I expect when I write about aches and pains from hiking most of my regular blog readers will be nodding in agreement; it’s a pain in the….. I’ve always been a little heavier than perhaps I should be. I’m 6’1″ tall, 43 years old (2015) and broad build. I get stuck in kissing gates on my own, ha ha.
Walking Distance – My Mental Barrier
I knew in my head that I could manage a 20-25 mile day hike without too much extra training. I have the strength in my legs and plenty of energy most days.
What was stopping me reach my mental goal of +20 miles was a nagging pain in my heels. Plantar fasciitis became a phrase that haunted my Google searches. I could manage around 6 miles of hiking before the heel pain kicked in.
The NHS state: Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain, accounting for around four out of five cases.
Plantar fasciitis is where the thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone with the rest of the foot (the plantar fascia) becomes damaged and thickened. Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the plantar fascia, a part of your foot that connects your heel bone to your toes.
Damage to the plantar fascia is thought to occur following:
Sudden damage – for example, damaging your heel while jogging, running or dancing; this type of damage usually affects younger people who are physically active. Gradual wear and tear of the tissues that make up the plantar fascia – this usually affects adults who are 40 years of age or over.
Symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain around the heel and arch of your foot. It may be worse in the morning.
Reducing The Pain of Plantar Fasciitis
So I had a choice, stop walking beyond 6 miles a day or do something about it. It was time to research sensible solutions to a common lifestyle problem.
After a few hours of online research I came up with several important things I needed to do.
- I needed to get my feet professionally measured.
- I needed to get professional advice on fit and brand of walking boots.
- I needed to exercise correctly to treat the symptoms.
- I needed to try supportive insoles.
My first trip was down to Chichester West Sussex, my local Cotswold Outdoor store, to have my feet measured and talk to the experts in outdoor walking and hiking gear. The staff at Cotswold Outdoor stores really know their stuff. I was never pressured into buying something I didn’t need or that didn’t fit correctly.
The staff took the time to understand my kind of walking, my expectations from trail hiking shoes and boots. The end result of the trip was a new pair of boots, that not only looked good but more importantly fitted my feet correctly.
Not all hiking boot brands fit all feet, something I experienced first hand. Certain brands were narrow along the entire length of the boot and I have slightly wider feet.
Other brands had a narrow heel cup and again this could cause pain and blisters after a few miles of walking. All this professional advice came free; of course they wanted my business but they also wanted me to have great fitting boots.
I won’t go into great detail about these boots (lightweight, Gore-Tex etc) because as I have mentioned, everyone’s feet are different and what fits me perfectly might be too loose on you. I have a size 9 1/2 left foot and 9 3/4 right foot. My left foot is also slightly wider than my right foot; you see the need to have your feet professionally measured even as an adult.
Custom Insoles – Superfeet Green
Another product continually came to the surface on searches about plantar fasciitis pain; Supportive insoles (inner-soles) and in particular the Superfeet Green brand.
Superfeet have been making insoles since the mid 1970s and there are thousands of positive online reviews and informative independent product tests.
I decided to purchase the Green variety of Superfeet insole as this was recommended as being suitable for hiking boots with removable insoles. The majority of hiking / walking boots do have removable insoles but there are other styles of Superfeet to suit shoes/boots with fixed insoles.
The key point is to allow space inside your footwear for your feet with the new insole fitted. There is nothing to be gained by fitting an insole on top of an original if it makes your footwear too tight.
If you have very flat or very high arches, Superfeet again supply products to suit. I have low to medium arches and research suggested that the support from the Green variety would suit me best.
Superfeet and Super Boots
With my purchases home the first thing I did was to remove and store the original insoles that came with my new boots. I had purchased Superfeet insoles in the correct size range (10 – 11.5 UK) so a little trimming was required. Always check the sizing when ordering. You can always trim off excess material, you cannot add it!
Superfeet provide clear instructions on trimming their insoles and the material cuts cleanly with sharp kitchen type scissors. It is suggested by Superfeet and me that you do not go straight out and walk 20 miles in new boots with new supportive insoles.
I started by wearing my new boots with the Superfeet Green insoles around the house, a couple of hours at a time for 2-3 days. Just to get my feet used to the arch support, you can certainly feel it at first.
The next stage was a walk of around 4 miles along the streets and gentle hills. Again I could always feel the arch support firmly under foot but it never developed into any kind of pain.
Calf Muscle Stretches
Another very important part of treating plantar fasciitis heel pain is correct exercise. The NHS recommend calf stretches amongst other forms of exercise. I must admit that I had never done calf muscle stretches. I have for years lifted weights and done squats but never concentrated on my calf muscles.
The NHS suggest some calf muscles stretching exercises that will help. Here is the link to their section on – plantar fasciitis exercises.
The 20 Mile Walking Test
I had a South Downs Way route in mind that I had walked before in January, from Storrington to Steyning Bowl and back, a distance of around 18.5 miles. So to crack the 20 miles pain-free I just needed to walk a little longer before turning around and heading home.
I decided to use both my trekking poles, as well as wear my new boots with the Superfeet Green insoles fitted. I set off at 11am and I can report that by 6pm when I returned home I was still moving under my own power.
My leg muscles ached, as you would expect after walking for 6-7 hours on and off but the sharp pain from my heels had never materialised during the walk. I wouldn’t say any one item provided the magic cure but a combination of well-fitting boots, supportive insoles, trekking poles and correct exercise has reduced the pain from limping 6 mile agony to 20 mile pain free hiking.