Plantar Fasciitis Orthotics and Footwear
When you walk around in bad footwear — or worse yet, bare feet — the plantar fascia is pulling away from the bone, tearing the fascia fibers. Scar tissue forms, you walk around some more, tear new fibers, create more scar tissue. You’re shredding your chances of getting over plantar fasciitis.
We often hear about the damage caused by outlandish footwear like women’s high heels, as in the 2011 article, “Pretty Shoes Can Lead to Ugly Foot Problems for Women.” But even shoes that look normal, even those sold as healthy shoes, usually don’t protect the plantar fascia. Even the best of shoes usually need orthotics to make the plantar- fasciitis-safe.
At my first visit to a podiatrist in the Spring of 2012 where I got the word that yes, my problem was definitely plantar fasciitis, I got advice on stretching, icing, wearing shoes with flexible soles and tight heels, taking anti-inflammatories and using arch supports and cushioning insoles. My podiatrist even sold me her recommended over-the-counter arch support: the Blaue Fussbett [the blue foot bed], by Birkenstock. Cost : $50.00.
I bought a second pair at a local custom shoe store, and used them from May to September during a mineral exploration field season in the northwest just south of the Canadian border, going up and down mountains dawn to dusk seven days a week.
The Blaue Fussbett definitely helped me get through the season, but by September I thought I needed to try something else. Maybe that season of unusual stress on my plantar-fasciitis-afflicted foot was asking too much of an over-the-counter arch support, I thought.
So I went to a local outlet of the Good Feet Stores and bought their program. The Good Feet Store program with arch supports that cost enough to dissuade me from buying more than the two pairs I needed for their program.
But who wants to have to shove arch supports and insoles in and out every time they want to use different pairs of shoes? And it’s good to use different pairs of shoes.
“Changing footwear, even midday, gives a little different stress on the tissues,” says Deborah Nawoczenski, PT, PhD and professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Ithaca College-Rochester Center. “When you change shoes, it does change where the stresses are placed on the feet. I recommend this with diabetic foot problems. It unloads some structures and reloads other structures, and it may be a bit of rest for soft tissues that are under stress all day.”
So I was looking for a cheaper alternative for those times when I wanted to use shoes I don’t wear most of the time. Fortunately, this Plantar Fasciitis Solutions project allowed me to talk with experts with some good ideas.
“What we know to be true with orthotics is that over the counter orthotics can be just as effective for relieving plantar fasciitis,” says Nawoczenski. “We don’t have a nice formula that one orthotic is better than another. You need something that will give more support and cushioning and will fit inside your foot wear. So that’s why you want to take your shoes with you when you purchase these.”
And where are you taking these shoes for orthotic purchases? Specialty footwear stores are a good bet, says Nawoczenski. North Face, for example, EMS Sports, or Dick’s Sporting Goods. Runners’ stores are a good bet. Or good shoe stores that have certified pedorthists, people specializing in shoes and orthotics.
I called quite a few stores, and certified pedorthists in shoe stores are hard to locate. But runners’ stores are all over the place. Nawoczenski didn’t mention Runners Roost, which is understandable since she is in New York, but in Colorado the Runners Roost stores are highly esteemed by folks who give their feet a lot of use. No doubt good runners’ stores can be found wherever you live.
Trying on and walking around in a variety of arch-supporting insoles, of those presented by Runners Roost as good bets the two I picked that felt the best were:
- “10-seconds Stabilizer Insoles,” with “Stabilizer Heel & Arch and Deep Heel Cup:” $22.00, and…
- Archmolds, “Heat Moldable Custom Insoles”: $39.95.
I would not recommend that anybody buy these specific insoles. The idea of trying out and walking on a variety of insoles on is to find out what fits best for you, what feels best to you.
Along with these, I bought two pairs of flat insoles for extra cushioning: “Spenco RX Comfort Insoles: $10 per pair.
With the Archmolds, I did not need to use the Spenco insoles, because the Archmolds come with their own cushioned surface. The Archmolds are more expensive also because they are built with a material which, with the heat and pressure from your feet, molds to the shape of your feet. An alternative and the one suggested in the Archmolds directions tells how to accomplish this custom-molding right away by warming the insoles in the oven, putting them in the shoe and how to stand on them and for how long.
“Over the last five or six years, arch supports have gotten better, Spenco and Superfeet and others out there,” says Dr. W. Hodges Davis, a Charlotte, North Carolina Foot and Ankle Surgeon and 2012-2013 President of the Education and Outreach Fund of the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. “The key is that what you put in should feel good when you put it in your shoe. You shouldn’t have to break in an arch support. People say, ‘Well, the running store gave me this and it killed me. But it should make you feel good the first step you take, which is the reason the only thing we carry in our office is just a silicone heel pad.”
“That’s why I send people to a runner’s store,” he says. “They let you try it on, while if you go to the drug store, you buy it and walk out without knowing it works.”
Generally, doctors and foot-related medical organizations don’t tell you specific products to buy, it’s up to you. Although the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society Web page on plantar fasciitis does mention “Spenco Cross Trainers” as a good over the counter insert that “provide added arch support and soft cushioning.”
Reader Input: We welcome any comments on your own experience and insights, things you’ve tried and how it worked, etc.