Hiking with Plantar Fasciitis

New Supportive Trail Shoes
New Supportive Trail Shoes

“The sum of the whole is this: Walk and be happy; Walk and be healthy.”
Ben Montgomery, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

News from a podiatrist a hiker never wants to hear:

“You have plantar fasciitis, most likely the whole fascia on both feet are inflamed, I would recommend an MRI to make sure it is not a stress fracture, in the meanwhile, wear a night splint (a heavy boot) every night while sleeping, 25 miles is not good for you to hike in one day, stop hiking for a month, stretch, ice, and change to stiff boots with a custom orthotic.”

I looked at the doctor with wide eyes, asked a few questions, and limped out of the office.

That was last July. In 3 days, I would be leaving to hike 500 miles through the state of Washington on the Pacific Crest Trail. I quickly went to work creating a lightweight trail-friendly system to use while hiking to get on the road to healing.

According to FootCareMD, “A diagnosis of plantar fasciitis means you have inflamed the tough, fibrous band of tissue (fascia) connecting your heel bone to the base of your toes.”

To me, plantar Fasciitis basically feels like a hot poker is jabbing into the bottom of the foot.

I walked the Lowest to Highest Route, Tahoe Rim Trail, and Lost Coast Trail with foot pain. Readers that followed me online during those journeys might recall some of my struggles (or complaints). Readers also virtually experienced the relief and joy, when the feet got better. I walked from pain to healing while hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail.

6 on-trail tips for managing plantar fasciitis:


1. Trail Shoe

I switched from a trail shoe with a flexible sole to a trail shoe with a stiffer mid-sole and heavier duty rock plate, such as the La Sportiva Bushido Trail Running Shoe or La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Trail Running Shoe. This change was met with the biggest resistance, but was the game changer. For years, I have been a fan of soft trail runners and walking barefoot. Also, be sure and buy shoes that are longer and wider than your regular street shoes.

2. Custom Orthotic

I let go of store bought insoles for a stiffer, but comfortable custom insole made by my podiatrist. I continue to wear these everyday.

3. Boot Sock/Night Splint

The visualization of packing one of those very bulky and heavy boot splints on top of a pack was just plain crazy. I found a comfortable sock, the STRASSBURG SOCK, to wear as a night splint. It did the job and was compact and lightweight.

4. Compression Sleeve

This was something that might have been an extra, but I think helped manage pain during the day. I wore Compression Foot Sleeves over my Injinji toesocks while I was hiking. I got this idea from Sage Clegg.

5. Soak Feet

Soak feet in cold stream or lake at least twice a day for 10 minutes. I tried to time the soaks around the lunch and late afternoon breaks. Dipping bare feet in snow, also works great.

6. Massage and Stretch

Massage at night: Before bed, deep tissue massage with both thumbs the ligaments between the heel and the ball of the feet. I used the techniques in Sports Massage Techniques for treating Plantar Fasciitis. During this massage I added a drop of peppermint and lavender essential oils. This step should be omitted in active bear areas. The oils are cooling, healing, pain-relieving, and relaxing.

Stretch in the morning: Stretch at least 10 minutes before exiting the tent in the morning (this includes potty breaks at night). I used the techniques in Morning Exercises for Heel Pain & Plantar Fasciitis and Plantar Stretch for Plantar Fasciitis.

Stretch at breaks: With the aide of a post, tree or large rock do the Wall Stretch Version 1 and Wall Stretch Version 2.

 

Healling Plantar Fasciitis Tools
On Trail Tools to Heal Plantar Fasciitis: Custom Orthotic, Compression Sleeve, Trail Shoe with Stiff Mid-sole, and Strassburg Night Sock

These are my on-trail strategies that made all the difference. Hiking in pain takes away from the enjoyment of a trip and is physically and mentally draining. Even now when I feel that frightening bottom of the foot twinge of pain, I race to stretch, massage, and wear the night sock. Plantar fasciitis is becoming more common among athletes. Have tips that have worked for you? Please share your successful treatment in the comments below.

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IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:
None of the health topics presented on Lady on a Rock have been evaluated or approved by the FDA. They should not replace personal judgment nor medical treatment when indicated, nor are they intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

28 Comments

  1. Beth Case

    Oh…and I am going to purchase the other items you used, and look at the trail shoes tomorrow. Along with shopping for crocs 🙂

  2. Beth Case

    Thanks so much for your post on this. I followed your blog when you were hiking with the pain but, as it didn’t really affect me, didn’t pay much attention to what you were doing to fix it…I was just glad that you were able to work it out and be pain free. Well, guess what? Today I have PF and I leave for the High Sierra Trail next Wed! (a week from today) So I went looking for your post. I visited a physical therapist today who suggested stretches and that I only wear my shoes with my custom orthotics in them (Altra Lone Peaks, interestingly enough) and said to come see him when I get back, and good luck 🙂 Tomorrow I have an appointment with my doc…who I am reasonably certain will offer me a cortisone injection. I’m not a fan of injections but am open to it at this point. I’m curious, did you have your feet injected? I hesitate to change shoes at this late date but, geeze, I sure don’t want to miss this trail. Perhaps I’ll buy some crocs to carry as water/second shoe 🙂 Thanks for your insight

  3. Ellen Peterson

    Thank you for all your information and a thank you to your readers for their additions. I am dealing with a second round of plantar fasciitis and it is different from my first bout 20 years ago, so I want to describe the symptoms of each in case someone doesn’t realize how differently it can manifest.

    Type 1: painful hobbling with the first steps in the morning, pain subsides with more walking. Heel pain and heel spurs common.
    Type 2: no morning pain, but increasing pain with walking, especially on flat surfaces. No heel pain. Feels like possible fractures or arthritis throughout the arch.
    Anyone want to add to this? There may be other symptoms for other people.
    A podiatrist diagnosed my PF both times. I was actually thrilled this time because I was afraid I had something that only increasing pain pills could relieve. Now I am stretching and using my orthotics again. I will order the Strassburg Sock. Happy!

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Hello Ellen,
      Well, you and I share exactly the same story. I definitely had Type 2 pain last summer. I am going to a new doctor tomorrow to get new orthotics (mine are super worn). It is super frustrating having pain when you are simply walking. Before I started hiking long trails last summer my former doctor wanted to do an MRI for the very same reasons. This year I plan on working slowly into hiking longer days at home before I hit the trail. I am hoping for stronger feet. I hope all progresses with you. Thank you for sharing important information for all.

    • Nicole Schrader

      Hey great article! I too have plantars faciaiitis and heel spurs in both feet. I will be hiking Washington I July. What are the best hiking socks??
      Thanks.
      Nicole S

  4. Salomon footwear also have semi stiffened soles, they have a vertical strip of hard plastic that runs along the base of the sides of the shoes and runs to a heel cup to reduce how much the shoe sole corkscrews and reduces the bending of the sole too much in the midfoot. i find they helped my feet when they get sore. long flat stretches where i stride out makes my feet extremely sore in a number of areas including the plantar and stiffer footwear helps.
    some models are stiffer than others.
    but basically taking a look at footwear of varying brands that is more supportive shouldnt be overlooked. It amazes me how many people get away walk high mileages on very soft unsupportive design shoes… or maybe some are creating a long term problem by doing so?

  5. I had PF for years UNTIL I found out I have several food allergies. It seems that when/if I eat something I am allergic to it causes the PF to come back with a vengeance. Detoxing, avoiding certain foods and doing yoga are my remedies.
    And, I also use lavender oil under my nose to clear my sinuses…it really helps me sleep better!

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Another great tip and challenge for PF. Inflammation inside the body brought on by foods can cause such havoc in the body.
      Thank you Tara for sharing!
      BTW: I am so with you on the lavender. I use it every night before bed just that way.

  6. I carry a tennis ball to roll under my feet at night. Also, when I first had PF, I went to the doc who did my hip replacement 9 years ago and he recommended leaning against a wall, fence, table or whatever with the afflicted foot behind and good foot in front and just bouncing (rocking) up and down on the bad foot. Said to do it for around 90 seconds two to three times a day. Hurt pretty bad at first but mine cleared up in about 3 days. Now, whenever I feel that burning coming on, I do it two or three times and the pain goes away. Your mileage differ.

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Thank you for sharing! I was wondering when someone was going to talk “tennis ball”. This is probably the more popular tool that works for plantar fasciitis. I decided on-trail, my thumbs didn’t weight a thing and they work the same for me. Readers, if you need a visual for the stretches Keith is referring to, check out the Wall Stretch videos I posted under the tips. These are key to staying healthy.

  7. Jill Douglass

    Thanks so much for writing this article. I’m just finishing up a bout of plantar fasciitis and am very worried with keeping up with teenagers for an upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t sure what to do about shoes (I’ve been hiking in my trail runners (the same shoes I use for running)). I now have direction to pursue. My neighbor is a wiz at oils, so I’m going to talk to her about the lavender oil. Thanks!

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Jill, You are very welcome. 🙂 I hope your trail shoe selection works for you. It is all so personal. What works for one person, may not work for another. Hey, be sure and ask your neighbor about peppermint also. If you do take oils in your backpack, but sure and refer to my blog entry on how to pack them. I made a few mistakes to get a backpack worthy system.
      http://ladyonarock.com/2015/03/04/hiking-with-essential-oils/

  8. I’ve also dealt with PF for four years. Had some very expensive therapy after getting off the pct at the 700 mile mark with such pain I thought I’d broken my foot! The delay was worth it cause they taught me all the exercises I use daily now, and the custom insoles helped for two years but eventually my feet got so strong I’ve ditched em for the most part. I went on to continue my hike till the snows fell 200 miles from Canada and I’m looking forward to finishing that hike someday. I use Danner boots, a new women’s light version called the cascade that has an insole that forms to your foot and gives awesome grip and support. I carry Chaco sandals and yea they’re heavy but I love them and often hike half the day in them the arch is perfect for me!
    I also massage with oils every night and it’s become a “foot loving” ritual I look forward to. I also massage the knots out of the calves and my PT therapist says this is key to getting results for PF. He is a sports therapist specializing in Olympic level athletes and I saw a lot of PF related injuries in other high milage/level athletes. So today I’m PF free and rarely have a flare up but if I do on trail I immediately stop and do my stretches and it’s gone and I’m on my way. I kept hiking after a short rest and the therapy, doing long trails and just finished the 811 mile Arizona Trail last week. I kept repeating my mantra “I am hiking toward health”, and staying active worked for me!

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      First of all, CONGRATULATIONS! on long trail hiking and on healing your plantar fasciitis. It is so scary when a twinge of that old pain flares up prompting immediate stretching positions. What an adventure you have had on the PCT. I think the calf massage is key also. I have been switching back and forth between hiking and road biking. My calf muscles scream when I switch from one to the other. I am going to try it.

      Thank you for sharing your valuable proven tips. Here is to happy hiking feet!

  9. Brian Felix

    Hi Christy, I just recently found your blog and I’m so glad that I did! This post came at the perfect time as I’ve finally started a quest to fix my injured feet. (I’ve been struggling with PF for several years now and haven’t hiked or backpacked for over 6 months now!) I’ve taped while on the trail (kt tape) and that definitely helps and have been doing lots of stretching at home and rolling my feet with a golf ball. I really need to try the custom orthotic, boot sock and compression sleeve and obviously way more stretching and massage on the trail. I’m even game for pretty smelling feet if that will work! Thank you so much!

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      You are so welcome. That is one thing that I didn’t try, KT tape. I saw lots of hikers with it on knees. I figured it would get so dirty on my feet and would have to be replaced every day. It sure would work for day-hiking! Best of luck on your road to healing. Pain can be super depressing.

  10. My husband Bill (aka White Beard) developed plantar fasciitis while we were hiking the whole PCT the first time in 2005. He is one of those guys who can keep going even when it hurts like anything, but he was at the point where he was seriously thinking that maybe we’d have to give up and go home. But in a resupply stop, he was able to go online and found a very simple, lightweight night splint and when we reached our next resupply, it was waiting for us. Wow! It really made a difference, plus doing stretches helped, too, and he was able to keep going and we finished the trail, no problem. So glad you’ve found a solution that works for you!

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      The night splint sure is the key. The Strassburg Sock works just as well as a boot/night splint and is adjustable and very comfortable. Glad you were able to find a lightweight boot on trail. Stubbornness and determination goes a long way!

  11. Nice write-up Rockin.

    I have been wearing compression leg sleeves for a few years. Thought about buying the compression socks a few times. Sometimes I wake up (am woken up) with wicked ankle cramps. Do you wear those compression socks while you are hiking, or slip them on when you get into camp and/or while you sleep?

    As for smothering some lavender oil on my body… I am not sure I am ready to do that yet 😀

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      The compression sleeves I wore while hiking (and loved them) and I wore the Strassburg Sock that works as a night splint while sleeping. The sleeves would definitely work at night. They might get tight feeling and you can just take them off. That is what Sage Clegg suggested.

      BTW: Remember on our hike I was wearing Crocs. After that is when I went on a mission for strategies to keep hiking while having plantar fasciitis.

      As for the lavender, it is pretty magical for all kinds of trail related aliments. My son just spilled a Jetboil full of boiling water on his foot on the AT. He immediately got his shoe off and applied lavender. By the next morning he was able to put his shoes back on. Lavender also works fantastic for blisters and small cuts and calluses that get painful. Just sayin’ 🙂

  12. thank you for this article. I have shared it with my wife since she has hiked with the Plantar Fascitis thing. She actually found some relief through the chiropracter.

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      The resources and treatments are vast. Finding what works is the key. Glad your wife has found relief.

  13. Oh yeah, icing. I only did that when really bad. I never ice anymore. Can’t say it helped.

  14. I have had plantar fasciitis on and off for multiple years. My feet have been doing really good lately. The podiatrist considers it a permanent thing that can come and go. I went to 2 different podiatrists for it, as well as to a physical therapist. My feet have been really good for over a year now. On rare occasion when hiking I can feel a tearing feeling in my fascia when hiking longer distances, but it usually only bothers me for a day and then I’m all better. I am a dayhiker, not a long distance hiker. I am even trying “beginning” trail running. Every time I tried running before I gave up due to issues with either my knees or my feet. I only do it one a week, but so far I’m still okay!

    Things I did –

    Naproxen – I can’t remember, but I think the podiatrist had me take it for 6 weeks at a higher dosage. It helped. Not a cure. I now use Naproxen instead of ibuprofen whenever I need a NSAID.

    Boots – Hike only in a boot with a stiff sole. Both podiatrists recommended this. Currently I’m wearing Lowa Renegades, previously I wore Vasques. I’ve been working with a personal trainer who is a trail runner. She has been working with me on switching to trail runners – which are less supportive in the sole. I was terrified, lol! I have been using Altra Lone Peaks recently, no special insoles, so far okay.

    Work shoes – I don’t wear nice work shoes…lol. I guess I’m starting to expand now that my feet have been good for over a year. But I try to get away with as casual a shoe as I can. I look at shoes created by Merrell for example I will not win best dressed award for sure. I did like Dansko clogs (can’t use orthotics), but my podiatrist told me to throw them out! But, I did find they felt good (tons of support!). I still wear them sometimes, but less often than I used to (due to twisting my ankle twice while hiking – I just feel less secure now in clogs).

    Insoles – I used Power Step orthotics for my first bout with PF. After I got it again, I got custom orthotics. I didn’t find the custom orthotics any better. I also hated pulling them in and out of all of my shoes. Work shoes, sneakers, boots, etc. Again, now with the trainer, she is recommending not as stiff orthotics. So, I stopped using the custom ones. In my boots I still use Power Step. Everything else (including trail runners), I’m using whatever came with the shoe.

    Stretching – I did find that when I had bad PF my calves were tight. I would get knots in them really badly that I couldn’t get out by stretching. The PT helped by massaging my calves. Now that I am working with the trainer, she has me do foam rolling daily. I use “The Stick” on my calves, because I find it easier to use than supporting so much of my body weight with a traditional foam roller. I also bought a slant board for stetching. They had me use one in PT. Now that I have one at home, I just stand on it for 5 minutes a day (I put it in front of the television). I think these two things have helped me the most.

    Night splint – yeah, they gave me one. I couldn’t sleep with it on once. Somehow it cut off my circulation too much. My foot would go numb. I could tell & I could not fall asleep wearing it. I used it occasionally just sitting (again, television), but its a pain. Couldn’t walk on it. Your sock things sounds more useful (for me).

    Physical Therapy – expensive, but I guess helpful? I went for several weeks. They gave me exercises, but a lot of the stuff I could have just done by myself after 1 session, rather than paying for weeks of PT. I did find the calf massage helpful. I rarely do the strength training exercises anymore. I do strength training with my trainer, so although it isn’t targeting my feet, figure it is enough for now.

    Taping my foot – not a cure, but this did provide me a lot of relief when I was in pain. You can use any kinesio tape. KT Tape can be bought online & there are videos. I got different instructions on taping my foot by different people (PT versus podiatrist). I would tape my feet to go hiking. I don’t hike as far as you. The most I’ve gone would be 16 miles/day. But it would help.

    What I didn’t do –

    No cortisone shots – I’ve heard they are crazy painful. I’ve also had a coworker that has had 3. And now has numbness/tingling issues in her feet. I’ve been tempted, but realize that these are NOT a cure.

    Rest – Ugh. Not go hiking for 6 months as recommended. No way! I’m horrible about resting. Both the podiatrist & PT recommended several months of rest. PT realized that yes, I was going to keep hiking. I did try to reduce non-hiking walking.
    e.g. if I go to the gym to do cardio, I can bike or do elliptical rather than the treadmill.

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Wow, what a great resource and personal experience you have provided the readers! Thank you. Interestingly, I have talked to a few long-distance hikers that have hiked to healing. I think everyone is different though, especially with pain tolerance. A good example: my pain started with wearing Altra Lone Peaks. My husband on the other hand loves them. I am glad they are working out for you. Thanks again.

  15. I was just looking at foam rollers on Amazon yesterday, as they had a sale. They had some video clips, I think from YouTube, and that lead to the same woman talking about using balls for plantar fasciitis. There are balls specifically designed to use, or tennis or one from another sport that slips my mind.

    Anyway this might be worth checking out.

    It seems you have set up quite a thorough regimen as a highly motivated hiker who isn’t about to just sit around! And I appreciate how articulate you are in all you write.

    At a much lower level of activity, I did go to a podiatrist who showed me all the problems with my feet and said if I was going to be seriously walking 5 miles, I needed to get running shoes and ditch all my shoes I could put on without having to tie laces.

    That did help.

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Boy, I agree. All I have to do now is wear heels for a very short time and I get little twinges of pain again. I have creatively incorporated hiking clothes and trail runners (new and clean) into my work wardrobe. I have a roller and balls at home that I have used, but found on trail my thumbs worked much better and did not weight a thing. Thank you for your thoughts and tips.

      • Lynn Duncan (Seamonkey)

        I lost the heels after I took out an ACL and had to wear a CTi brace to walk.

        After surgery for the ACL and cartilage graft for the meniscus, I never looked back at heels.

        And of course you need no added weight.

        They just need a way to incorporate the function of roller or ball into something you already have to carry. But lucky we come with thumbs. 👣

        .

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