The first thing that has to be said is, of course, that this is not official medical advice and you should not use the Internet as your sole source of treatment information.
That being said, I do want to tell you about my feet and how I’ve kept them from hurting.
Anyone who followed my last walk or has since read my book about it will be aware that a major issue for me throughout most of the distance was foot pain.
I walked 3700 miles in 2014/15 and experienced plantar tendon pain for most of that distance.
It came on within a month of the start of my journey; as I came down the Severn Way towards Bristol, there was a tightness in the base of my foot, a slight twinge.
As I continued walking, over the following two months, it became worse and worse. After I stopped walking for the day, in the evenings, once I’d rested for a while, my feet seized up. I was left hobbling, my toes wanting to curl under on themselves, pain in every step. Every day was a balance between continuing to walk enough to make progress but not walking so far that I’d feel that familiar searing pain across the foremost edge of my heels. I spent a year and a half in mild to moderate pain, walking the remaining 3000 miles. I coped with it at that time by limiting my mileage to 10 miles a day for most of the first year, and by strapping my feet, but it mostly just bloody hurt and I never want to experience that pain again.
However, two years later, there I was, deciding to walk again, another 5000 miles, across Europe this time. I was scared of the return of pain, of not being able to prevent this injury.
This time it’s different. I’m about 1200 miles into another 5000 mile route and I have had no plantar tendon pain. This is how I avoid it.
I see a lot of plantar fasciitis advice as being about how to treat the painful area and, in my view, the painful heel is not the source of the problem, poor posture and inflexibility elsewhere are more likely culprits.
Stretch everything, particularly from your lower back downwards – hips, thighs, calves, all of it. It’s not about getting flexible feet, it’s about making sure every part of your body is working in alignment. I see my foot pain as being the last place for tension to go.
On an ideal day I stretch before starting to walk, whenever I’ve stopped for a break and at the end of the day. If I’m walking a bit far or on repetitive ground like road then if foot pain comes on, it can be very relieving to stop and have a quick calf stretch. Once a week, on my day off, I spend the day doing very little…and stretching. A full yoga session or just a few quick lunges and bends.
2. Consider the load you’re carrying.
The heavier my rucksack gets, the more I feel my lower back coming under strain; it affects my gluteus, my hips, my sciatic nerve. When my body can’t move freely, it leads to postural strain.
When I’m on my way to a day off and I load my bag with an extra few kilos of food, I immediately feel the difference in my feet, they’re under more pressure.
Whether they’re the result of a podiatrist visit or shop bought, get some with arch support. I use Superfeet.
4. Kinesiology tape.
Although I strapped my feet with this tape during the first walk, for the second walk I actually consulted with a professional on how to use it. Maybe YouTube videos will work for you. Kinesiology tape is adhesive fabric that is elasticated to stretch in one direction; you use it to hold and support your body to move slightly differently to your normal postural alignment. I currently tape my belly, hips, knees and feet, as advised by a physio, and it feels fantastic. I can feel the subtle support of the tape as soon as I stand up.
5. Boots off, feet up.
Whenever I take a break of longer than half an hour, I take my boots off, rub my feet and sit with them elevated, wiggling my toes. It eases the pressure, they always feel rejuvenated afterwards.
6. Limit mileage.
I’m a pretty slow long distance walker anyway but I’ve decided to limit my daily mileage to 15 miles, 6 days a week. Anything between 12 and 15 miles is good enough. I could walk 18 miles for a few days, and probably will during the summer. It’s not a hard rule but the less I push my body beyond what it’s comfortable with, the longer this journey will last. It’s kind of anti-competitive. Stop trying to beat your personal best.
7. Try and avoid repetitive movement.
When I do a lot of road walking I feel the beginnings of pain start to come again. The repetitive motion of my feet crashing down onto tarmac, never changing from a minimal set of positions.
It’s a really good reason, amongst many others, to get off road, where my feet have to stretch in many different ways, balancing on tree roots or stones, flexing themselves.
8. Myofascial release massage.
Look it up. I can’t remember how I found out about it but once I looked it up I had a strong urge to try it and that’s how I met Carol, the ace physiotherapist mentioned below.
9. See experts.
I visited a musculoskeletal podiatrist and a physiotherapist as part of forming the above behaviours.
The podiatrist gave me exercises and insoles (which I wound up not using) and checked I didn’t have any significant gait problems.
I found the physio when looking for a practitioner of myofascial release massage and she turned out to be a much more fully qualified physiotherapist who uses massage and kinesiology tape as part of her treatments. She showed me exactly how my posture and poor tone in particular muscles, from the abdomen downwards, was contributing to my foot problems and it’s her kinesiology tape advice I’m using to walk with now.
10. Know your body and love yourself.
How are you treating this machine that exists to carry your brain around. I am learning to get better at nurturing myself.
Listen to your body, care for it, pay it attention. It’s not something to be forced until it breaks; it’s worthy of good treatment.
Hopefully this is helpful to some people. Although I can’t say for certain that my plantar and heel pain won’t return, and I definitely feel glimmers of it when I walk too far in a day, I’ve already walked far enough without problems to make all these practices worthwhile.
It’s hard to tell you which of these practices are more important than another but if I had to pick one I would say stretch. Stretch your body and stretch it some more, get flexible, feel where your body is stiff and solid.
Also, this post is not an advert for anyone or anything but if anyone would like the details of an excellent physiotherapist in Usk, South Wales, leave a comment and I’ll email details.
I found this YouTube video really interesting. The stretches don’t really work for me but the way this man explains plantar strain is fantastic.
During this journey I’m raising funds for Target Ovarian Cancer – my own cancer 7 years ago led to the realisation that ovarian cancer is not diagnosed in many women until an advanced stage and Target Ovarian Cancer do their best to improve early diagnosis, fund life-saving research and provide much-needed support to women with ovarian cancer. If you’d like to donate, click here. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/onewomanwalkseurope