Avoiding Plantar Fasciitis

After the pressure blisters – or possibly before them – plantar fasciitis is my most common/feared/painful recurring issue/worry/problem on the trail. I first got it on my long camino Francés in 2012, towards the end of the 800 km walk. I was planning on going on to Finisterre, but after arriving in Santiago my heels put their feet down and flat refused to walk another step. By this time I was using pain relief cream on the soles of my feet every day after arriving, and had become quite good at applying it to each foot with the other (the skills you acquire on the camino …). When I came home and went to my GP, an active hiker herself, she immediately recognised the PF signs, explained what was happening and gave me three pieces of advice/rules/laid down the law (thank you, thank you, thank you):

Stretch the plantar when you can – over the edge of stairs, with a towel, on kerbs or even stones on the trail – get decent shoes with arch support and shock absorbing sole, and never walk barefoot on hard surfaces ever again – ever!

I have followed her advice from that day and noticed the difference straight away. I stand on the stairs facing upwards, position my PF heel over the edge of the step, and then stretch it downwards, so both the plantar and the achilles get a good stretch. I immediately bought Birkenstock sandals to cushion the impact of my tiled floors at home, and Birkenstock EVA Madrids (foamy plasticky ones) for travel, camino, showers etc – I take them everywhere and wear them all the time at home as well. No exceptions.

Already a week into my long walk I realised that my shoes were no good for me, so I left them on the stairs of an albergue in Estella and walked on in my Teva Terra Fis until Logroño, where a knowledgeable man sold me a pair of Salomon boots. After I came home I bought a lighter pair of Salomon X Ultras, and walked in them for years, but the PF still reared its ugly head at times – especially on tarmac and often around the 15 km mark. I used to buy cans of cold drinks and tie them to the arch of my foot while resting, to cool the plantar and relieve the pain. Looked odd, worked wonders!

Then I discovered Hoka One One trail runners with the thick, supportive, shock absorbing sole and mad colours, and my feet fell completely in love. When I found the Speedgoat and Mafate models with part vibram (= more durable sole) and started walking in them, it was like walking on clouds. I am currently on my fifth pair of Speedgoats – sixth including the goretex pair – and second pair of Mafates, and we are still very happy. I very, very rarely feel the twinges of PF now, even on hard surfaces and even on long walking days, so I am sticking with them for as long as they keep making them.

This year I am also adding a massage ball to my arsenal, to help stretch and massage the sole of the foot at the end of the day or even at rest stops if needed. I have bought a cork ball about 6 cm in diameter and also a smaller hard rubber ball with spikes, both weighing 50 grams, and will be testing them both out before my adventure in April – so far I am leaning towards the rubber one so will take it to Germany with me.

If you do start to feel a niggling, aching, nagging pain under the heel or arch, especially in the morning, start stretching the sole of your foot gently to see if it helps, and try some arch support or shock absorbing insoles. Some also use kinesiology tape to support the arch while walking instead of or in addition to insoles. A dollop of Voltaren will get you through the day, but it won’t solve the problem in the long term. You might need new shoes, and if you do, try on lots and get the best you can find for your feet! Plantar fasciitis can ruin a long walk completely if you don’t deal with it, so don’t leave it too late.

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