Plantar Fasciitis and IT Band Syndrome
Once you start working your muscles, tendons, and joints, sooner or later you will experience problems with them. Among the most common ailments for athletes are plantar fasciitis and iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS).
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia, the thick connective tissue on the bottom of your foot that runs from the toes to the heel, supporting the arch. The primary symptom of plantar fasciitis is pain in the heel, usually most intense when you first get out of bed in the morning.
There are many causes of plantar fasciitis, including flat feet and abnormally high arches. Tight calf muscles can also contribute. Training errors such as increasing running mileage too quickly, too much running on steep hills, bad running shoes, and poor running technique can also bring on plantar fasciitis. Heel strikers are more prone to plantar fasciitis than mid-foot strikers.
Take action immediately at the first sign of plantar fasciitis. Untreated, it can develop into a lingering problem. It is not unusual for a case of plantar fasciitis to go on for a year or more. This is one ailment you want to nip in the bud.
If you feel pain in your heel on your first step out of bed, see a physical therapist if you have access to one. If you are treating the problem yourself, learn how to stretch the plantar fascia and certain leg muscles, in particular the gastrocnemius (calf) and the soleus, closely connected to the calf muscle. Custom orthotics and even over-the-counter arch supports can be effective treatments.
Many athletes find that using a night splint works well in ending a case of plantar fasciitis. When you sleep, the toes of your foot tend to be fixed in a flat plane under the covers. In this position, the plantar fascia can tighten, and the pain you feel in the morning comes from the tight fascia. A night splint keeps your foot perpendicular to the bed, stretching the fascia all night, often easing the pain immediately. If you don't have a night splint, keep the covers loose at the foot of the bed. If the covers are loose, your feet won't lock down in the wrong position.
There are other ways of trying to head off a case of plantar fasciitis before it gets too serious. Ice massage on the affected area can help. Take a 20-ounce water bottle, fill it and freeze it, then roll your foot back and forth over it for five to ten minutes a couple of times a day. This helps reduce inflammation. Taping your arch can also relieve some of the pain.
Unless you have a truly severe case of plantar fasciitis, you can usually continue to train through it, although you should reduce your mileage. Let the intensity of the pain be your guide.
IT Band Syndrome
The iliotibial band is thick, fibrous connective tissue that runs from the outside of the knee to the outside of the hip. The primary symptom of ITBS is pain on the outside of the knee. It is usually a very tight feeling in the tendon on the side of the knee.
Factors that contribute to ITBS are high arches, downhill running, running on a pitched surface, inadequately cushioned running shoes, too much running on hard surfaces, and weak hip muscles. Pain usually subsides if you stop running, but the problem can be exacerbated by running, walking down stairs, cycling, or skiing.
The first course of treatment is to rest until the pain goes away, then begin a regimen of stretching the IT band, the hamstrings, quadriceps, and hip muscles. You can also ice the IT band and make an effort to be certain the running shoes you are using are right for your stride and foot type. Also, make sure your shoes are not simply past their prime. Running in worn-out shoes can cause a variety of physical problems. The best way to stave off this annoying problem is to stretch, stretch, stretch.