Plantar Fasciitis: How I Cured My Heel Spurs Without Surgery

by Tina Blue
January 10, 2001

          Plantar fasciitis (heel spurs) is an excruciatingly painful foot condition caused by the inflammation of the plantar fascia, a broad ligament-like structure that runs along the sole (plantar) of the foot between the toes and the heel bone.

          Most people who have plantar fasciitis know they have it and know what it is.

          Some doctors compare the pain of heel spurs to the feeling of walking with a pebble in your shoe, just beneath the heel. Ha! Those doctors have never had plantar fasciitis. Those who have will tell you that the pain is far, far worse than that innocuous little analogy suggests. It is so bad, in fact, that it drives many people to submit to horrendously painful corticosteroid shots in their heels, in hope of reducing the pain.

          I had a cortisone shot in my right heel the second time I had
plantar fasciitis
. I am not a screamer, but let me tell you, that shot caused me to let out a shriek of pain that was heard in the parking lot of the podiatrist's office. It was so painful that I was unable to force myself to undergo the shot in my left heel that was scheduled for two weeks later. Furthermore, though many people do get relief from such shots, for me the shot did no good at all.

          Another fairly drastic option for treating plantar fasciitis is surgery to loosen the plantar fascia by making a small cut in it. Certainly this treatment is effective for many people, but few would choose either surgery or those devilish cortisone shots if they had other less invasive treatment options.

          Well, there are other treatments that should be tried before turning to surgery. The first time I had plantar fasciitis, I gave up my ten-mile-a-day walks, bought a car (which I had never done before), and abandoned stylish shoes (which are a major culprit in women's foot disorders). I also had a pair of custom-fitted insoles made--for $60--which I put into the Reebok walking shoes that I wore all the time until my heel pain subsided, which it did after about two months. I took aspirin every day to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.

          You should, of course, check with your doctor before using any over-the-counter NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. But if your doctor approves such medication for you, and if you use it carefully (NSAIDS can be dangerous if improperly used), then such drugs do help to relieve the pain and inflammation of plantar fasciitis.

          A few years after my first bout of plantar fasciitis, the condition flared up again, and this time it was even worse than the first time. I had not gone back to wearing high heels, but I had occasionally worn attractive flats that did not provide sufficient support for my unusually high arches--and I had sometimes walked distances in them, since I no longer had a car.

     I need more arch support than most, but everyone should make sure that the shoes they wear offer good arch support, because most cases of plantar fasciitis could be prevented if only people would take better care of their arches.

          This time the pain was so crippling that I ended up having to use a cane for over a year. (My son complained that I was getting old. I told him to think of it instead as an athletic injury--I walked so much that I damaged my feet.) Because I had to stay off my feet as much as possible, I became virtually housebound, not a situation I relish.

          It was the severity of this bout of plantar fasciitis that drove me to subject myself to that dreadful cortisone shot. Because that shot didn't help, the podiatrist was recommending surgery. But I kept putting it off, even as I began to implement a couple of other suggestions she had tossed out.

          First, I switched to New Balance walking shoes. For some reason, the New Balance brand provides better arch support for
plantar fasciitis
sufferers, and podiatrists routinely recommend that their plantar fasciitis patients wear New Balance. For dressier occasions, I wear "grandma" shoes--fairly wide, well-constructed black or tan shoes with really good arch supports. (The brand I like is S.A.S. )

          Admittedly, these shoes aren't pretty. I now wear slacks or calf-length skirts, because my granny shoes don't work well with shorter skirts and dresses. One other thing I did--and I believe this is what made the most immediate and dramatic difference in my condition--was to wear those pre-formed Futuro elastic ankle braces that you can buy for five or six dollars in any supermarket or drugstore. They are way cheaper than the custom-fitted insoles I purchased for $60 dollars the first time I had heel spurs, and since I didn't end up having to buy a car, treatment was much less expensive the second time around.

          I never wore skirts while wearing the ankle braces, but I only had to wear them for five weeks before the pain in my heels faded away altogether, though I continued to wear them for another two weeks, just to be sure all was well. Those braces pull up and support the arches from below the foot, providing even better support than my custom-fitted insoles had.

          I never went back to wearing pretty shoes without arch supports, except for those infrequent occasions when I need to dress up, but I know I will not be walking or standing around.

          It has now been three years since that last bout of plantar
. A couple of times since then, after I have walked long distances on hard surfaces (e.g., sidewalks or roads), I have felt the familiar twinge of heel pain. But whenever that happens, I just wear my braces again for a couple of weeks, and the pain goes away. In fact, sometimes I will wear my braces even when I don't have heel pain, if I know that I am going to walk a lot more than usual, and that prevents me from getting even the beginnings of heel pain.

          If you suffer from plantar fasciitis, try changing to appropriate shoes, use NSAIDS if the doctor approves them for you, and start wearing ankle braces. The braces should be snug enough to provide good support, but not tight enough to impede circulation. (Those of us who are no longer young need to be careful about protecting the circulation in our feet.)

          You may well discover that your heel pain goes away within a few weeks, and that you don't have to have surgery after all.

          Even more important, you won't have to have one of those nightmarish cortisone shots!

**UPDATE: Read my new article "Why I Decided to Have Surgery on One Foot."  For a recovery report 16 months after my surgery, click
*Read about Greg Bailey's experience with endoscopic plantar fasciotomy surgery for plantar fasciitis at "A Reader's Experience with Endoscopic Plantar Fasciotomy.   He promises ongoing reports of his recovery, which I will publish as soon as I get them.

*To read about another reader's experience with "heel orthotripsy," which uses shock waves to treat plantar fasciitis non-invasively, click
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