If you have ever experienced Plantar Fasciitis, you know that this foot injury can be debilitating. I have struggled with Plantar Fasciitis for most of my life, but last year when it took me off the Foothills Trail and left me unable to walk, I knew it was time to do something about it. Hiking is a passion of mine, and to be taken off the trail because my feet suddenly had an intense pain that wouldn’t heal was a catalyst for me to find the fix. After spending a year rehabbing my feet so that I could distance hike, I have found some great strategies for how to heal Plantar Fasciitis for hiking.
Figure Out What is Causing Your Plantar Fasciitis
The very first thing that you need to do in order to find a path to healing is to figure out what is causing your Plantar Fasciitis in the first place. For some people, it could be poor running/walking form that could lead to increased pressure on your feet. For me, it was an incredibly unnatural tightness in my lower calves. I quickly realized that I couldn’t even straighten my foot. I knew that this tightness was putting extra pressure on my arches and heels which was increasing my plantar fasciitis symptoms.
You can’t heal if you can’t figure out what is causing it in the first place.
Stretch Multiple Times a Day
One thing that has allowed me to heal my plantar fasciitis for hiking was constantly stretching. I used to hate stretching, mostly because I’m not flexible. I realized though that I was actually putting myself at risk for injury. As I was doing research into how to heal my feet, I realized that the extreme tightness in my calves was putting intense pressure on my arches when I walked. Stretching my calves and helping them to loosen up was the first step to allowing my feet to begin healing. I now stretch daily. If I am actively exercising or using my feet, then I make sure to stretch multiple times a day. It has made such a positive difference for me.
For me, Yoga has been a complete win when it came to healing my feet. Because my feet were directly impacted by the extreme tightness in my legs, yoga has helped improve my feet. My first couple of sessions of yoga hurt my feet like crazy. I would do calf stretches and could feel the pain in my arches. I knew then how deeply the pain between the two was connected. Yoga has allowed me to increase the flexibility in my legs and my arches so they withstand pressure and movement better. I now do yoga 2-3 times a week and have made it a part of my daily life. I highly recommend it for preparing your body for hiking.
Find the Right Shoes for You
Stretching can only get you so far though. The reality is, your shoes are EVERYTHING. If your shoes are bad, your feet will feel bad. If your shoes are good, you can go for miles. Finding the proper shoes can be incredibly difficult. Different people will respond to shoes differently which makes it difficult to suggest a kind that will work best. I have tried hiking in boots, running shoes, and trail runners For me personally, I have found that the trail runners, specifically the Hoka Challengers, have been the best shoe for me.
I used to love hiking in my waterproof boots, but they didn’t give my feet room to breathe. This caused my feet to get inflamed easier and swell. The swelling would trigger my plantar fasciitis and my hike would be over. As much as I loved the boots, they weren’t right for me. I also tried running shoes, but they didn’t quite have the grip that I was looking for when it came to climbing some steep inclines. I found my sweet spot with the trail runners as they let my feet breathe but also are built for the trail I would definitely recommend going to your local REI and trying on some Hokas or Merrells. They are both very well-known shoes. Try them on and test them out. Don’t be afraid to admit that a shoe isn’t for you.
Get Shoe Inserts
It’s important to note that shoes include insoles that come with them. However, many insoles are not built with the padding and arch support that you may need for your specific feet issues. I actually use three different types of inserts in my shoes. After barely being able to put pressure on my feet for two weeks during a flare-up, I caved and went to a Good Feet Store. It was definitely an expensive trip, but I got two types of inserts to use in my everyday wear shoes.
- One type was a very heavy arch support plastic insert that was designed to reshape the way my feet hit the ground. This type of insert you gradually start wearing until you can wear it all day. I keep these in my teaching shoes because they are the ones I wear most days. They hurt extremely badly initially, but over time, my feet felt better and I could tell that they helped.
- The second type of insert that I got from the Good Feet store was a lighter, lower arch support insert. This insert was designed for heavier walking days when you wanted something more comfortable for your feet that was still supportive.
- Pro tip: We were able to use our HSA account to pay for these expensive inserts. We didn’t have to pay a dime out of pocket.
Another type of insert that is much cheaper is to just get some great Dr. Scholl’s inserts. Adding these cheap and simple inserts to my hiking shoes has been a really nice change of pace. It gives my feet more cushion which allows me to walk further without pain. I HIGHLY recommend these to anyone who struggles. It’s a cheap upgrade that can really help you feel better.
Roll Out Your Feet
One thing that I have found to be successful, especially while hiking, is to buy a foot roller to roll out my feet at night. Some people use frozen water bottles and roll their feet back and forth over them while at home. However, when you are on the trail, you won’t have the frozen water bottle to use. Many people bring small cork balls to roll out their feet. I personally like this spiked one because I feel like it really works out my feet after a long day of walking.
Like every sport, hiking takes practice, and recovery takes extra work. You can’t go from sitting at your desk all day to hiking 10 miles a day, Start gradually. Work on getting up every weekday morning and going for a walk. It’s good for your health and it trains your feet to be used to putting more steps in each day. Start with a mile or two and then gradually increase your mileage. When I was healing my feet, I started by just doing a lap or two around the school I worked at in the mornings. By the time summer rolled around, I was going for five-mile walks in the morning to prepare for my upcoming hike.
Likewise, if you are planning on backpacking, you need to make sure you get used to your pack weight. You can’t start out walking with 30lbs on your back. Just as you slowly increase your mileage, you should also slowly increase the weight on your back to prepare for hike. Set achievable goals and work towards them.
Try the Calf Socks for Overnight
One thing that you absolutely have to do to heal plantar fasciitis for hiking is to actually practice hiking! No athlete just magically becomes good at their sport, and that is the same for hiking. Especially with a foot injury, you need to train your feet for the miles that you are going to put on them. If you sit at your desk every day and then go out for a 7 mile weekend hike, your feet are going to be shocked by the impact of the mileage! The best way to make sure that your feet don’t flare up on you while you hike is to make them used to walking. I try to walk every weekday morning before I work for the day. This has helped my feet heal drastically. It is definitely a time commitment, but your health and healing should always be a priority in life.
Last, but not least, patience is key. Plantar fasciitis can take YEARS to heal. It may be something that you struggle with your entire life even. However, if you keep working on your feet and rehabbing them, you can still achieve your dreams. Give yourself the proper time to heal, and your body will thank you.
If you are interested in doing long hikes, read this awesome article about a woman who completed the Camino de Santiago in Spain to inspire you!