Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the band of connective tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot, and it is a common cause of heel pain. The proper shoe can make a big difference in comfort and recovery for people with plantar fasciitis.
A good shoe for plantar fasciitis sufferers must have proper arch support. Many people with plantar fasciitis have either low arches (“flat feet”) or high arches. Athletic shoes usually specify whether they are made for feet with normal, low or high arches, and it is important to buy the right type for your foot. One way to tell if your arches are normal, low or high is to walk with wet feet across a flat surface, such as concrete, and look at the footprints you leave behind (see Resources for an arch test).
A good shoe will also have a sole that is firm enough. A shoe that is too “bendy” on the bottom, like most flip-flops, does not support the foot properly. Also, the shoe must bend at the ball of the foot. You can find photos of the “shoe push-up test” on Drpribut.com.
Very high heels are a poor choice for all foot types. They hold the foot in an unnatural position, and prevent its normal movement. People with plantar fasciitis should wear shoes with only a slight heel.
Particularly for runners, the proper shoe needs to have the right amount of stability control. When you walk or run, your feet go through a normal motion called pronation. Pronation is the natural “rolling” of the foot inward toward the arch as your weight moves from the heel of the foot towards the toe. Many people who have plantar fasciitis over-pronate—that is, their feet roll inward too much. Running shoes are generally rated for stability control (low, medium or high) and a shoe with low stability control would be a bad choice for someone who over-pronates.
There is no one shoe that is right for everyone with this disorder. Runners can go to reputable running shoe stores to find help in choosing the right shoe. Looking at the wear patterns on your old shoes can also give you information about your arches and the movement of your feet (see Resources below for instructions). If you are a runner, take a pair of your old shoes with you when you go to a running shoe store to buy new ones. You should also take the socks you plan to wear when you run, and any orthotic you plan to wear. All of these things can help a knowledgeable shoe associate help you choose a new pair of running shoes.
It is important to pay attention to any foot pain you have, so that you can identify plantar fasciitis early. If your heels always hurt the morning after a run, you may need to decrease your mileage or change shoes.
If you are a runner, be sure to stretch regularly and well. Runners are prone to having a lack of flexibility in the backs of their legs if they do not stretch the calves and hamstrings properly, and this tightness can help lead to plantar fasciitis. There are also night splints available that use a strap between the toes and the upper shin to gently stretch the plantar fascia as you sleep.
(See www.aafp.org/afp/20010201/467.html for some stretches.).
Even the best pair of shoes will become ineffective after you wear them out. The usual lifetime of a running shoe is 350 to 550 miles; keeping a running log can help you to know when it’s time for a new pair.
Some people benefit from using over-the-counter orthotic devices that can provide arch support and cushioning for the foot. These are available at most chemists.
It is also important to buy the right shoe for the activity you do. Runners should wear shoes made for running, and should take into account the terrain where they run, such as concrete versus wooded trails. Also make sure you wear good socks, and that you lace your shoes properly.
If you try new shoes and stretching exercises, along with other home treatments such as ice and anti-inflammatory medicines, and you continue to have heel pain, you may need to consult an expert. A podiatrist can diagnose any problems with your gait (the way you walk) or any physical problems you may have, such as one leg being longer than the other. A podiatrist can make custom orthotics for you to wear that can correct such problems, and can advise you on any stretching exercises you should be doing.