Plantar Fasciitis

You would think that shoes would be at the top of the list in efforts to keep from hurting your feet – and thus the enjoyment of your outdoor recreation – but you would be wrong. Plantar Fasciitis is the cause of The Big Limp.  It is one of the most common foot injuries endured by hikers.

Unfortunately, many people take the exact opposite and totally wrong approach to healing this injury from what is needed, thus prolonging or worsening the injury.  Cushioning feels great and alleviates pain initially, but this only prolongs the injury and the pain.

The injury stems from the tissue connecting the forefoot to the heel being overstretched (often from walking barefoot or in shoes with non-supportive footbeds {insoles} when the feet aren’t properly conditioned).  This situation is then made particularly worse by adding the weight of a backpack and the long miles of hiking.

The pain you feel at the front of your heel is because that’s the insertion point of the Plantar Fascia, where it’s been overstretched and/or torn loose.

Your body then tries to heal itself.  When you sleep at night your feet relax and your body deposits calcium to try to reattach the fascia. Your first steps out of bed in the morning are critical.  If you make those steps barefoot you rip the fascia loose again and un-do all the healing that was accomplished overnight. If you repeat this process enough times you develop bone spurs.  Your body continually keeps depositing calcium at the front of your heel, trying to reattach the fascia.

Support of the arch must be maintained long enough for the Plantar Fascia to heal.  This support should be in your shoes but also in your slippers/house shoes. Ideally, such as with Superfeet™, the support is located below the end of your leg bone to provide the proper foundation, rather than under your arch. A note about support… the St. Louis arch doesn’t have a support in the middle because it has an appropriately supportive foundation. This is what we are referring to in supportive footbeds.

The proper support position feels a bit weird at first, because the support is farther back than you’d expect, but you get used to it, particularly since this support location works much better. There are fewer moving parts involved and the support helps stabilize your bones and joints upward throughout the rest of your body. That support can help correct knee problems, hip problems, lower back problems and neck problems. It may also significantly change the size of shoes you wear.

Many years ago I learned The Fit System by Phil Oren. One of the biggest takeaways from it was the need to look at foot elongation when feet are measured in both neutral weighted and unweighted positions. To accomplish this, the foot is measured heel to ball and heel to toe, both sitting and standing. While you’re sitting, your feet are measured to see what size and shape they are without bodyweight impacting their size and shape. The measurement is then performed while you’re standing equally weighted on both feet. This allows the person measuring your feet to determine how much your foot changes size and shape when bearing bodyweight.

When Phil Oren measured my feet, I learned that my foot changed from a size 11.5 to a 14 depending on whether I was weighted or unweighted. That’s a lot of stress on the arch and Plantar Fascia! Your Plantar Fascia is not supposed to be able to stretch that far.  That’s why I had a ton of foot problems and pain as a kid.

I was turned on to Superfeet™ when buying my first pair of hiking boots in high school. I now wear them in every pair of shoes and slippers I own, but I didn’t fully understand how much they were helping me until I studied with Phil Oren.

Notice how none of this mentions shoes? Shoes and footbeds should be viewed as separate entities.  Shoes are the platform. Footbeds are the support.

      Here are three important guidelines to remember:

  • Shoes should be evaluated based on traction, overall fit, comfort, cushion, flex point, and protection from trail conditions.
  • Unless you need no support, most footbeds should be considered as throwaway place holders.
  • Support should be considered based on foot physiology and gait/stride analysis.


Stop in at Mountain Provisions; we will talk feet.  We and you need to be sure you have the right pair of shoes and proper foot support for your next hike…and succeeding heights.