Monday, May 8, 2017

What do you mean, you don't want to hear about my feet?

When my plantar fasciitis was at its worst about two years ago, I did a lot of googling in attempt to figure out how I should proceed. I watched countless videos, perused medical websites, and joined a Facebook group started by fellow sufferers. I visited my podiatrist again and again. I was desperate for help.

So, just in case some other middle-aged chick is googling the same stuff I googled and happens upon my blog, I thought I should provide a bit of information about what worked for me. I am now pain-free.

First off, let me say that plantar fasciitis is no joke. Unless you live in the 17th century and are a member of some royal family who gets carried around and doesn't have to walk . . . you probably have to walk. PF makes every step a nightmare. When my pain first started, I thought maybe I had just overdone it at the gym.  I was hitting the elliptical a lot at that point. You know how it goes.  You get into your mid-40s and when something starts to hurt, the initial thought is, "Oh, I guess this will just always hurt now." You don't know what is fixable and what isn't.

I spoke with a yoga teacher at my gym and described my pain to her.  The pain was primarily in the arch of my foot, close to the heel. She confirmed that it was probably plantar fasciitis. This theory was later confirmed by my podiatrist. In addition, my body reacted to the strained fascia by laying down some extra bone on my heel, AKA "bone spurs." It looks super sexy on an x-ray, let me tell you.

So began an odyssey lasting over a year. As PF sufferers will tell you, the worst time of day is first thing in the morning. At night, we all naturally sleep with our feet somewhat extended (like a ballerina). This shortens the fascia alongside the bottom of the foot. This is why that first step is so brutal - the connective tissue on the sole is pulled taut as soon as the foot hits the floor, and that's very owie. For most people, the pain subsides somewhat after walking around for a bit.

I proceeded to try a bunch of stuff that I read about on the interwebs.

Here are the things that ultimately did not work:

1. Rolling my feet on a frozen water bottle. I did this for months. All I got was cold feet.
2. Wearing a special boot at night . The idea of the boot is that it holds the foot in a flexed position, thereby denying the fascia a chance to bunch up. My right foot was always worse so I just bought one boot (it wasn't cheap) and tried that foot. I slept with the boot on for a few nights. Mostly what I accomplished was to kick myself in the left leg with my right leg and wake up thinking, "WTF?!" every few minutes.
3. Getting cortisone injections. I did this twice, on my right foot both times. It did help to numb the pain for a day or two, but the injection itself hurts like a sumbitch and, in my opinion, isn't worth it.
4. Wearing crocs. My podiatrist recommended that I get some Crocs slides and wear them around he house. I did that for months. It didn't help. Crocs don't offer proper arch support and don't hold the leg and foot in proper alignment. And my God were they ugly.
5. Inserts in my existing shoes. My podiatrist recommended some standard orthotics inserts.  They did help somewhat, but not fully.
6. Arch support bands.  You can find these at most drug stores. They did feel kinda good (it's basically a band that wraps around your foot and provides some cushion to the sole), but I don't have any evidence suggesting that they fixed anything.
7. Standing on a step and letting my heels hang over the edge, thereby stretching my feet.

I should add that I did not invest in custom-made orthotics. I know a lot of people do go that route with some success.  Some people also have surgery to correct PF, but the idea of operating on my feet seemed unappealing at best.

What did work:

1. Investing in shoes with built-in orthotics.  I know that there are several brands that offer built-in orthotics. I invested in several pairs of Vionic shoes. Fortunately for me, they do offer several styles that are not leather. I learned that there are two main features that PF sufferers need to care about when it comes to shoes: arch support and heel cup. I bought some flip-flips, worky-type shoes that I can wear to the office, and some tennis shoes.  (Asics also makes some styles that are good for PF).
2. Babying my feet. I am almost never barefoot. At this point, it actually feels weird when I am barefoot. When I am at home, I am either wearing my Vionic flip-flops or my Vionic slippers. I had a setback last summer after I walked barefoot on the beach while visiting my dad in Ocean City. It seemed like a good idea at the time . . .
3. Losing some weight. I guess this one is just common sense but if your feet hurt, it's probably better to have slight less weight smashing them into the ground (if possible).  However, I will also say that I have talked to other people at my gym who are struggling with PF and they were not even a little bit overweight. 

After six months or so without pain, I have now been able to ease back into some "normal" (AKA "cuter") shoes. However, I still make sure that the insole is cushioned (the bone spurs are still there, of course) and that I switch into my flip-flops or slippers when I get home.

The other tactic I use is to roll my feet on a golf ball almost every day. I keep a golf ball in my bathroom and roll my feet while I am getting ready for work. I really try to work the ball into any tender spots so that I can keep an eye on the situation in case it starts to get sucky again.

After wearing the Vionic shoes consistently for many months, I started to notice that I did not have any pain. Now, I will say that it can take a few wearings to get used to these shoes. In fact, the company suggests wearing them only for short periods of time in the beginning. The arch is very exaggerated and feels weird at first. In my case it was worth it to work through the initial weirdness of how they feel.

I think my main annoyance with this whole saga is that my podiatrist did not recommend Vionic shoes (or even some similar brand). PF is very common with middle-aged women so I think it was just like, "Oh, here's another one" and then they handed me a pre-printed list of the orthotic inserts.

I wish I could go back in time and stop myself from wearing cheap flip-flops or flats with no arch support. A lifetime of failing to care for my feet left me limping and in severe pain. I'm a lot more careful now. I even give myself foot massages while I'm watching TV (my family doesn't offer to do it, if you can believe that). I yelled at my dog Grover for stepping on my foot when he came bounding in from the back yard this morning. Doesn't that jerk know what I've been through?

Expensive but effective flippity-flops

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