Has this happened to you? You have a great night’s sleep. You wake up, sit up, stand up. As you start to walk away from your bed you feel it. A sharp pain in your heel that reduces your walk to a shuffle. After you take a few steps, it seems to improve and after several minutes you may not even remember the pain. At least until you stand up from your desk a few hours later, when the same thing happens.
What you have, my friend, is probably plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the plantar fascia, the thick band of tissues that runs along the bottom of the foot and connects the heel bone to the toes. Runners are particularly prone, as are pregnant women, overweight people, and those who wear shoes with inadequate support (think of those cute, strappy sandals that you love).
If you want to read more of the clinical description, cause and treatment of plantar fasciitis check out the Mayo Clinic website. I’m here to discuss my long history with the inflammation, how I’ve dealt with it, and what is working for me to treat and prevent it.
My Experience with Plantar Fasciitis
My first experience with plantar fasciitis occurred in 2001. I was putting in big miles and running a lot of marathons. I fell in love with a lightweight shoe, the same brand as my long time trainers that had seen me through more than 25 marathons (the model, not the same shoe!). This new shoe felt so good and it was so much lighter! It also had a lot less support, and eventually, after several months, that did me in. I started to experience everything mentioned in the first paragraph.
I didn’t let it slow me down, though I did switch back to my other shoe after my chiropractor suggested that “it must be the shoes.” I kept running, though, until finally my foot not only hurt when I woke up in the morning, it pretty much hurt all the time, even when I wasn’t running. Oh, did I say foot? I meant feet, because I had plantar fasciitis in both.
Plantar Fasciitis Treatment
At that point I did start running less. I tried all the treatments, including icing, rolling, anti-inflammatories, stretching, strengthening exercises, I slept in the boot, I slept in the sock. I taped my foot, not just before a run, but every day. I always wore supportive shoes, never walked barefoot. Let’s see, what else? Oh, finally at the end of my rope, I got a cortisone shot. Three, actually. Two in my right foot, one in my left. They helped a little bit, but not enough. I was still in pain.
I have heard it said that plantar fasciitis will sometimes just simply go away, as quickly as it came. That after months of trying different treatments, it just suddenly gets better. That is not what happened with me.
What did happen was that I hurt my knee. I do not recommend this as a plantar fasciitis treatment, but I can honestly say that the time that I finally took off from running because of my knee injury gave my feet the time to heal.
When I returned to running, several months later, I stuck with my supportive shoes, ran a lot less mileage, and continued to stretch and take care of my feet. They were finally healthy and remained that way until about a year and a half ago when I started training a little more seriously and running more. I immediately upped my foot care, and, while I haven’t recovered completely, I have maintained a very low level of inflammation, only noticing that there is even a problem when I take those first few steps in the morning.
The Hatfield Strap
That brings me to the present and an introduction to another tool to combat plantar fasciitis, the Hatfield Strap. I was recently given the opportunity to try out the Hatfield Strap and speak to its creator, Keith Hatfield.
Keith is a certified physician’s assistant and former athletic trainer who worked with the professional baseball team the Kansas City Royals for two years. He designed the Hatfield Strap as a tool to help treat his own plantar fasciitis. Like me, Keith had tried most of the treatments available without much success. Using his knowledge as a trainer, he came up with the idea, made a prototype for his own use, then when he discovered that it really was functional and effective made it available for everyone.
I asked Keith to tell me a little about how he got the idea for the Hatfield Strap. He told me that it stemmed from his own plantar fasciitis problems. He had gone as far as having the shot, and he was told it was very important to continue to stretch his calves. After trying various calf stretches and using different stretching tools, he realized that they all kept you in a weight bearing position, so after about 30 seconds or so, you’d had enough. After recently attending a conference and hearing recommendations from physical therapists to stretch for up to five minutes, he thought that a stretching tool that allowed you to take your weight off your feet and use your body weight to assist would make it much easier to hold a stretch for a longer period of time.
Keith added that this particular stretch was also indicated for Achilles Tendonitis. I asked it if was a good idea to stretch the Achilles when it was inflamed and he told me yes, but the key is not to over-stretch, using a longer duration at a low intensity.
Referring to the morning pain that most sufferers feel, Keith suggested leaving the Hatfield Strap right by your bed and using it before getting up in the morning. I might have to set my alarm a few minutes early for that, but it sure beats sleeping in a boot!
Keith cautioned that the Hatfield Strap is not a cure-all for plantar fasciitis, because there are a lot of things you should be doing to prevent and treat it. Those include wearing the right shoes; if you pronate severely, you should have something [an orthotic] that corrects the pronation. He said one of the worse things you can do is walk around your house barefoot.
I asked Keith about the frequency and timing of stretching with the Hatfield Strap. He said that athletes would probably prefer to use the strap as part of their post-workout stretch routine. It provides a great stretch for the calf and the hamstrings (if the leg is elevated), and as such would be a great addition to regular stretching. Non-athletes could probably incorporate stretching when they come home from work.
Of course I wanted the scoop on working with the Kansas City Royals. Before making his way to the majors, Keith spent some time working at Creighton University with the softball, soccer, and basketball teams before leaving to work with the Kansas City Royals minor league teams. When he moved to the big league, Keith said it was quite interesting working with such high level athletes. It was challenging too, because on the one hand you’d have the management saying that they don’t want injured players on the field until they were 100%. On the other hand, managers and coaches would scoff, and saying thing like I played 16 years and I was never 100%. This left the athletic trainer in a difficult position. Not to mention that it was one of the lowest paying jobs that he ever had. Which made it easy, after two years to make the decision to go back to school (to become a physician’s assistant).
The Hatfield Strap is very new, just going into production at the end of June. Keith tells a story about his history with rubber tubing. Back when he was working at Creighton, the athletic trainers used rubber tubing for rehab of athletes with rotator cuff injuries with a lot of success. He remembers thinking how great it would be if he took the rubber tubing and added a handle at each end, then put it in a little bag and sold if for about $10. He did nothing about it and still remembers the feeling he had when he first saw a package of rubber tubing in a little bag with, of course, a handle at each end, selling for $9.99. This time he took no chances and wasted no time in getting his idea into production.
In closing, Keith mentioned other uses for the Hatfield Strap, including other injuries, where lack of movement, or an altered gait causes the calf to tighten up. So many injuries are related to tight calves and hamstrings, that using the strap consistently can help prevent and treat not only plantar fasciitis, but Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, and even low back pain that is related to tight hamstrings. The Hatfield Strap can also be used to perform a great IT band stretch.
The Hatfield Strap is available in a couple of models, including the one that I received, which straps around your calf to give you a secure attachment from which to stretch. Another model allows you to sit on strap to secure it, but that one doesn’t allow the elevated hamstring stretch. The shoulder attachment shown above is an additional option, and it allows you to relax and use your body weight to increase your stretch.
After learning about and trying the Hatfield Strap, I feel confident that using it, along with Dynamic Tape (which I wrote about last week), will be the final key in kicking my plantar fasciitis to the curb.
Have you ever dealt with plantar fasciitis? How did you get rid of it?
Disclosure: I was sent a Hatfield Strap to try out and review. All opinions are my own.