Chatting my friend Tony yesterday the subject of conversation turned to feet _ he’d been reading my recent TGO piece. He asked how my heel pain (Plantar Fasciitis) was at the moment. Well, the good news is that this is has not really been a problem for twelve months now. A lot of experimenting and following tips given by readers here seems to have made a big difference. Tony suggested writing about it.
So, here we go. These are some of the things that I’ve done which seem to help!
Edited 31 Jan 17
First let me recap. For years I have had a problem with fallen arches which has gradually got more and more pronounced; heel pain became an increasing problem. I managed to get some resist by using special shoe inserts but I finished the 2015 TGO challenge in real pain. I felt the only really successful thing to do was to rest the feet and I really did very little walking for the rest of that year. However, I began to think about what I was doing and as I wrote about the problems here various tips came in from readers. I guess I spent the best part of six months changing footwear, experimenting with inserts and exploring physical exercises that might work. While the problem is still here it is no longer debilitating.
Will these tips work for you? I don’t know but some of them might and the approach underlined here might help!
The development of real pain seemed to coincide with a change in walking footwear. I had moved over the Brooks Cascardia shoes. I bought a new pair for the Challenge itself and these seemed to create a lot of problems. Colin Ibbotson pointed out that there were many comments on backpacking light.com from long term Brooks users bemoaning a change the formula of the shoes. Many these folks seemed to have the same problem as myself.
The problem seemed to stem from the heel unit itself which is quite springy and clearly designed to absorb impact. While the first set of Cascardias I tried were fine this second pair felt very odd when carrying a backpacking load. I felt as if I was walking on a sandy beach. I felt as if I was walking on top of jelly. I began to think that I need to find a shoe with a firmer heel and sole unit.
Before experimenting with walking shoes I had a good look at my everyday shoes (at the time I wasn’t walking outdoors much). I had take to wearing pairs of the newly styled Dr Marten shoes. There is a lot about these shoes that I like but they too had a heel unit that had that ‘jelly’ like feel. I do a lot of city walking on hard surfaces. When my main pair needed replacing I decided to experiment with a more simple design, with a lower and more ‘solid’ heel unit.
I could feel a significant change. I wear my city shoes with Dr Feet insoles and simply switched these to the new shoes. Since then I have only ever worn this type of shoe. There is not doubt to me that the Doc Marten sole unit was behaving a little like that on the Cascardias.
Walking Shoe Sole Inserts
As I mentioned the other day I changed the inserts that I was using on my walking shoes. For a few years I had been using Dr Feet Sport Insoles. These had improved things quite a bit but when I came to buy a replacement pair I decided to look around a little more carefully. I found a new insole — the Titan Orthotic sports Insole by Pro11 wellbeing — by spending a little time reading the many reviews available on Amazon. These insoles were praised by Plantar Fasciitis sufferers. I decided to give them a try not least as they were significantly cheaper than the Dr Feet insoles.
To look at these insoles look very similar to the Dr Feet and Superset insoles. However, there is something about the design which was far more comfortable to me. These seem to grab the heel area more successfully. An additional bonus has been that they seem to be a bit easier on the feet in general, more effective and absorbing shockespeciazly when walking on tarmac.
These are not some kind of magical solution but my heel felt more comfortable and my feet not quite so tired at the end of a long day.
I’ve continued to wear these ever since. It just goes to show how useful Amazon reviews can be. A number these reviews specifically compared these new inserts wit those that I had been wearing for a while. In my experience the comments made by these users were about right.
Returning to Inov-8/The Drop
For the 2016 Challenge _ and of all my walking since — I have returned to Inov-8 shoes. I’ve reviewed these elsewhere and won’t repeat myself. But these shoes have been far more comfortable, I think for a number of reasons.
Firstly, there is nowhere near as much flex in the sole and heel unit. The sensation of walking on jelly disappeared.
Around the same time I began to consider whether the drop of a shoe might be having an impact on my walking.
Imagine standing in bare feet. Your heel and the front of the foot are at the same height! This is not always the car with shoes. Often the heel is raised above the level of the front of the foot. The difference in height in these cases is called ‘the drop’.
For a while I wondered whether a greater drop would be better. I figured that if the pain came when lifting the heel from the ground, perhaps, if the heel was starting from a higher position there would less pull on the muscle when ‘pushing’ off. I thought when using some shoes that this might have been the case but quickly realised that it was a more solid and less flexible and soft sole unit that was doing the trick.
The Inov-8’s have a low drop level. When I began to walk in these regularly I could feel a real difference. For me at least, the lower the drop the better. Everything just seems a bit more natural.
There are now an increasing number of shoes on the market that have a zero drop, in other words you are walking as if you are walking in bare feet. Altra is the brand that seem to be innovating the most here. I’ve not tried them yet but both Chris Townsend and Rob Slade wore them on last year’s TGO challenge and were very complimentary about them. So, I think I will be trying out some zero drop shoes this year. Altra shoes are also popular because they have a decent wide fitting.
So, all of these changes seem to have helped a bit and together they have made a big difference. When considering this problem don’t ignore the day city shoes, even if these seem not to be the problem. My change in town shoes seems to have a big impact on making things worse.
I still have my Cascardias and still wear them as casual day footwear. Mostly they are fine but I have noticed if I take a rucksack to the supermarket and load it up I quickly get that sinking feeling again! I can feel the difference in my heel even if it isn’t in pain.
It really is worth having a good think about all of the factors that fit into the choice of footwear whether you are in the city/town or on the hill.
Calf Stretching Exercises
I’m not sure which of you recommended this to me but these stretched are very effective. Again, I’ve written about these before but to recap:
Find a step or stair. Stand so that your toes are grabbing the front of the step with the heels hanging into space — support yourself with a stair rail or equivalent. Let the hells drop down below the level of the front of your foot/step. You will feel your calf muscles stretch. Hold them in this position until you feel ‘the burn’. Repeat a few times.
I’m told that the Plantar problem is partially due to tight calf muscles. Stretching this way makes an obvious difference. This doesn’t take the pain away — you can still feel that the tension remains — but it does help you walk pain free.
When I’m walking on the hills I try and ensure that I do this when I can feel my heel. It’s quite easy to find a rock or mound which you can utilise as a step I tend to balance using my walking poles.
When I’m backpacking I will start each day with some calf stretched and I’ll also stretch them before diving into the tent for the night.
I think it is worth experimenting and keeping things under review. Many of us develop problems with falling arches and heels as we get older. The problems can be quite extreme but there is often help at hand.
I’m hoping these changes will see me through the net year or so but always at the back of my mind is a conversation I had a few years ago with long distance hiker, and fellow TGO Challenger, Mike Blackburn. Mick’s feet problems are so pronounced that he has special inserts made for him by the Rebound Lower Limb Injuries Clinic in Settle, Yorkshire (corrected ed). Mick who is always walking — and has done Lands End to John O’ Groats (significant road walking here) tells me that he wouldn’t be able to do any of his walking without his inserts. hopefully I won’t have to go down this route but will be happy to explore it if the problem returns.
So, things have been a lot happier over the last year. I’m not sure one things has made a massive difference but all of these factors seem to have worked for me. On last year’s TGO challenge I only had one really bad day which was a long road walk from Braemar to Ballater but this was using the old inserts.
I hope these tips are helpful although we are all different. Feel free to add any other ideas/tips/solutions in the comments section.