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Every year or so I'll end up with plantar fasciitis after periods of time where I've walked a lot. In general my walking shoes are fine and have arch support but occasionally I'll need to use sturdier boots or sometimes walking sandals with no support. It's usually not long after that that the pain starts.

What methods or items of equipment are there to prevent this? Are there good quality shoes/boots/sandals with arch support? Does anyone have experience of extended walks with inserts?

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  • I got some OluKai sandals from REI, and they are by far the most comfortable sandals I have ever had. They are not flat like most sandals, and actually have arch support. That being said, I don't do any extended walking in them, and cannot attest to how they would stand up to miles at a time. Jan 27 '12 at 7:58
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If there was a magic solution to preventing plantar fasciitis, then no one would have it anymore! Different things work for different people. It's important to find out what works for you. This can be done with experimentation or the help of a specialist.

One thing I would caution against is just throwing more padding at it! There is something wrong with your stride and the padding may hide it for while, but it will eventually come back. I say pay particular attention to how you're walking while wearing your walking shoes that do not give you any problems. Then walk around in your sandals or your boots. Pay attention to how your feet land in the different footwear, and how you transition to your next stride.

Find the stride that works best for you and practice it. I know it's strange to have to think about walking again, it's supposed to be something we just do, but I find it helps me.

When I'm hiking with my thin soled trail running shoes, I have a tendency to step and land on the front of my foot and I take quicker, smaller steps. While in heavy boots, I'm definitely a heel striker with longer strides.

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  • There are lots of easy non-magical preventions for various conditions that for some reason many people remain ignorant of. Washing your hands often and not touching eyes and nose help greatly preventing the common cold, yet people continue to believe it's due to exposure to low temperatures. So I think you're opening sentence is not necessary. Nov 29 '14 at 5:03
  • I've read a lot of the scientific evidence about plantar fasciitis, and I haven't seen any support for the idea that it results from a problem with one's stride.
    – user2169
    Feb 5 '15 at 1:15
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Plantar fasciitis is a degenerative (not inflammatory) condition. Studies using radioactive tracers have shown that the rate of tissue replacement in connective tissues is often extremely slow, maybe even zero. Therefore these injuries can be extremely slow to heal, and in some cases the microscopic damage is simply permanent.

Although people usually feel PF as heel pain, the damage is actually in the webbing that makes up the arch of the foot, which only happens to have a point of attachment at the heel. You just don't have nerve endings in the main body of the plantar fascia. Therefore the issue isn't really heel strikes or lack of padding in the heels of your shoes.

A study by Sullivan looked at factors that correlate with PF. Some factors that were not strongly correlated with PF were hours spent exercising or hours spent standing at work. This suggests that PF is not really an over-use injury per se. This is a common finding with many running injuries. Often they don't correlate at all with how much or how far you run.

The strongest correlations Sullivan found were with body mass index and strength of certain muscles in the ankle. Many other workers have found a correlation with obesity. Since this is a very consistent finding, and the question is how to prevent PF, the most solid answer is to make sure your weight is under control.

There are many treatments that have been promoted for PF, but the scientific evidence for almost all of them is weak. There is no super strong evidence of better long-term outcomes from massage, stretching, taping, therapeutic ultrasound, or modifying the patient's stride. A 2015 literature review by Landorf is mostly negative as to the results of treatment, especially in the long term for people whose PF doesn't resolve itself fairly quickly (as it does for most people).

There is pretty decent evidence, from a randomized but not blinded study, that chronic PF responds somewhat over the course of 8 weeks to the following stretching exercise. Sit with the ankle on the other knee. Use one hand to stretch your toes up toward your shin. Use the other hand to verify that the plantar fascia are being stretched, and lightly massage them. Do 10 reps of 10 seconds each per set. Do this once before getting out of bed in the morning, and two more times over the course of the day. There is no evidence that this helps over longer time scales. It has zero cost and is easy to adhere to, so it probably makes sense to try it.

Orthotics are the one treatment that is reasonably well supported by research. Custom orthotics are no better than cheap off-the-shelf ones. The idea that they correct problems with mechanical alignment is empirically false. Many podiatrists believe that choosing the right orthotic is important, and that they know how to do it; evidence doesn't support this. Orthotics provide an improvement in function that lasts for a few months. They do not give any statistically significant reduction of pain. After 12 months, they're no better than a sham treatment consisting of an orthotic made of soft, thin foam.

Sources:

Injury Series: Plantar fasciitis in runners as a degenerative overuse injury

Treat Me, but No Tricks Please

Close Look at Orthotics Raises a Welter of Doubts

Effect of Shoe Inserts on Kinematics, Center of Pressure, and Leg Joint Moments during Running

Digiovanni, 2003, Tissue-specific plantar fascia-stretching exercise enhances outcomes in patients with chronic heel pain. A prospective, randomized study

Sullivan, 2015, Musculoskeletal and Activity-Related Factors Associated With Plantar Heel Pain

Landorf, 2015, Plantar heel pain and plantar fasciitis

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With plantar fasciitis, weight is a big causal factor. If you think you could loose a few pounds, that might help your feet too. Pack weight is also a big deal. Buy a balance that measures in grams, and then start weighing everything you carry. Weigh your knife, food, cellphone, empty bottle, empty bag, even your underwear. Put all that into an excel spreadsheet and it will be simple to start slashing those pounds.

You also want to reduce the shock when your feet hit the ground. The mass of your shoes is important. Use that balance and weigh all of the shoes you have. In general, your heel strike will be more forceful in heavy shoes. Try getting some trail running boots for when you need something sturdy. These can be a third the mass of traditional day hike boots, and they are usually more comfortable anyways.

Paying attention to your gait is a great idea. Watch some videos on gait pathology to get an idea of what is and is not normal. The knee should be flexing ever so slightly during the loading phase. Speaking with a medical professional is also a good idea.

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  • I think most of this is wrong. The first paragraph is probably reasonable, although the evidence I've seen correlates PF with obesity, and that doesn't necessarily mean that cutting pack weight will help. The second paragraph seems to promote the misconception that PF is a heel injury caused by heel strikes; it's not a heel injury at all, that's just where your nervous system interprets the pain as coming from. I don't think the final paragraph is supported by any evidence. Physical therapists tend to believe in this sort of stuff, but it's mostly junk science.
    – user2169
    Feb 9 '15 at 3:48

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