Feet of clay; or, “Plantar fasciitis sucks”

by Adam Reger

I’ve been weirdly heartened, the last week or so, to hear that Joakim Noah, center for the Chicago Bulls, has been suffering from plantar fasciitis for the last couple weeks. “Plantar fasciitis sucks,” Noah said. “It feels like you have needles underneath your foot while you’re playing.”

Heartened not because I dislike Noah; he’s one of those pain-in-the-ass players whose yelling and physical defense would bug the hell out of you if he were going against your team, but who you’ve got to be happy to have on your side.

Rather, heartened because I’ve been dealing with plantar fasciitis for about 18 months, off and on, and it’s sort of nice to see it getting some attention.

Some time in the fall of 2012 I started noticing that the sole of my right foot would hurt when I first started to run, and often in the morning. I didn’t know enough to stop running, or even run less frequently, and anyway the pain usually stopped once I’d gotten into a run. I kept running until some time in October, when I went to the excellent Fleet Feet running store in Pittsburgh’s South Hills and they suggested I try some various calf stretches.

I did, to no effect. Over the next few months I’d go to a podiatrist, then go back to Fleet Feet for some shoe inserts. The 2012 Pittsburgh Marathon bib I’d bought some time before was sold on race weekend to an out-of-town runner. Six months later, the 2012 Philadelphia Half-Marathon bib I’d bought many months before I passed on to my sister.

Significantly, I am writing about plantar fasciitis all these months later because of my own stupidity and impatience. I’d heard good things about CrossFit, and there was a gym near my office, so I signed up. I loved it, and didn’t pay too much attention to the impact of Olympic-style weightlifting on my foot and Achilles. The CrossFit gym I went to offered a running class that taught the Pose method of running, and I went to that as often as I could manage. I figured I was pretty much back to normal, if I was doing CrossFit and running, so I began doing occasional running workouts at an indoor track: sprints, intervals, barefoot running, even backward running.

Some time over this past winter I decided I was kidding myself if I thought CrossFit and running were not bad for my foot. I went to a physiatrist and was prescribed six weeks of physical therapy. I did that. I’ve gotten inserts in my shoes, have been faithfully doing the stretches my physical therapist recommended, and as often and for as long as I can I sleep with my right foot in a brace to gently stretch the plantar fascia.

The results are, at best, middling. The thing that really sucks about plantar fasciitis is how sensitive it is even when you do all the right things. I’ve been doing home workouts over the last two and a half weeks that have involved things like jumping jacks, jogging in place, just to warm up. Those have tweaked my foot; it hurts as much now as it did the day I stopped running. I am inching toward a Cortisone shot and, beyond that, toward surgery. The notion of surgery seemed like a joke when the physiatrist suggested it: he made a point of saying that he did not recommend it, and I made a point of letting him know I wanted to avoid surgery if at all possible. It’s weird to acknowledge but it’s gone on long enough now that I’m in a place where I wouldn’t dismiss surgery out of hand. The idea of running again isn’t even particularly in my mind, either. It’s just a matter of being able to walk for a long time without the certainty that it will aggravate my foot, and down the road of being able to do a workout where I jump, or lift weights standing up, or run from home plate to first base.

A lot of bellyaching, I know. But this is just to substantiate Noah’s statement, a true one, that plantar fasciitis sucks.

Update: It’s almost a year later but I am back to fairly normal health, foot-wise, and have just posted an extremely lengthy account of how I got there.