Anyone who’s an experienced hiker (or even someone who spends a lot of time running) has likely struggled at some point with plantar fasciitis or heel pain. Sometimes hiking with plantar fasciitis can be so painful you feel like you might never hit the trails again.
However, over the years, I’ve learned from my own experiences and those of my fellow hikers that it’s a very common overuse injury. Luckily, there are steps you can take to cure it and prevent it from happening again in the future.
Of course, you should always check with your doctor for specific recommendations and see if you require additional tests to rule out a stress fracture or other injury. But if plantar fasciitis is the diagnosis, here are a few things you can do to help ease the suffering.
What Is Plantar Fasciitis?
Your foot has a thick band of tissue on the bottom of it called the plantar fascia that acts as a shock-absorbing system. For many different reasons, the plantar fascia can become inflamed or irritated, and when that happens, it causes plantar fasciitis.
Plantar fasciitis’s most common causes include weak foot muscles, ankle mobility issues, and even wearing the wrong footwear. Most often, the cause of plantar fasciitis has to do with tight calf muscles.
When you have a tight lower calf muscle (the location of the Achilles tendon), it greatly affects the movement in the rest of your foot, and the result is a stabbing pain felt on the inside edge of your heel bone, right near your arches which often feels quite intense.
Can I Still Hike With Plantar Fasciitis?
If you have plantar fasciitis pain, you should stop hiking until you fully recover from the condition. It’s important to cure plantar fasciitis before resuming intense outdoor activities again, especially for a long hike.
Hiking with plantar fasciitis will almost always lead to worsening the condition and could cause chronic problems.
I’ve learned from personal experience that pushing yourself to hike with plantar fasciitis only causes more injury and a longer recovery time. Therefore, if your goal is to get back to your outdoor activities soon as possible, it makes sense to fully address the foot pain before adding more stress to the area.
What Are The Symptoms?
You may attribute it to your plantar fascia if you have issues with your feet, tight calf muscles, or pain when walking. The most common indicators of the condition include the following:
- Very intense pain on the heel of your foot while you’re walking. Often this starts as a sharp, stabbing feeling.
- Serious pain around the middle of your foot (where your plantar fascia is located) and heel as you walk.
- Unbearable pain in your heels in the morning that will get slightly better throughout the day as your muscles stretch from walking.
Should You Stop Hiking If You Have Plantar Fasciitis Symptoms?
Yes, as mentioned earlier, you should not hike with plantar fascia pain, as it will only cause further injury. Even if your foot feels better throughout the day, you must be careful and address the condition before you damage the plantar fascia even more and may even require surgery.
If you’re already in the middle of a long hike when plantar fasciitis hits, make sure that you focus on arch support as much as possible and step down on your foot closer to your heel as you walk. You’ll also want to reduce the amount of added weight that you’re carrying.
Once you get through the hike, don’t resume again until your plantar fasciitis is cured.
How Can You Treat It So You Can Get Back On The Trail?
Once you’ve torn or inflamed your plantar fascia, you want to make sure that you properly treat it for a long-term solution to the problem. Although you’ll want to get back to hiking as soon as possible, it’s important to rest appropriately, so you prevent further injury.
Here are some common treatment options that help strengthen your foot’s natural shock-absorbing system and work well to relieve the condition.
1. Stay Off Your Feet
The most important thing you can do for your feet to help heal your plantar fascia is to stay off of them so they can rest.
To begin the healing process, you’ll want to try and stay off of your feet for about a week or so, which is very difficult for active people, but still very important. It actually may take up to two weeks before you’re ready to put body weight again on the foot.
Resting appropriately will help your ligament start to recover and make the rest of your therapy more effective.
2. Massage And Stretch The Muscle
You will need to stretch out your plantar fasciitis to strengthen it. A regular golf ball makes a good tool to use to help with this process. Place the golf ball in the freezer to make it cold enough to reduce inflammation. Then, roll your foot over the frozen golf ball every morning for about 15 minutes.
Make sure you’re using enough pressure. This stretch should hurt a bit, so if you don’t feel any pain, you’ll need to apply more pressure. You can then repeat this process a few more times throughout the day.
You also want to massage the calf muscles, Achilles tendon, and the plantar fascia section of your foot. Perform this step at night before you go to bed. You can also try incorporating some essential oils into this routine for added relaxation and relief.
3. Use Hot and Cold Therapy
Both hot and cold compresses can reduce the pain, but work in different ways to address the inflammation. The cold compresses decrease the blood flow to help reduce the swelling, and the hot compresses increase blood flow.
Try to find the right balance between the two types of therapy to help with the pain and swelling, but not cause further damage. Your physical therapist can generally recommend a routine that will work best for you, such as using heat before stretching and applying ice afterward.
4. Find Shoes That Reduce Stress On The Injury
As you heal, you’ll want to wear shoes that reduce the stress on your plantar fascia ligament.
A good pair of running shoes that have adequate cushioning in them can help reduce stress on the body’s shock-absorbing system and cause your arch to have less pain.
You may want to pair your shoes with compression socks, which tend to provide almost immediate improvement.
Although these shoes will help make your rehabilitation smoother, you will still need to focus on strengthening your foot again. There’s a common arch support myth that states that more arch support is always better, but that can actually cause your muscles to weaken because they depend on it.
Therefore, I recommend also walking barefoot as often as you can in daily life (such as around the house) to help with this process.
That way, your feet will grow stronger and won’t have to work as hard when you switch back to traditional hiking boots that don’t have as much cushioning.
You can also opt for some quality barefoot hiking boots or shoes with a flat sole to better mimic barefoot walking if you don’t enjoy being barefoot.
Related Article: How to Prevent & Treat Blisters When Hiking
Tips And Recommendations
After I recovered from a serious bout with this condition, I asked my podiatrist to prescribe me some custom orthotics.
I swap out the insoles in my hiking shoes for these and find they provide me good arch support, so I recommend this solution to others who recover from the condition.
I also find that hiking with a lightweight pack helps keep me more pain-free as well.
You can also help prevent further injury by wearing hiking boots with large heels and adequate cushioning. You may even want to switch to trail running shoes.
Saucony makes some great options for trail running (check Peregrine 13 review), and Salomon makes the best hiking boots for plantar fasciitis that offer good support and a thicker cushion to absorb shock.
If you continue hiking without proper plantar fasciitis treatment, you will negatively affect your general health and worsen the condition. Seek medical treatment and work with a sports therapist to heal plantar fasciitis completely before you start hiking again.
Elevating your feet above your heart can increase blood supply and make it easier for your heart to circulate, which can help with the swelling caused by this condition.
Running, walking, or standing a lot can further aggravate the condition. If you have plantar fasciitis, stay off of your feet as much as possible until you have fully healed, and then work at strengthening your foot to prevent further injury.
It is highly recommended to consult a healthcare professional before attempting a hike with plantar fasciitis. They can provide guidance on preventive measures, suggest exercises to strengthen shock absorber muscles, and assess the condition of your foot bones for safe hiking.