Race Media


18 Oct, 2013

How I live with Plantar Fasciitis – by Magdalena Cvetkovic

Magdalena Cvetkovic enjoying life at the MSIG Lantau50 2012

How I live with Plantar Fasciitis – by Magdalena Cvetkovic

Before I tell you the story about how the injury plantar fasciitis has impacted and changed my life, you are probably curious to know first what plantar fasciitis exactly is. The plantar fascia is the thick band of connective tissue on the bottom of the foot that runs all the way from the heel to the base of the toes to support the foot's arch. Suffering from plantar fasciitis means having heel pain which is caused by tiny micro tears in the plantar facia. If these tears are not given enough time to heal they might become inflamed and result in a permanent injury.

For me, plantar fasciitis started off hint of discomfort in the bottom of my feet. I simply ignored it given the amount of kilometers I ran per week. I didn't really care if my feet hurt here and there, I figured it will go away after resting for a couple days. But the pain didn't go away, it got worse no matter how much I rested or how much low impact cross training I did. So I went to get an opinion from a physiotherapist, who confirmed exactly what I didn't want to hear: Plantar fasciitis. The physio said not to worry, it was a common running injury and it can be fully healed. I just needed to be patient. The word “patient” made nervous. Being patient is  my biggest weakness. At this point I knew I was in trouble... but whenever you think things can't get worse, they do.  

The heel pain would come and go, sometimes even disappear completely during a longish run and come back again in the morning. That's the days when I was scared to step out of bed knowing I might not be able to walk to the bathroom without crawling on all fours.

I started reading a book about plantar fasciitis and it told me the only way to recover from the injury was to stop the exercise that caused it in the first place. Well, that's easier said than done. I ran two to three times per week, hill training on the twins, interval / speed runs on Bowen road and long distance runs on weekends. I simply love running and appreciated every single minute spent wracking up mad distances with friends, just for fun. I also enjoyed cross training at Epic gym, where I attended Muay Thai, boxing and circuit classes. Punching the boxing bag, during the Muay Thai lunch class, was a great way to manage stress and made me feel very satisfied (it also helped if I imagined it was someone's face). Working out makes me feel good, it keeps my mind sharp, my brain smart and my body healthy. It has also had the benefit that I've met some great people, through our shared interests, and we have become friends. As you can tell, if I'm not chained to my desk at work for 12h a day, then I exercise. Taking sports away from me is like telling a chef to stop cooking or a ballerina to stop dancing. I was about to go mad... what am I going to do now? I can't stop, just like that. I'm in big trouble. And even worse, I felt like a ticking time bomb.

When you suffer from plantar fasciitis daily tasks like rushing down the escalator to go to work, standing around the lift lobby waiting for the lift or just carrying a shopping bag with groceries became a challenge. I started asking myself: “How am I gonna buy and carry milk if my feet can't even carry my own bodyweight?”

This summer my boyfriend and I went to Switzerland to run the SwissAlpine Marathon. Obviously, I was not able to run but there to support my boyfriend and welcome him with hugs and beer at the finishing line. I stole 2 large cans of beer from the finishers tent and I stood there for about an hour to ensure that I didn't miss him. After a while I realized how heavy the beer had become and I was struggling to hold onto it because the additional weight was hurting my feet. Sounds ridiculous? Keep reading. When my boyfriend finally showed up at the finishing line, who's feet would you guess were more painful? His or mine? A man must really love you when he gives you a piggy back all the way to the hotel after running a full mountain marathon.

There were also days where I would get a bit frustrated complaining about the injury and that there was nothing to do. My boyfriend just looked at me and replied: "Only boring people get bored, interesting people always find something to do". Boring? Who? Me? No way!! He was right. I had to find a new challenge. Something exciting enough to keep me interested but at the same time I had to try to stay off my feet. At this point you might think there is not much else than running but I can tell you there is loads, as I was about to find out...

A couple of months ago we moved into our new flat in the mid-levels which needed more greenery. I was on my way to Sheung Wan to find that plant shop I've seen the other day. While I was wandering around I discovered a newly opened bicycle shop on Queens Road, ProBike. I tried to pass but I got stuck starring at that racing bike that was displayed in the window. I got excited like a little girl in a candy store. The bike was not only in my favorite color (black) and discounted, but I swear to god it had my name written all over it. That was the universe giving my credit card a sign. So I went inside and I can't explain what happened. The next thing I remember is that I found myself standing outside the shop with bags full of cycling equipment and the most important accessory: A 8kg Mosers full carbon fibre road racing bike. I was so excited to hit the roads that I forgot that I had an injury. I came home with my new bike to find my boyfriend sitting on the couch watching TV asking when the new plants are going to get delivered. Oooops.

Later I learned that getting a road cycling bike was the best purchase my credit card ever made. Cycling is not only a great way to recover from plantar fasciitis but it's also a good way to keep up your cardio and prevent me from turning into a fat couch potato. Instead of running the twins, I now cycle them. Well, not exactly over the top but on the road around together with all the cars and buses. Having solved the issue of being eaten alive by mosquitos or having spiderwebs in my face, I was now facing a new challenge: Traffic, chaos, mad taxi drivers and suicidal mini buses.

My boyfriend and I started cycling to Shek-O beach at the weekends. After cycling such a long way what you really want is to cool yourself down in the sea before cycling back. The lady at the swimming stuff store was willing to keep an eye on our bikes so we could jump into the sea and go for a swim. Coming from a country that doesn't even have a sea (Switzerland), I love the smell of sea water and enjoy swimming in it (apart from the oil, junk and jelly fish). As you know, swimming is a great way to stay fit while recovering from an injury. The Sun Yat Sen public swimming pool in Sheung Wan is brand new and has a 50m pool. Having swum there only a couple of times before, I never really figured out “the right time” to go. The pool was always packed, which I didn't like. Swimming circles in a lane also makes me feel like a hamster running in a wheel desperately trying to get somewhere. I need something better than that, so swimming along the shark net in Shek-O, half way through my cycle ride, turned out to be the perfect solution to keep me happy.

A friend of mine suggested Yoga and talked me into trying a hot yoga class. I'm super inflexible. On a good day it's a miracle if I can even touch my feet, so I'm honestly not surprised why I got plantar fasciitis in the first place. Sometimes I wish could travel back in time and lecture my younger self about how important stretching after running is. My older and wiser self now has to go through the torture of attending yoga classes 5 times per week. I still haven't found my inner self during the practice and consider Yoga a rather boring “activity” but I'm forcing myself to shut up and just do it. I can clearly see the benefits of being flexible in terms of injury prevention. Even though all the bending looks a bit silly sometimes, at the end it makes me feel good. And who knows, maybe one day I will be able to balance upside down standing on my ear, arms folded in a triangle with legs twisted behind my shoulders :)

So I've been to the physio, I've changed my workout, I'm torturing myself with yoga, what else can I do to get rid of plantar fasciitis?

Well, another thing to do is to wear night splint socks. They function the same way as a straight jacket, the only difference is that you strap it around your feet instead of your arms. It's a white ugly sock that basically ties your toe to the knee to stretch the plantar facia while you sleep. That avoids morning soreness and allows me to walk to the bathroom like a normal person without having to crawl around the floor. When I purchased the socks online, it didn't say how noisy they are to put on or take off. Socks like that wake up boyfriends and make them grumpy. Wearing the socks while you sleep is uncomfortable, they are itchy, make your feet sweat and on top of all that they look really unsexy. It's a good reason to switch the light off.

When you are in the recovery process of plantar fasciitis wearing shoes all the time is a must.
No more walking around barefoot, no more flip flops and no more high heels. Running shoes are the only shoe that I can currently wear which can be problematic. People at work think I'm being casual until I explain that there is an injury involved that they can't see. Being stuck wearing running shoes is great as long you don't have to see any clients. In my job I have to deal with high profile clients which can be painful at the best of times, not just on my poor feet that are stuck in shiny shoes. The upside of being stuck in running shoes is that this prevents me from unnecessary shoe shopping. My running shoes contain custom insoles to fix my flat feet and an extra cushioning that acts as arch support. I also have a pair of indoor shoes with the same kind of insoles.  


If you are like me and suffer from plantar fasciitis, here are a couple things you can do to speed up the recovery process: (Source of information: Book called “Injury Afoot” by Patrick Hafner)
•    Stop whatever exercise you think you are doing that caused your injury in the first place
•    Wear protective shoes with custom insoles and arch support
•    Avoid going barefoot, wear indoor shoes at home all the time
•    Use cushioning on the shower floor and the rest of the bathroom (wear arch support flip flops at the gym)
•    Wear a night splint sock to stretch the plantar facia while sleeping (http://thesock.com/)
•    Ice the plantar facia by rolling your foot over a frozen bottle of water
•    Stretching (calf, arches, hamstrings)
•    Stretch first thing in the morning before even getting out of bed. A gentle calf stretch to relieve morning stiffness before stepping into the indoor shoes
•    Build the muscle in your foot by trying to crunch a towel using just your toes or try to pick up coins from the floor
•    Cycle for exercise to keep your cardio levels up and avoid putting pressure on your feet (use cycling shoes that click into the pedals to pull rather than push when going uphill)
•    Swim for exercise
•    Strengthening exercise (strengthen your calf muscles, arches and abdominals)
•    Get lots of foot massages
•    Roll your feet over a spiky ball (or tennis ball) to massage the feet while sitting at your desk at work. You can also use a dragon boat drum stick for a change if you get bored of the ball
•    Tighten your shoes when you walk outdoors and try to maintain a low impact by taking small steps
•    Elevate your feet when sleeping
•    Avoid going back into exercise too soon
•    Visit a physiotherapist
•    Try acupuncture but only if you are though enough to take the pain (“Needleman” Alain Chu in Mongkok has been treating sports injuries for over 25 years)

So after all this, I'm still living with plantar fasciitis but it's getting a bit better and I've discovered a lot of other things to do. I have a feeling that the day I'm back on the trails running I will be faster than before. Not being able to run freed up a lot of time which I'm using to improve my swimming and cycling skills. I had a cheeky peak at the future and saw myself completing my first triathlon. They key is not to get too frustrated about the things you can't do and start focussing on what you CAN do.


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