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As an aspiring professional runner fresh out of college (basically the same thing as a starving artist), I took a job working at a running store to pay the bills and support my personal goals. While I was fully prepared to bust my butt to support my dream, I was unaware, after sitting at a desk during the majority of college, that spending hours on my feet in between two runs a day would set me up for issues, like plantar fasciitis.
According to Zamst Senior Product Specialist Dawn Ferreira, “If you view your lower leg as one unit then it is easy to understand how a tight calf or achilles tendon can lead to plantar fasciitis, especially if you are on your feet all day and running regularly. Your calf muscles connect into your achilles tendon, which in turn attaches to your heel bone. These muscles allow you to flex your foot down by pulling on your heel bone. When you calf muscles are tight, your achilles tendon is shortened and you have limited movement when flexing your foot, causing your plantar fascia to be stretched further than normal when you try to walk.”
Because I depended on this job, and my feet, to earn a living, I had to actively seek methods to treat the injury and prevent it from coming back while still working full-time and logging 20-mile days. It’s a scenario that most runners face—unless you are a lucky elite who gets paid to run. As runners, we set lofty goals that we are willing to push ourselves towards and work hard for. However we can be quick to forget about how additional demands of life can contribute to or exacerbate overuse injuries. Such demands range from sitting at our desks all day, to carrying children on our hips, to a shortage of sleep, all which are part of life.
To overcome my period of injury, I found creative ways to incorporate treatment methods into my work hours—everything from stretches, to icing, to wearing semi-custom insoles. Through trial and error, I came up with some effective yet simple methods that “working” runners can use to keep their feet happy and healthy on the job and while running:
(Note: I am not a doctor nor therapist. These tips are based on my experiences as an athlete. If you are experiencing work-related pain, it is best to contact your doctor before beginning any treatment regimen.)
Wearing comfortable shoes. Working at a running store made this easy; however I still found that not all “good” shoes and insoles are created equal. It is important to try on several pairs of shoes and seek out the pair that feels most comfortable–looks be damned. The latest footwear research points to shoe comfort as a highly proven factor in preventing overuse injuries. Spending hours walking and standing on your feet at work falls into this realm. World-class biomechanist Benno Nigg puts it this way: “We propose a new paradigm, the comfort filter paradigm as follows: When selecting a running shoe, an athlete selects a comfortable product using his/her own comfort filter. This automatically reduces the injury risk.”
Professional runner Maggie Callahan understands the dilemma of fashion over function and has found a creative solution. “I am running 80-90 miles per week, and working around 30 hours per week as a bartender, so quality footwear is very important to me. When choosing work shoes, I always have to chose between my feet feeling good or my feet looking good, and currexSole RUNPRO insoles solve that dilemma (and work overtime for your running shoes as well). The extra support and cushion make my feet as happy as if I was walking around in running shoes, and no more achy feet at night!”
Self-massage. Every morning before stepping out of bed, keep a self-massage tool (like TriggerPoint’s MB1 Massage Ball) next to your bed and gently massage your feet to warm them up, increase blood flow and prevent micro-tears. At the store, I always kept a massage ball into my work bag and made sure to give my feet some relief whenever I took a break. And if the morning doesn’t work for you, roll your feet out before bed, which can also help promote relaxation! For easy self-massage tips check out TriggerPoint’s video resource page.
Related: 5 Post-Run Pampering Products
Stretching. Following the gentle massage, stretch your feet, one toe at a time, while still in bed. Then stand up and place your hands against a wall while slowly bending your knees to give the calves a gentle stretch. You can also do this by lowering your heel off of a step. Hold the stretches for about 20-30 seconds. If you keep your leg straight, then you will just stretch the gastrocnemius (calf) and if you slightly bend your knee then you will be able to stretch the soles (lower part of the calf at the top of the achilles tendon). Repeat these stretches throughout the day, and especially before and after prolonged periods of walking, running or standing. This will help protect against micro-tears in your plantar fascia, increase circulation and prime the muscles of the feet for the workday ahead.
Ice often. During the most painful phase of my injury, I would ice my feet three to four times a day for 10-minute periods. Fill small paper cups with water, freeze them overnight and then peel away the top layer to massage your feet—from arch to forefoot, emphasizing the most painful areas. This helps reduce inflammation. If possible, try bringing your lunch in a cooler along with a few “ice cups” in order to ice on lunch breaks. Otherwise ice your feet as soon as you get home from work, after you run and again before bed.
Extra support. Wear compression socks such as the Zamst HA-1 Sock series, which provide built-in arch support within the sock to both cradle and increase blood flow to the injured area. These can easily be worn in lieu of traditional socks and/or while you sleep to ensure your tendons are getting the nourishment they need to heal properly.
Persistence. Plantar fasciitis and foot injuries in general can be extremely pesky and frustrating. They can take several weeks or months to fully heal and they do not always respond to total rest—and often this is not an option anyway if you must be on your feet at work all day. Commit yourself to taking the above-mentioned steps daily for several weeks (this is just an estimate, as it may take less time or longer). Once you begin to experience some relief—DON’T STOP! Continuing your foot health routine for several more weeks will be the key to keeping your feet healthy, happy and taking more steps than ever.
Morgan Gonzalez is a professional runner for Puma based in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. She has several years of experience selling and analyzing running footwear at specialty running retailers. You can read more about her adventures at Running Bums, and you can find her on Twitter and Instagram.