I started my year of running in 2022 in much the same state I’m starting 2023 – yes, you’ve guessed it – injured! Hardly surprisingly given the name of this blog but I still live in hope that each injury will be the last, or at least the last for some time.
Last year I had hip pain that came on gradually over the autumn, and by Christmas I was seeking expert advice. That expert advice was to take a complete break from running, and so I spent a lot of a semi-lockdown Christmas and New Year getting my exercise fix from long wintery walks. Not only did I quickly find this boring but for the first time ever I managed to get shin splits.
Fast forward to the present, the hip is long since fixed (although I still do get the occasional twinge that I will keep ignoring as long as I can) but I’m now suffering from a truly horrid plantar fasciitis (PF). I’ve covered the back story in previous blogs, including my painful London Marathon training and possibly even more painful shockwave therapy but here I still am. Still in pain.
The pain in my heel and arch of my foot is predictable only in that it hurts most of the time, and isn’t necessarily made worse by running, or not running, or wearing the wrong or right shoes, or stretching/not stretching my calves or rolling it on a trigger ball or any other suggestion that people throw at me – trust me I’ve tried them all.
A couple of weeks after the London Marathon I went for a ten-mile solo run. I was looking forward to a relaxing bumble where I wasn’t following a training plan, where pace didn’t matter, and I could simply enjoy the run for the sake of running. My foot hurt, but not more than it usually did. But that was the problem, it actually hurt quite a lot. I couldn’t understand why I found the run so difficult when I had recently run a marathon and plenty of 20+ milers in training. Then it dawned on me – I hadn’t been running for enjoyment before. I had one aim and that was to get through marathon training. Now that the marathon was done, this horrible pain really wasn’t worth putting up with.
Another thing also dawned on me during that run; I was probably in a lot more pain during the actual marathon than I acknowledged throughout the race, and even afterwards. My last blog explored a collection of reasons why I found the marathon so difficult but with the benefit of hindsight, I’m now attaching a heavier chunk of blame on this rotten foot pain. (This is a bit of a side note but nevertheless, I feel like I should set the record straight!)
Once I realised that running for enjoyment wasn’t really an option for me, I pretty much stopped running. The exception I made was for parkrun, which is always a chatty and sociable 30 minutes for me. There’s enough distraction for the required amount of pain management. Who doesn’t love parkrun, but now I’m declaring it’s like morphine – what a claim!
The post-marathon period also meant a trip back to the sports doc who was equally deflated at my constant foot pain. The next medical suggestion was a Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injection. When I’d had plantar fasciitis previously, I’m convinced the cure was a steroid cortisone injection. Arguably, the pain could have disappeared independently of this injection, and with this condition it often does, but the timing was too much of a coincidence for me to ignore. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it) it’s no longer a recommended treatment for PF. Partly because cortisone doesn’t actually treat anything, it just masks any pain, but also because there have been instances of plantar rupture. I did ask how long the recovery is from that outcome (12 weeks, in case you’re interested), but I don’t think my question was taken very seriously!
I had the PRP injection two and half weeks ago. It works like this: they fill four small test tubes with a small amount of your own blood taken from a vein in your arm. Then you go back and sit in the waiting room for fifteen minutes whilst they separate the plasma from the protein. Then you return for the injection. It can be used to treat a wide-range of tendon and muscle injuries and is increasingly popular for sports injuries as the risks are very low. The injection contains material directly taken only from the patient. But the key point is that it’s plasma-rich material, one of the body’s natural healing ingredients, so the hope is that it will speed up the healing process. Blood flow to the plantar fascia is limited due to its location on the bottom of the foot so hopefully the PRP is going to give it a helping hand.
The results can be noticeable within a week but sometimes within months of the injection. Sometimes, up to three injections can be done. I found the injection procedure itself quite sore, and it lasted a couple of minutes. The area of the insertion point was a little tender for a day or two, but then it was back to the normal level of pain in the heel and the arch.
The two weeks following in the injection I had to avoid too much exercise, so I couldn’t even cheer myself up with a sociable parkrun, or even ‘parkwalk’, but at least I was able to volunteer. I earned a few volunteer points during the coldest December this century and also over the Christmas weekend ‘double’ on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I did get plenty of “thank you marshal”s though, which were appreciated. My two-week pause was over in time for New Year and I was happy that I was able to complete the parkrun New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day double with a similar, but manageable, level of foot pain that I’m used to.
Frankly, it’s simply too early to tell if the PRP injection has worked. Certainly, there have been none of the early signs of pain relief that some experience but of course I remain hopeful. I’ll keep doing all the foot and calf massaging I can and maintain the strength work but it’s demoralising.
Thanks for reading and I’m sorry that I can’t reward your efforts with some concrete results. My hope is that something has changed by the time you read my next blog…