Plantar Fasciitis: A Hiker’s Guide to Heel Pain

Plantar Fasciitis is a very common and painful foot condition experienced by many hikers. I know, I've had it. It is a repetition injury often caused by hiking or running and presents itself as chronic heel pain. This pain is caused by the inflammation of the ligament that connects your heel bone to the ball of your foot.

I've found that the best way to cure plantar fasciitis is to simply stop hiking for an extended period of time, like over the winter, AND to get a pair of boots with better arch and heel support. While it is possible to reduce the pain temporarily through stretching, applying ice packs, and taking anti-inflammatory medications, you need to give your body time to heal and takes steps to prevent a recurrence.

Step 1: You should stop hiking, possibly for a few months. Check with your doctor if you have any questions, but rest is best.

Step 2: Find someone at an outdoor retailer who really knows how to fit a pair of hiking boots. REI provides select members of their staff with this training, so you might want to try there. Call first. These people are worth a drive. Next, get some new boots that cup your heel very snuggly and replace the factory foot bed with a after-market one from Superfeet. Most factory foot beds that come with boots are a complete joke. Superfeet has different models with different degrees of firmness and arch support so you will need to experiment. It's also possible that you may need custom orthotics, particularly if your arch has fallen. Next, go hike about 50 miles to break in your boots and the foot beds.

Step 3: If you can, lose some weight: either body weight or pack weight. It will help reduce the stress on your feet.

The following online retailers sell Superfeet Insoles:

 

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17 Responses to Plantar Fasciitis: A Hiker’s Guide to Heel Pain

  1. wayne lauden September 9, 2008 at 3:40 am #

    After 3 years of battling this in both feet, I found the solution was a combination of (1)shoe inserts (that rebalance the stresses on the foot) (2)hiking shoes that have some padding in the heel below the inner sole (3) massaging the ligament between the heel and the ball of the foot, and most importantly, (4)daily "runner style" leg stretching (without which the soreness creeps back)

    Pay attention to soreness! Happy walking and hiking.

  2. kerrizor January 5, 2009 at 6:38 pm #

    I noticed a link to this in your plastic mountaineering boot review.. I'm dealing with this myself this winter, and its horribly painful and frustrating

  3. Earlylite January 5, 2009 at 7:01 pm #

    Kerri – I'm really sorry to hear that. I hate to say it, but the best thing to do if you have a bad case is to stop all recreational activities for the winter that involve walking or running to let the inflammation go down. This takes a while and no amount of ibuprofen will help. It will go away. And once it's gone, something like Superfeet or other orthotics can work wonders. I've never had a relapse and I do a lot of backpacking/climbing.

  4. Sarah Kirkconnell January 15, 2009 at 6:53 am #

    I had a bad case back in 2000 or so. Finally I went to a good foot Dr. She had me toss all my shoes out and get one solid pair. Since then I have worn boots with at least 3/4 shanks.

    Every time I wear trail runners that flex too much, I am back in pain.

    I did something this fall and have it back once again. And I was wearing trail runners when I did it. Most likely I did the damage when I was trying to keep up with my husband.

    Learned my lesson: extremely stiff hiking boots, good insoles and stretching.

    I though have never quit hiking and walking. The Dr. showed me how to tape my foot up – which will help your foot heal fast.

    When I quit walking my foot is more likely to get re injured when I start back up.

    Also, roll your foot at night and morning over a hard/smooth water bottle (old Nalgene). Helps stretch the foot.

  5. Earlylite January 16, 2009 at 3:43 am #

    Good boots and superfeet keep me healthy. I am not tempted by lightweight trail shoes. I know not to mess with something that works.

  6. lostalot January 19, 2009 at 5:53 am #

    I had some painful "this will sting a little" steroid injections for mine with no improvement. Think twice about stretching a strained ligament; I found it best not to. A few weeks of minimal walking was all that helped.

  7. Jarra January 22, 2009 at 6:38 pm #

    I had problems with this too. Keep it under control by

    1. Getting custom orthotics from a podiatrist.

    2. Walking in boots with a stiff midsole.

    3. Find someone who knows yoga and get them to teach you a "downward dog". This is the best stretch for your plantar fascia, calf and hamstring.

    These steps make it manageable for me.

  8. Tranina Glover September 19, 2009 at 8:35 pm #

    I learned something new here, tonight. When I am able to feel no pain I'll start yoga again. I have already used the bottles for stretching. I'm taking an anti-inflammatory. I have a pair of Scarpa Trionics for hiking, walking, and one day backpacking again I hope. I've ordered a pair of Dansko's clogs. And I am getting reflexology treatments and acupuncture. And I'm getting better. I'm also rubbing a rose petal flower oil and arnica on both feet around the inside heel. Most of all I'm trying to rest with my feet up. But I can't rest for long or else I can't move. So a little walking around, doing chores loosens up my feet or something. I love to hike so I'm doing and trying anything to get better.

  9. Dave in miami November 29, 2009 at 5:59 am #

    I had a terrible case. I work construction, walking on rocks all day, sometimes 10-12-16 hours. My heels were a mess. Couldn't stand when getting up from bed or when getting up from sitting over 10 minutes. Tried everything. Podiatrist, shots, stretching, ice, powerfeet insoles, different shoes, rolling golf ball, stretching then ice, everything. This lasted a couple years. Finally the doctor wanted to cut my ligaments from my heel. I had heard about Ossatron aka

    Extracorporeal Shock Wave Technology (ESWT).

    My doc said it works but insurance doesn't cover it. I kept insisting thats what I wanted. So I paid $500, had it done. Went back to work the next day. It took about 6 weeks but I got better. I make sure now to stretch and sometimes need ice but I am out of the MISERY from before, with no surgery. I don't know what further problems surgery could have caused. Just my experiance.

    Dave

  10. melanie January 12, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    okay . . . i’ve have plantar fascitis and I’ve purchased the returned 3 pairs of hiking boots – Hi Tech, and another brand I can’t remember – – – What boot do you guys recommend – is there a brand you like??? thanks bunches!

    • Earlylite January 12, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

      My favorites are still Scarpa TPS 520s.

      • melanie January 12, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

        Did you mean the Asolo TPS 520? I have been reading about Scarpa’s are very stiff – how long did it take to get them broken in?

        • Earlylite January 12, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

          I can’t believe I switched them – yes asolos. They only take 50 miles to break in. Even soft boots take 25 miles to form around your feet.

  11. cromulus July 2, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    First of all, let me qualify this by saying that I do not work for Asolo. I am an IT nerd at an architectural firm in New Jersey. I don’t own any stock in the company (I don’t even know if they’re publicly traded or whatever), all I know is that the Asolo TPS 520 boots helped speed up the healing process on my plantar fasciitis and as such I recommend them heartily. I know they are expensive, but they work great.

  12. Dorrit D. November 3, 2012 at 2:01 am #

    For my plantar fasciitis, I have found that wearing a night splint really helps. One such is the Bird & Cronin one on Amazon, available in 3 sizes, for just twenty dollars. A night splint stretches out the fascia all night long, so the first steps in the morning do not hurt (the pain signals that you are re-tearing the tissue and you don’t want to do that), and so nighttime healing can take place with the foot in a proper position. One study found that 80% of PF sufferers were helped by a night splint. However, other studies have shown less of an effect. Many podiatrists and similar health professionals have stopped prescribing them because patients usually do not use them even if they have them, because they are something of a hassle to use night after night. All I know is that my pain decreased significantly when I started using one. I will use it for 6 months if I have to, even though it usually wakes me up at 5 am and I have to take it off for an hour before putting it back on for a little while before arising (so my foot is nicely stretched before hitting the floor). The Bird and Cronin gets great reviews on Amazon by PF sufferers.

    Another thing that I found to help is never to go barefoot, not even on the carpet, and to avoid wearing any flipflops except those with the Fitflop footbed. The most comfortable pair of shoes I have (they erase ALL PF pain while I’m wearing them) is a Fitflop slipper (shaped like a clog, although I’d prefer it had a back to it). In seeking shoes I can wear out and about, I have tried 10 kinds of Fitflops out in the past week and had to return all but 1 of them, unfortunately, so it is trial and error. I think their footbed is marvellous for plantar fasciitis but the rest of the design (uppers, quality control, materials) on the shoes they offer often are not so great, at least at the price points they retail for. If you check out reviews for them on Amazon, you’ll see scores of reviewers saying that these shoes were the best they’ve ever tried for PF. They make shoes for men and women, but I’ve only tried out the ones for women. They also make sneakers and casual walking shoes, but I tried those and they didn’t fit my feet at all (except for the proprietary footbeds). The heel areas were much wider than my heels require.

    I’ve also been testing out New Balance shoes which are said to be good for PF, but all the ones I’ve tried, based on 3 different lasts, have fit badly. I’m ordering one last pair and then if those don’t work, that’s that.

    For 10 years I have loved Meindl hiking boots (I lived in the UK a long time and the German Meindls were readily available – for some reason, they fit my foot very well) but I think the last ones I got actually caused the PF in the first place. I’ve been trying to find a different model (now I’m back in the US) but can not find any for sale here except for one women’s style online at Cabela’s and it’s not a style I want.

    There have been several studies done on stretches for PF, and actually the achilles tendon ones that involve standing up and stretching the calf and thigh have been shown to be less effective than a simple sitting down stretch that involves putting the affected foot on the opposite knee and pulling back on the toes in order to stretch the fascia out – doing that 3 times a day for 20 seconds, I think was the study protocol. See: http://www.podiatry-arena.com/podiatry-forum/showthread.php?t=2527

    The therapy that someone mentioned above that was not covered on insurance and cost 500 dollars is getting good reviews in podiatry articles, it seems. See: http://www.podiatrytoday.com/coblation-therapy-can-it-have-an-impact-for-plantar-fasciosis

    I’ve found a lot of good info by reading the discussion forums at Podiatry Arena and reading articles in Podiatry Today. The most amazing thing to me is that plantar fasciitis is still so little-understood, and is so hard to cure for a significant number of patients.

    It kills me not to go on long walks and hikes. I’ve been sedentary for about a year now and on my small frame I’ve gained 10 unwelcome pounds, to boot (no pun intended).

    I found this page by searching on “hiking shoes plantar fasciitis”. Good luck, everyone!

    • kbl December 17, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

      thanks for alot of good information all inone place…i am just starting donw the trail so to speak of curing PF or at least stopping the progress of it…i am feeling the lbs. creep on after just a month of not walking and doing less active stuff at the gym (zumba is definitely out which is jsut killing me! ) again thanks for your article

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  1. Plantar fasciitis: quick tips for sufferers - February 7, 2008

    […] The sectionhiker.com blog has a brief overview: It is a repetition injury often caused by hiking or running and presents itself as chronic heel pain. This pain is caused by the inflammation of the ligament that connects your heel bone to the ball of your foot. […]