I see a lot patients who have plantar fasciitis. It’s a condition in which your plantar fascia—a long, connective band of tissue in your foot—becomes inflamed, causing you to experience heel pain. Since this condition is a common problem for runners, one of the biggest concerns is: when can I work out again?
Well, guess what: you don’t have to stop exercising while you recover from plantar fasciitis. You just have to switch up your routine. And one great place to start that new routine? The pool!
Water Workouts and Heel Pain: A Perfect Pairing
Swimming is a great activity when you have plantar fasciitis. That’s because of how this condition typically gets started: you irritate your plantar fascia by overdoing it on load-bearing activities like long runs. And your problem can be compounded by un-supportive footwear, or biomechanical issues like tight or weak calf muscles.
So, while load-bearing exercise will likely increase your heal pain, swimming will solve so many of those problems. First of all, it gets you into the water: a zero-impact environment. Right away, that takes all pressure off your plantar fascia, allowing it to heal even as you get in your cardio.
Second, the sport is designed to strengthen your leg muscles so that they can pull more of your weight and take a load off your feet and fascia. Certain strokes, especially the front crawl or freestyle, emphasize leg propulsion and will be really great for building strength.
Want to take that strengthening up a notch? As long as your podiatrist signs off on the idea, try wearing flippers while you swim laps. This will up the resistance on your legs and help you build larger muscles at a faster pace.
Of course, that’s your ultimate goal during your heel pain recovery period. Once your calf and leg muscles get stronger, it will help you gain more stability in your lower leg and ankle. That will remove a lot of stress from your plantar fascia, which will help it heal at a faster rate.
How to Swim Safely With Plantar Fasciitis
Even though water-based workouts take pressure off your lower body, you still need to be careful when you try any type of workout while you’re in recovery.
Depending on how far your heel pain has progressed, you may find it painful to kick your legs. If that’s the case, try swimming with a floatation device, and avoid pushing off the wall when you start your laps. You can also introduce non-lap based workouts into your swimming routine. Try walking up and down a swim lane to get used to bearing a load on your feet—just do so in water deep enough that the process doesn’t hurt your feet.
You can try walking or even lightly jogging up and down the lanes for up to 20 minutes each session. Once your feet get comfortable in deep water, try moving to shallower depths, so your body gradually adjusts to carrying more of your own body weight. If your pain doesn’t get worse, you can work up to longer or more frequent weight-bearing sessions. Just be sure to listen to your body, and cut back or stop entirely if you experience pain during a workout, or if your heel pain seems worse after you get out of the pool.
Just remember: when you’re recovering from any foot condition, especially plantar fasciitis, getting better should be your primary goal. It’s not the time to worry about upping your fitness level. Still, staying active and building leg strength can help your recovery, so talk to your podiatrist about water workouts or other exercise programs that can help you come back from heel pain.