Friday, August 22, 2014

Healing Plantar Faciitis: What Did and Didn't Work for Me

Recently I have been fighting an uphill battle with plantar faciitis in my feet. Its been a long three months and although it hasn't been much fun it certainly has been informative. When the pain first hit, I ignored it mostly because it was just a twinge and and didn't seem important. Although I couldn't run, I could still walk and most of these types of pains are not uncommon for me since I play soccer. It will pass I thought. I can just wait this out like all of my other sports related injuries.

Then I went hiking and found a few days later I couldn't walk. Panicked I went to my doctor. He diagnosed me with plantar faciitis and mild tendonitis, told me to ice it, and sent me to physical therapy. My first thought was how this wouldn't be a big deal because it is just muscle pain, how hard can it be to heal? I've done this a million times before. Oh boy did I underestimate that simple muscle pain. It has been a long, expensive, and aggravating recovery.

The main thing that has made me so annoyed with the injury is the inability of  health professionals to know how to treat the issue. I've been to a total of four different health professionals and they all had different advice for me and very little of it made any logical sense or seemed to help at all.

The first thing they had me do at physical therapy was to undertake strengthening exercises in my foot. This baffled me, I was soooo confused. Strengthening exercises? For my feet? The same feet that run/walk 5-10 miles every week? How in the world are they not strong enough??? They must already have the power of three horses with the distance they carry me every week! Not knowing any better I allowed the therapist to continue to massage my feet, use elctro-stimulation, ultrasound, and direct me to the proper exercises three times a week. At this point I was able to take short 5 minute walks on a daily basis.

A month later after very small improvements, I decided to go to an orthopaedic doctor. Physical therapy just wasn't working as well as I wanted it too. This one took an MRI in addition to the x-rays and announced I had plantar faciitis again. Interestingly enough, he also didn't mention anything about tendonitis based on the MRI. Either a picture of my ankles was not taken or it didn't appear on the image. He prescribed me physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, ice, rest, and a boot to immobilize my bad foot. 

I tried the ice at first. It felt awful, it was terribly painful and I had been using heat on my feet since I got injured and it seemed to be helping. I tried the anti-inflammatory meds. Nothing happened. A week later I yanked the boot off my foot due to excruciating pain in my good foot that was not in the boot. I had damaged the plantar muscles in my other foot by compensating too much. Not to mention I couldn't walk anymore due to the immobilization increasing the weakness of the booted foot. I was terribly upset that I had wasted nearly two months of  recovery. I felt like I was just a guinea pig in some doctors' lab. That they were prescribing me things because they felt like I needed to be prescribed something even if it was just a placebo.   

Back in physical therapy the next week I found out my insurance refused to cover any further visits to the office. So I said farewell to my therapist and decided that the only way I could get better would be to take matters into my own hands and learn on my own. It seemed the doctors were clearly lacking in experience when it came to dealing with this condition. I still continued the exercises daily at home.

However as soon as I starting reading about the issue, the more and more confusing everything seemed to become. Firstly, it seems that plantar faciitis is a very common condition experienced in nearly one out of every ten runners and in many other people who aren't as active. How in the world had doctors not learned to treat this extremely common condition? It made no sense.

I discovered that preventing inflammation is mainly important in the acute phase of the injury, at the beginning when there is clear swelling present. Yet here I was two months into the injury and they were still trying to shove anti-inflammatory drugs down my throat and preach to me about icing. There are no magic pills to heal this condition! And ice HURTS. A LOT. Heat doesn't. It was a logical choice. I read from online sources that inflammation is a good thing during an injury. As long as it is present in moderation and doesn't get out of control. Preventing inflammation entirely is known to actually extend the amount of time required for an injury to heal. The main reason I assumed they wanted to prescribe me ice was to get the blood moving in my feet (but they never told me this, always said it was for inflammation). I knew blood was very healing and it is important to have good circulation at the site of injury. So instead of ice I just started inverting my feet every couple of hours. Sure enough it helped with the pain. When the throbbing would get out of control I could just lay on my back and kick my feet in the air for a few minutes to let the blood drain. 

Furthermore, I knew from my studies of herbs that chlorophyll in general was very healing for injuries. I didn't have access to comfrey, so I began a daily application of fresh plantain poultices for fours hours at a time. It helped relieve the pain a bit, but it didn't seem to fix the underlying problem. So maaaybe the anti-inflammatory prescription did make sense because the plantain works similarly. However I stopped using these after two weeks as they were time consuming to apply, and it was hard pick herbs since I still couldn't walk.  I began taking hydrosylated collagen on a regular basis to promote muscle healing. I can't really tell if it has done anything after three weeks of use though.

I finally found a wonderful website online called the Plantar Faciitis Survival Guide. (I highly recommend this information to anyone looking for help!!) It described a plethora of massaging techniques used on the calves and feet to loosen the foot muscles and break up scar tissue. I tried them and sure enough I felt instant pain relief. I also used a massage percussion technique to get at the knotted tissues. I was tickled. And I also felt a bit cheated after spending hundreds of dollars on such an "elusive" solution. How come doctors do not know how to treat plantar pain? It is so common. Surely they must have noticed patients continually returning. Maybe people just got fed up like me and never went back. I really don't understand.   

Unfortunately however, my pain did come back. Every time I left the house I came back with my feet feeling exhausted. They needed a good massage about two times everyday to prevent stiffness and following pain.

A few weeks later I swallowed my pride about not being able to find a solution myself and went to see a chiropractor. He said I have severe over-pronation and fallen arches. This was a completely new diagnosis that none of the other doctors described. He had his assistant massage the tendons in my legs very deeply. I was excited because he seemed to know what he was doing. They adjusted my feet, applied kinesio tape, and had me step in some foam so I could be fitted for custom shoe inserts.

I was fine until they had me step in that foam. I almost lost hope. This is what I had read about online. Custom orthotic companies are infamous for striking deals with doctors so that they will sell their specific products. I left the office feeling a bit less sore but still quite dejected. I wasn't willing to shell out 300 plus dollars for a stupid piece of plastic. I had already spent so much money on this ridiculous problem.

I continued to hunt online for answers. I started to read a lot about how fallen arches are due to the excessive wearing of  shoes; especially those with heels. I began to walk barefoot around the house. Soon thereafter I was called into work. Confident I could handle being in the lab for about an hour (I managed this at home fine with frequent breaks) I went in. The day after work I was in terrible pain and couldn't hardly walk anymore. I was convinced that it was my shoes now. The worn out tennis shoes were indeed hurting my feet very badly. 

I debated heavily about whether or not to purchase orthotic shoes or minimalist shoes as there are sooo many testimonials and research from both sides declaring the efficacy of each type. After talking to my family I decided that I should give the orthotics a try as they will work, however may not be a long term solution. I'm currently testing them out. After two days in them they are definitely more comfortable than my old shoes, but just don't feel as nice as being in my bare feet. Being able to wiggle my toes and rotate my feet freely seems to help my problem a lot. I am not convinced that being in bare feet or in orthotics is really bad for plantar faciitis yet. I hope to post soon about my SUCCESS with proper shoes, because failure is not an option!

 Have you ever been in a similar situation? What solutions did you discover? Was your doctor helpful in your recovery? I'd love to hear your input and story!