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Fighting plantar fasciitis: How to ease common foot pain

Aug 15, 2022

Jim Ferency of Windsor, Ontario, is one of those people who just loves to run.

“It’s just joyous to be floating along the ground and going fast,” Ferency said. “Feeling like you can do it and you keep doing it and keep doing it and you don’t really have to stop.”

At 70 years young, Ferency certainly seems to have found his fountain of youth. And he had his eyes set on a big goal.

“Boston is probably the premier marathon in the world. I ran it in 1982 when I was 30 years old,” Ferency said.

Last year, Ferency qualified to go back to Boston, but with the marathon approaching, he ran into trouble.

Ferency began to feel the symptoms of a condition called plantar fasciitis.

“It kind of creeps up on you. You know it’s coming, and then, when you feel the needle in your heel, you know you have it for sure,” Ferency said.

Ferency turned to the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan for help. Amy Watson is the lead athletic trainer there.

“Plantar fasciitis is inflammation and irritation of the tissue, the fascial tissue that runs under the foot,” Watson said.

She said plantar fasciitis is very common in people who are active or on their feet a lot.

“It can be very long lasting. It’s hard to get rid of if you don’t catch it in time,” Watson said.

There can be several causes. Common triggers include muscle imbalances, shoe changes or unsupportive footwear.

“Changes in your level of activity can flare it up as well,” Watson said. “So if you’re someone who wasn’t active, then all of a sudden start getting active, sometimes that does it, or if you are someone that does train a lot, and then maybe you’d had a training change of some sort.”

Ferency said his training was likely to blame.

“I have a tendency to run too hard sometimes and put stress on it, and I probably don’t do as many stretches as I should,” Ferency said.

With the marathon just weeks away, Ferency began physical therapy at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan.

“It was touch and go. I was wondering whether I was even going to be able to go,” Ferency said.

He was unable to run the entire month leading up to the marathon, but got the greenlight to compete from his doctors.

“It worked out. I mean, my goal was to finish, then it was to finish under four hours to qualify for the next Boston Marathon, and that’s what I did. I ran a three hour and 57 minute marathon. Pretty surprising based on how little I was training for it,” Ferency said.

Early treatment options for plantar fasciitis can include rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medication and stretches. If that’s not effective, doctors may recommend physical therapy, steroid injections, shoe orthotics, night splints, or in extreme cases, surgery.

“If you’re really paying attention and you can catch it early enough, you can usually take care of yourself by stretching the calf, stretching a couple different ways,”

Watson said. Watson said if your heel pain is the worst in the morning or after you’ve been sitting for a long time, that’s an indication it could be plantar fasciitis. Your primary doctor or a sports medicine doctor can rule out other potential causes, and if necessary, refer you to a physical therapist.

Ferency is now following a program of stretching to avoid a recurrence. He’s back to the sport he loves and doesn’t plan to let anything break his stride.

“It’s just the freedom of motion. It’s exciting. And it’s fun to compete. I’m very competitive,” Ferency said. “You might have to slow down a little bit, but you don’t have to stop.”