Plantar Fasciitis: Summery Flip Flops and the Risk

Here we are again in Boston’s favorite season – summertime.  With Fenway Park and tourist season in full swing, I see throngs of fans and visitors passing by my Boylston Street office. Despite the excitement, I can’t help but to notice what everyone is wearing on their feet. So many people love the freedom and look of flip flops and summery flats, but don’t realize that if they’re wearing the wrong pair, they’re doing damage to their feet and could soon be in serious pain.  I’m talking about a preventable condition called “plantar fasciitis.”

The words “plantar” refers to the soles of your feet, and “fasciitis” means inflammation of the fascia. So when you have plantar fasciitis, the ligamentous tissue in the sole of your foot that connects your heel to the base of your toes becomes inflamed, making every step painful.  When this ligament, which supports the arch of your foot, doesn’t receive enough oxygen and blood flow, it can flare up. 

Most people who suffer from plantar fasciitis feel it worst first thing in the morning when they get out of bed, before blood has a chance to start circulating. But it can continue day and night, turning everything they do into a painful chore. Pain in the feet ultimately causes problems in the knees, hips and even the back because by walking incorrectly to minimize pain, entire posture is thrown off.

The good news is that plantar fasciitis is entirely preventable and can be fairly easy to treat. One of the most common causes of the condition is wearing shoes that don’t provide good heel and arch support.  For instance, flip flops, ballet flats for women, thin-soled shoes and worn out sneakers are all potentially damaging.  Inactivity and tight calf muscles are two more possible causes. 

How do we treat plantar fasciitis?

When I meet clients with plantar fasciitis, the first thing I do is work with acupuncture to ensure that blood and oxygen flow to the area is improved. When the tissue isn’t nourished properly because of the improper flow of blood and qi, the tissues become dysfunctional, creating swelling, tightness and brittleness in the ligament. 

By increasing circulation to the area with acupuncture, tight muscles are loosened up, inflammation immediately begins to go down, and underlying causes for deficient blood flow are addressed.  In addition to acupuncture, I also use “neuro-stretching”, which is a partner-based stretching technique that stretches the fascia from the bottom of the feet all the way to the top of the head, providing the whole body with improved flexibility, posture and blood flow.

While acupuncture and neuro-stretching are extremely effective at creating immediate improvement, there are other steps a patient must take own their own time.

I recommend that each of my patients complete the following steps every day until the condition is gone, which can take as little as a few weeks.

  • Commit to wearing shoes that give feet proper support. Whether it’s work shoes or exercise shoes, arch and heel supports are essential.
  • Flexibility and blood flow to the area will be improved by stretching and massaging the ligament and calf muscles every day. Rolling the foot over a rolling pin or baseball will loosen the hardened areas (using a small ball like a golf ball can actually cause the ligament to tear. Using an object with a broader surface is safer and more effective.) For the calves, use a foam roller or baseball to massage and improve blood flow.
  • Temporarily modify workout routines to avoid high impacts on the heel.  Running, jumping, and dancing should be avoided until the inflammation is entirely gone.
  • Drink homemade bone broth. The collagen and gelatin in the broth are known to nourish tendons, ligaments and connective tissue.
  • Eat foods like red meat, liver and egg yolks, which are very nourishing to blood. From an Eastern medicine perspective, these foods “tonify” the blood, essentially improving its quality, quantity, and ability to nourish the body.

Oftentimes the Western medicine solution to plantar fasciitis is to give cortisone shots directly into the heel. While this steroid treatment offers pain relief that can last for a few months, it doesn’t help to solve the problem for the long run, and most times the condition, and the pain, return.  As an Eastern medicine practitioner, I always recommend steering away from steroid use because of its unwanted side effects and dangers.

While it’s nice to let your feet out of clunky winter shoes and boots, keep in mind that heel and arch support on a daily basis is essential for good foot health. On an every day basis, be sure to spend most of your time wearing good shoes. There are flip flops on the market that have strong soles with good support. Opting for healthier shoes will keep you on your feet all summer long!

Would you like to find out more about the health benefits of Eastern medicine?  Contact me today to find out how acupuncture and herbal medicine therapies can work for you.

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