Plantar Fascia Pain in Runners

Plantar Fascia Pain in Runners
Sports Injuries | 24 May 2024

Running is a beloved sport worldwide and has been gaining popularity over the years. It appeals to many athletes (and non athletes alike) because it is free to do and can be done nearly anywhere you go. Running comes with many health benefits not only physical but mental as well. Many may have heard of a “runner’s high” and it is a real thing. However, just like with anything else too much of anything may result in potential injury and inability to continue to participate in the sport. According to the National Library of Medicine, foot injuries in runners can account for up to 40% of injuries. One of the main injuries that we often see in runners is plantar fasciitis. It has been found to affect about 42% of middle distance runners and 25% of long-distance runners. 

What is the fascia and what can result in injury? 

The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that runs from the heel to the base of the toes and it works as a shock absorber with higher impact activities such as running and jumping. When we develop “plantar fasciitis” it is because the tissue becomes irritated and thickens due to an overuse injury. This can result from doing too much in a short period of time or starting a new activity such as running without proper training/warmup or recovery methods. The running population is not limited to experiencing plantar fascia pain (dancers, soccer players, or even occupations that require long periods of standing on the feet may develop the same issue). 

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Pain, stiffness, or swelling in heel or arch of foot
  • Pain with walking/running
  • Pain first thing in the morning or after long periods of sitting/standing
  • Pain with climbing stairs
  • The pain may develop slowly over time or come on suddenly after intensive exercise

Risk Factors:

  • Increased body mass/weight
  • Decreased ankle dorsiflexion
  • Excessive pronation/foot dropping in
  • Decreased calf/hip strength 
  • Poor landing/push off mechanics on the single leg
  • Increased volume of running in a short period

Plantar Fascia Pain in Runners

Treatments that can help:

  • Soft tissue releases of the foot, calf, glut (dry needling, cupping, IASTM, joint mobilizations) to help with flexibility and blood flow to the restricted and injured tissue
  • Running analysis to check for any excess compensations or faulty movement patterns
  • Changing shoe wear (if too old or not right size/sufficient support)
  • Flexibility and mobility for the lower extremities 
  • Strength training! This is highly overlooked in runners and SO important to be able to run efficiently. This involves not just the foot/ankle, but also the calf complex, gluts, trunk, and hamstrings-especially focusing on single leg bias exercise since running is a single leg sport. 
  • Dynamic balance/proprioception training
  • Running volume modifications to safe progressions 
  • Night splints (if more irritable)

Less likely to help long term:

  • Custom built orthoses (save your money)
  • Ultrasound treatments
  • Steroid injections (risk of fascial tear and other potential complications)
  • Complete rest (unless there is a more severe injury that warrants it)

Always consult with a medical professional and a licensed physical therapist to make sure you get a thorough assessment and treatment plan. Our team of in-house physical therapists is well versed in this sports injury and ready to help you plan your treatment. The good news is with consistent care most people get better within 6 to 18 months depending on how serious the injury is. Be patient with the process and know you will get back to what you love!

Have Questions About Plantar Fascia Pain?

The Training Room NOLA combines physical therapists with specialized coaches to offering comprehensive care through an array of skill sets. This holistic environment fosters not just injury recovery but also nutrition coaching and strength training to help athletes and non-athletes alike reach their full potential. Contact us today to learn more

About the Author

Dr. Jonathan Burke

Jonathan is co-owner of The Training Room as well as head physical therapist and one of our CrossFit Coaches. He specializes in working with middle and high school athletes and is passionate about sports specific training. But he also believes that anyone with a desire to be better is an athlete and wants them move better and move pain free.