How to Eat to Reduce Plantar Fasciitis Pain, From a Doctor
When a runner gets heel pain, it can develop into full-blown plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the ligament that runs along the bottom of your foot, connecting your Achilles tendon and your toes, and because it's so hard to treat, you'll do anything to make the pain subside and get back to your usual workouts.
If you’re someone with this painful heel condition, and you've tried icing it, stretching it, massaging it, and sleeping in a splint at night to help it get better, you might be wondering if switching your diet, namely to more plant-based foods, can help. The short answer? Maybe.
Studies on the connection between a plant-based diet’s effect on plantar fasciitis are sorely lacking, and some foot doctors say there’s no clear link. Others, however, say yes, because you can reduce inflammation, you can reduce the friction that is part of what causes all that pain. Here’s why and how you can optimize your diet to get the best results.
What is plantar fasciitis and how can you treat it?
Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain, with roughly two million individuals being treated for it every year, according to the American Academy of Orthopedics. There’s a band of tissue on the bottom of your foot called the plantar fascia that connects your heel to the front of your foot, and when it becomes irritated and inflamed, you get pain on the bottom of your heel. Common triggers include an increase in body weight or activity, improper shoes, a tight Achilles tendon or calf muscle, and overpronation, to name a few, says Jacqueline M. Sutera, D.P.M., a podiatrist in New York City and Vionic Innovation Lab member.
People who are diagnosed with plantar (for short) have numerous treatment options, including rest, icing, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, cortisone shots, and a PRP shot (of platelet-rich plasma injected into the exact spot to help it heal faster). But if you were to walk into the office of Sherri Greene, D.P.M., a holistic podiatrist and restorative physician in New York City, you would be given another, namely dietary recommendation. To ditch meat and dairy. “Diet can 100 percent affect plantar fasciitis,” she says and she can back it up.
Can a plant-based diet really help heal your plantar fasciitis?
While a poor diet can’t cause plantar fasciitis, Greene believes it can exacerbate the condition, essentially feeding the injury. “If you’re making dietary choices that aren’t helpful, you can keep the inflammation, which is at the root cause of every chronic disease, in place,” Greene says. “Diet is key to healing and repair.”
Studies show that certain foods like red meat are pro-inflammatory, driving conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. So it would make sense that these pro-inflammatory foods could also affect plantar fasciitis, another inflammatory condition. “Although no direct evidence-based literature has been established on plantar fasciitis, I can indirectly relate decreasing inflammation with a whole food plant-based diet,” says Jenneffer Pulapaka, D.P.M., podiatric surgeon and CEO of DeLand Foot & Leg Center in DeLand, Fla. “Diets high in fat and processed meats have been associated with inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, and homocysteine while a low-fat, high-fiber whole food plant-based diet can reduce those markers, which can help decrease pain and joint tenderness in the lower extremity.”
Inflammation aside, there may be another obvious case for adopting a whole food plant-based diet for plantar fasciitis, namely weight loss. In a review study of more than 10,000 people on various diets, those who ate a plant-based diet took in less energy overall, and the authors concluded that "a shift to a plant-based diet may have beneficial health effects on body weight" and BMI. “Obesity increases strain on lower extremity joints, tendon, and ligaments, such as the plantar fascia on the bottom of the foot,” Pulapaka says. One of the benefits of eating a whole food plant-based diet is that if you avoid processed foods, you're likely to lose weight.
Eating to beat inflammation
Animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs have been shown to be pro-inflammatory foods, but they’re not the only ones. Other foods that can trigger inflammation include refined carbohydrates, food that is highly processed like chips, and sugary beverages. If you use too much omega 6 fatty acids (such as mayonnaise and salad dressings) or eat gluten, these can all contribute to your overall inflammation levels in the body, according to the Arthritis Foundation. A study published in the journal The Foot highlights the case of one woman whose plantar fasciitis went into remission after following a gluten-free diet. “When you have plantar fasciitis, especially if it’s chronic in nature, you have to take these offending foods out” of your diet if you want to help it heal quicker, Greene says.
While you eliminate gluten and processed foods, sugar and meat, and dairy, load your diet with antioxidant-rich foods such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds. “Antioxidants decrease inflammation,” Pulapaka says. “Following a whole-food, plant-based diet maximizes the antioxidants potential within your cells.” Make sure you include plenty of green vegetables, especially leafy greens, and berries, both of which contain high amounts of antioxidants. Other foods to focus on include pomegranate seeds, ginger, and aloe vera, Greene says.
And don’t forget to add spices which will not only make your diet tastier but also help fight inflammation, in many cases. Turmeric is a known anti-inflammatory and can easily be added to savory dishes, Greene says. Other spices that fight inflammation are marjoram, thyme, and rosemary, which Pulapaka advises.
Bottom Line: With more plants in your diet, you may stand a better chance of healing faster from plantar fasciitis, but it’s not a guarantee. The benefits of eating more plants are undeniable, especially against diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. So even if a more plant-forward diet does not heal your plantar fasciitis, it will help you stay healthier until you can get back on the track or trails.