In pursuit of pain-free running March 24 2015, 0 Comments

A friend came round on Saturday to try out some ZEMgear shoes.  He is in our running group and had been absent for quite some time, suffering from plantar fasciitis.  Until recently, this was thought to be an inflammation (anything ending in '...itis' is an inflammation) to the plantar fascia, a fibrous band that connects the heel with the toes along the arch of the foot.  More recent thinking is that it is not simply an inflammation, but micro-tears in the tissue, which would lead to inflammation as part of the repair process.  It occurs with arches that are too flat or too curved, when calves and Achilles tendons are tight, and with people who pronate too much or are overweight.

Short of seeking help from a physiotherapist or a doctor, the things that we can do ourselves are:-

  • Stretch the calves and Achilles tendon (best when the body is warm and everything is flexible).  Keep the knees bent slightly so that the stretch happens where you want it and not in the tendons around the knee.  The rule for all stretching, into the stretch s-l-o-w-l-y, hold for 30 seconds, and then out again s-l-o-w-l-y.  Never bounce if you don't want to strain something.  Do three or four times a day.
  • Strengthen the calf muscles.  Strengthening exercises are generally executed slowly, so stand on one foot with your fingers resting on a windowsill or table for balance and raise yourself to a slow count of ten until the foot is at its fullest height.  Hold for two, and then lower for a further slow count of ten.  Repeat five times without pause, and then with the other foot.  Now your calves are warm, stretch them...  Repeat every second day to allow some rest time for the body to build new muscle.
  • Ice-pack the painful area two or three times a day.  Ice is one of the best ways of bringing inflammation down.  Two or three times a day until the pain has abated.
  • If really bad, take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen.  Take as per the package instructions.
  • If none of this helps, do go and see that doctor or physiotherapist

Our friend departed with a brand new pair of Terras, and we waited on tenterhooks to see how he had got on with them on the run that he had planned for the next day.  Big smiles, then, when he texted us and told us that they were 'brilliant', and that he had achieved a personal best time in them.

He has read Christopher McDougal's Born to Run and changed his running style to avoid heel-planting.  This reduces the impact landing on the heels, which is the most common area for pain with plantar fasciitis.  The Terras would help with this, as they have that barefoot feel about them that makes heel-planting counter-intuitive. Not to mention that without the thickness of the standard running shoe sole under the heel, it is also easier to avoid.

We shall wait and see how he progresses - we are optimistic.  My own experience was that my fallen left arch, one of the after-effects of a spinal disc prolapse, re-formed when I started barefoot running.  Switching back to this style (I used to do a lot of sports barefoot at school), has been life-changing - I run regularly, and pain-free, and am very thankful for it.