When you feel heel pain a natural response is to run to the medicine cabinet and to take something for the ache, but that response could be dragging out your recovery process. Here are a few common pain relievers and why they aren’t necessarily the most direct route to longterm pain relief.
OTC Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
For a long time now, people have been treating plantar fasciitis under the false assumption that it is caused by inflammation. However, when podiatrists recently began to analyze the afflicted plantar fascia under a microscope, they found no traces of inflammation at all. Instead the dull ache that we associate with plantar fasciitis is the result of tiny tears that have accumulated in the tissue. To many this was shocking, especially since the name “itis” implies swelling.
The real take away is this… ibuprofen and other nsaid drugs are unlikely to help with the longterm healing process. Ibuprofen will still work as a pain reliever, just not as an inflammatory because there is no inflammation to cure. In masking the pain, you might even be causing additional damage. Rather than taking a double dose, Dr. Terrence Phillibin an orthopedic surgeon with a practice in western Ohio, recommends taking a break from physical activity and implementing calf stretches.
For many taking a break is the hardest of all advice to follow. That’s because whether you work on your feet all day or are an avid runner, chances are that you have developed a behavior which has led to the chronic straining on your plantar fascia. Eliminating that behavior over night may not always be possible. So for now rest as much as possible and check out these plantar fasciitis stretches when you have a second.
Cathy Fieseler of the American Medical Athletic Association remarks ambivalently, ” Cortisone is a wonderful, terrible drug.” That’s because it is so easy to abuse. It is remarkably good at diminishing pain, but treatments can carry some nasty side effects and complications. Repeated use of cortisone into the same joint can erode cartilage. In the case of tendons, such as your plantar fascia, it can severely weaken them and even lead to rupture. Gross.
Fieseler remarks that no one should use cortisone on a weight-bearing tendon. William Roberts, a medical Director and past President of the American College of Sports Medicine concurs. “I don’t inject around major tendons. If they rupture, the results are disastrous.” If you suffer from plantar fasciitis, you are dealing with tiny tears. Imagine how painful your condition would be with a ruptured plantar fascia. You would most certainly need surgery and might never fully regain your mobility.
Another potential issue (as if a rupture wasn’t bad enough) cortisone injections pose to your foot health is… they will eat away at critical fat deposits. Ignoring the advice of her podiatrist, Christine Byers a Boston-qualifying runner, found a family doctor that would inject cortisone into her heel. “I now have no fat remaining under that heel and can no longer walk barefoot. Custom orthotics are the only reason I’m able to walk or run reasonably comfortably.”
The moral of the story…Cortisone can be extraordinarily effective at reducing pain, but the use of it on your plantar fasciitis would be highly irresponsible. Alright, so you get it now, enough of the scary talk. Let’s examine other pain relief options that actually work.
Tendon Creams + Alternatives
There are a lot of exclusive formulas out on the market that are said to be a viable treatment for plantar fasciitis. I’ve heard for instance that drinking cherry juice everyday can alleviate tendon pain. The science backing up these claims are always a little dubious. That said, plantar fasciitis sufferers are totally free to try them. Even if they don’t actually work, the placebo effect is still something right?
Penetrex appears to have a loyal following on Amazon. Despite all of the rave reviews, what is difficult to understand from their long ingredient list, is exactly how this product addresses tendon pain. Arnica, a toxic herb that when diluted can be used to address tendon pain, appears to be the active ingredient.
1.Rest. (Duh) Tendons are notoriously slow healing, we’re talking months here. If you still suffer from plantar fasciitis after a year, chances are that you are re-injuring your arches. In resting, keep in mind that this is not a week long process, your injury is more on the timescale of a broken bone. What’s worse, if not properly cared for, your plantar fasciitis will never entirely disappear.
2.Support. You can find support with a new pair of shoes or insoles, but keep in mind that rest is still key. Avoiding hard floors is also a good option. Set your slippers aside and instead, try wearing your running shoes around the house as soon you step out of bed in the morning.
3.Stretch. Light stretching will reduce tension that is placed on your plantar fascia. Loosening your calf muscles several times a day is a good routine to get into.
4.Ice. Icing may help with recovery, although the science behind this is not clearly understood. Roll your foot on a frozen water bottle if you feel like it helps with your symptoms.
5.Massage. Massages stimulate tissue healing and circulation. You can use a tennis ball, water bottle, or rolling pin, among other devices, to target knotted areas in your arch. Regular massages will release tension and thus prevent further tearing.
Avoid Cortisone like the plague and use otc anti inflammatories with moderation. Heel pain can become unbearable, but rather than pop an ibuprofen and walk through it, establish a strategy that combines some of the points above. Your plantar fasciitis likely evolved over the course of months, if not years and thus there is no quick fix to rejuvenating your heel. Focus on longterm solutions like rest, stretching, and massages. Don’t be bummed if you still experience pain after a month. A full recovery if done exceptionally well could easily take several months.