'll be doing a ton of walking — I even wear the stockings under my walking socks.
Rest & Elevate
This is the "R" and "E" of "RICE," which stands for rest, ice, compress, elevate. Elsewhere I discussed icing (Footbaths) and compression (Compression Stockings).
So how about rest and elevate? When your feet are sore, they may be telling you that they need a break. Taking the load off your feet and elevating them gives them the opportunity to restore. Excess fluids — pulled down by gravity — can flow back into your system. Swelling can go down. Ahhh!
If you're suffering an acute bout of plantar fasciitis, recommendations are to take it easy on your feet for up to a few days. Aim to elevate your feet higher than your heart to get those fluid-busting benefits.
Many people find relief by using kinesiology tape (e.g., KT Tape) to align and support their feet. Here's a good explainer of how athletic tape works.
You can buy kinesiology tape in uncut rolls or pre-cut specifically for your plantar fasciitis needs. The tape comes in many colors, but the color is just for looks. (Unlike other things — such as exercise bands — for which color indicates different strength or resistance.)
Check out guides and online tutorials for proper taping techniques.
Splints & Wraps
Splints are often considered a treatment for more severe cases of plantar fasciitis. These devices are generally worn while you sleep. But certain ones — more on the wrap end of the continuum — may be used while relaxing (like you needed an excuse to sit and watch TV! Ha!) or up and about.
Orthotics are inserts you place into your shoes to correct your foot alignment and provide support for your foot. Custom-made prescription orthotics from a doctor are a-maz-ing but pricey and not DIY.
However, you can readily get some reasonable alternatives at lower price points. These products probably won't have the same level of effectiveness or durability, but they may be worth a try. Mail-order 3D-printed customized inserts seem to cost around $80-$120-ish. For about $80, you can get semi-customized inserts at many local running stores. And, there are plenty of generic inserts that will show your arches some support.
There are also several brands of shoes with built-in orthotics. And no, they aren't all ugly, matronly "nurses' shoes."
Speaking of shoes.... You're probably stuffing your dogs into some sort of footwear for big chunks of time on a regular basis. Do you see what I'm driving at here?
Your foot health can reflect your choice of shoes. Poor quality footwear (referring to structure, not necessarily the integrity of the materials used) can let your feet pronate or supinate, your arches fall or your foot flesh ooze all over the place.
This doesn't mean you need to ditch those stilettos or flipflops altogether. It means pick wisely when shoes shopping and figuring out what to wear each day.
Wear purpose-oriented shoes (e.g., running sneaks for running, hiking boots for hiking).
Opt for footwear that's the proper size. (I cringe when I see people wearing shoes that are like three sizes too big/small!)
Pick footwear that's the right fit for your particular body (e.g., certain brands work better for people with wide feet or narrow heels).
Select shoes that provide adequate support, alignment and containment.
Get sturdy shoes made of sturdy materials so that they won't unexpectedly break (which could lead to accidents).
Replace worn-out or broken shoes (or get them repaired before wearing again).
Heck, I even bought a couple pairs of house slippers with built-in orthotics because the extra support serves me so well.
Ok, so the jury seems to be out on this one. I've heard and seen various sources contradict one another on the barefoot question. Some say it's good; others say it's an idea to backpedal away from.
What I'm concluding is this: There are purported pros/cons to going sans shoes for folks with foot pain (and, frankly, for those with healthy feet). And suggestions for if you do go au naturel. Let's take a quick look at them.
It can strengthen all the little muscles in your feet. This can lead to improved balance, posture and circulation. It can also help with injury prevention.
You may experience improvements in your gait and weight transfer across your foot as you walk or run.
Nothing really compares to the feeling of walking around barefoot....
You get less shock absorption and support, which may increase your risk of injury.
With no barrier between you and the ground, you're more likely to get hurt from ground debris (e.g., dirt, shards of glass, the ubiquitous Lego).
You could develop or aggravate heel pain.
Be selective. Stick to freeing your piggies on softer, smoother, more level surfaces (e.g., carpet, sand, grass). Spaces with hazards like slippery water and heavy things that could fall on your feet may not be the best environments to go barefoot.
Don't overdo it. Only go barefoot some of the time. And pick times and activities that are more suited to being shoeless — like when you're hanging out at home.
Compromise. Instead of being totally barefoot, see if open-toed sandals or slippers are comfy. Or try one of those heel or arch wraps.
Think prevention. Do those aforementioned exercises to strengthen and stretch your peds. With more fit legs and feet, your body will likely be able to tolerate barefootedness better.
There are two key ways diet impacts plantar fasciitis: your weight and the inflammatory qualities of the food you eat.
It's probably no surprise that maintaining a healthy-for-you weight is a boon to your wellbeing. In terms of foot pain, lower bodyweight means less downward force on your feet. And this can translate into preventing or relieving your plantar fasciitis.
The characteristics of your food are also important. Certain foods promote inflammation (e.g., processed and refined foods, items high in saturated or trans fats) and fluid retention in the body. Others (e.g., fruits and veggies!) have anti-inflammatory or diuretic effects. The goal here is to slash your intake of the inflammatory stuff while increasing your consumption of the anti-inflammatory stuff.
Ibuprofen (NSAIDs like Advil) can tackle temporary muscle pain and inflammation. Others, like Tylenol (acetaminophen), address pain but aren't anti-inflammatories. Be sure to only take these if they're appropriate for your personal health profile. And always follow package directions and guidelines. If you aren't sure that OTCs are right for you — call your doctor.
Sometimes pains and cramps are due to inadequate levels of certain vitamins or minerals in your body. Possible culprits for leg/foot aches include deficiencies in Vitamin D, B vitamins, Vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, calcium, amino acids....
These nutritional dearths can be caused by lifestyle factors, medications you're taking, genetics and so on. Definitely consult with your healthcare provider to determine if this is the root of your troubles and, if so, appropriate courses of action — like taking supplements.
Turmeric and bromelain (an enzyme in pineapple) supplements seem to be the current darlings. They're reported to have significant anti-inflammatory effects that can address some sources of foot pain. Other supplements have similar benefits or address those vitamin/mineral deficiencies mentioned above.
Remember that, while not pharmaceuticals, supplements do interact with your system and other meds you may be taking. To be on the safe side, first get the green light from your doc for any supplements you want to try.
When the self-care route isn't cutting it, you may need to look into more intensive therapies.
Your doctor will be able to do any necessary tests (like blood tests, x-rays or MRI) to evaluate your condition. Based on the results, your doc can recommend treatments. Among these more intense and/or invasive options are physical therapy, shock wave therapy, injections, surgery and prescription meds.
At any rate, the DIY treatments above may still serve you well. Complementary and alternative medicine can be a legit care approach. Be sure to ask your doctor about additional things you can do to improve any non-DIY treatment outcomes.
You'll Get a Foothold on This...Eventually
Don't give up or get discouraged. Plantar fasciitis can take a while (uh, like 6-12 months) to go away and it can reappear periodically. The key is to try different things to figure out what works for you — both to mitigate and resolve your condition.
With luck, you find comfort and hope in this list. Its many relatively quick, easy and inexpensive treatment ideas show there're always things you can do [to try] to improve your situation. And new treatment options come along all the time.
Be consistent and dedicated to your self-care because you matter!
Step Right Up
How do you deal with foot pain? What are your tips for preventing plantar fasciitis flareups? Feel free to share your suggestions in the Comments section below. Thanks!
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Please note: I'm not a doctor, therapist or other certified medical professional who's qualified to assess, diagnose, treat or otherwise advise on any health issues. If you're concerned that you might have a medical condition, consult your healthcare provider. The content in this post is intended for informational purposes only. It is not medical advice.
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