Dealing With Plantar Fasciitis, and Exercise Setbacks

For a couple years now my cardio routine has been a brisk 30 minute walk on an inclined treadmill, three times a week. But back in early-December I got tired of this routine, and since I live and sleep at work Thursday-Saturday nights and don’t have a treadmill there I really had no way doing cardio half the week. So I looked into high-intensity aerobics, stuff you see on the “Insanity” infomercials. High knees, jumping jacks, box jumps (jumping on and off a box or chair), and I got a jump rope for $2 from a local thrift store. I’d cycle through these at about a minute each and get my thirty minutes of cardio in, and it was the most intense cardio I’d ever done.

Sounds great right? And it was great, I was getting in a hard workout, but after a few weeks I started noticing foot pain. I thought surely if something would hurt it would be my knees, but nope. First there was a pain in the ball of my right foot, then that went away after about a week or two. But at that point I decided I needed new shoes, mine were about 18 months old.

At the store I tried on a lot of shoes, did some aerobics and walked in them, and decided on some Nike Revolution 2’s. They felt good in the store, but when I got home I felt like an idiot. I forgot to look for arch support and these had none; zilch, zero, na-da! Flat as a board in there. I’ve got a pretty good arch in my foot, and while some claim it’s better to go without it and let the foot work naturally, I reject that entirely from the experience which followed…

I wanted to continue working out until I got had a chance to return the Nike’s, but after a couple sessions plantar fasciitis (PF) quickly set in. I didn’t know what it was at first, but after a little research I knew I had it because of the tell-tale needle-like pain I’d feel in the first few steps out of bed in the morning and the minor heel pain throughout the day.

I decided I had to take a week off the cardio and did. Fortunately for me I have a job where I’m not on my feet a lot. I went back to the store, returned the Nike’s and got some Asics with arch support which were softer, on top of this I added some Dr. Scholls inserts. I did the recommended stretching exercises and rolled a frozen water bottle under my feet and after a week my PF was much improved, but I think it was primarily due to the time off and the new shoes.

Frankly I feel lucky, after reading the comments on articles about it I learned what a debilitating injury PF can be. Some people can’t finish their jogs, others can barely get out of bed in the morning. Mine hurt when I got up and throughout the day, but oddly the pain went away during workouts. Some people had to go to specialists, get orthotics and injections in their feet, some were even considering surgery. I never had anything that severe, and they have my sympathy. It really sucks when you’re making progress in your fitness, then something like this happens. For me the pain was mostly just annoying and something I didn’t want to aggravate into a worse condition. I hate when the mind is willing, but the body just isn’t able.

On this topic, I would caution people considering any sort of “Insanity” type of workout, yes it’s intense cardio that will burn fat off, but it’s extremely high impact on your joints and feet. Definitely get good shoes first that will absorb shock and support your arch first. I suspect many people who injured themselves tried to work through the pain and didn’t research it. To me, when you’re in that much pain your body is telling you to stop what you’re doing.

I wanted two things. First, find another form of cardio I could do at home and work, and I’m not particularly in love with one type. Second, if you have PF you really have to wear shoes whenever you’re on your feet. Me? I go barefoot at home and the idea of wearing shoes all day is a real turn off. I’d prefer to do some other low-impact form of cardio, or even go back to the treadmill rather than have my feet locked in shoes 24/7 because my exercise causing me injury.

My solution? I got a rowing machine that looks like it fell straight out of 1975 from the thrift store for $25 which is light enough to transport back and forth to work until I come up with a better solution. So I’m doing four minutes of rowing, one minute of jump rope; repeat for thirty minutes. The jump rope sessions give my heart rate a boost without being too much on my feet and the rower maintains it. I’m enjoying using the rower more than I thought I would. It feels like it’s toning muscle and giving me a good cardio workout at the same time. For now it’s doing the job. I plan on rethinking the aerobics to find out what was giving me the problem, cut that out, and replace it with something lower impact. (Note: I suspect the culprit was the box jumps which I had recently ramped up by jumping on and off the box in quick succession instead of merely jumping on and stepping off. I’d use caution when doing these.)

A final rant here; why is it so damn difficult to find shoes with arch support now? I went to a store with all the big name brand shoes and the vast majority had NO support at all and those which did had rather weak support. Are the companies just trying to save a buck? When it comes to shoes I’m willing to spend a little cash, and won’t let my shoes get a year and a half old before I get some new ones. Shoes come and go, you only get two feet.

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