Shoes That Work for Plantar Fasciitis
I'm not a doctor. I'm a long-time sufferer of heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis. Based on what I learned from physicians, research, and my own experience, I know more than I ever wanted to know about this painful foot condition, the idiosyncrasies of my feet, and which shoes help the pain (or make it worse).
This article has detailed suggestions for therapeutic shoes, specific brands and models, tips on what to look for, and general advice for healing.
Don't miss my poll below about the best footwear brands! I have received over 8,000 responses from readers. Also, read through the comments from fellow heel pain sufferers. They offer their own suggestions, experiences, and useful advice.
Why Is Footwear Important?
As you probably know by now, when your heel pain is caused by plantar fasciitis, the problem is that the fibrous plantar fascia on the bottom of your foot is inflamed, most likely because of a stress or sports injury. Pain occurs along with the inflammation. You may have noticed that the pain is usually worse in the morning and after any period of rest. It's noticeable as soon as you put your foot down and start to bear weight. Pain after sitting or sleeping is also common. It's more manageable though when you step straight into a pair of anatomical slippers and wear shoes designed to help this injury. Barefoot is bad, for the most part.
Correct foot support isn't enough, of course. When I have a flare-up, I manage the pain with an assortment of therapies involving exercise, stretching, massage, and hot/cold treatment. But first and foremost, I use specialized inserts and insoles, bandages, arch support, and special shoes. (This article is about shoes; for more details about a wide assortment of treatments, read my article about plantar fasciitis treatment options.)
Which Shoes Help Plantar Fasciitis?
It's something of a platitude, but it's true: Every foot is different. When I started having heel pain many years ago, the first thing I did was get new therapeutic footwear—new brands, new styles, everything. I still wear the same brands today to prevent flare-ups: Birkenstock, Haflinger, Brooks, Lowa, and Chaco. There are a lot more these days, and many are listed below. You may want to do what I do and use different brands for different activities, like running, walking, working, puttering around at home, and such.
Expect a trial-and-error process. No matter what the hype and sales pitches tell you, there's no single best shoe model for this condition. I mean, not only are your feet different from other people's, but your left foot is probably different from your right foot, and your stride and posture are individual, too. The best thing you can do is to talk to your doctor, read the recommendations below, and assess the shoe models yourself.
One more note about my background: Remember that I am not a health care practitioner. My expertise comes from treating my own plantar fasciitis and obsessively researching the subject each time I bought new shoes.
What to Look for in a Shoe
Your feet need proper arch support and good cushioning in order for the injured foot to heal. As I learned years ago, going barefoot or wearing the wrong shoe for the activity can slow down improvement by weeks or months.
When choosing boots, sandals, and shoes, make sure that the shoe has a removable footbed (also called an insole or insert) if the inbuilt footbed does not have contoured arch support that matches your foot.
If you run, play tennis, or play racquetball, or if you do any high-impact activity, wearing shoes with appropriate arch support as well as flexibility and shock-absorption is essential.
The kind of arch support you need depends on...
- your foot arch—do you have a flat or high arch?
- whether your feet supinate as you walk (when the inner foot turns out) or pronate (when the inner foot turns in).
Your podiatrist can tell you whether you're a supinator or an overpronator, as well as whether there is anything irregular about your stride. Your podiatrist might recommend custom orthotics. I personally have used the cheaper option—heat moldable orthotics. I use the Sole brand (if you're interested, read my related article on footbeds). These inserts have a hard layer of support and a layer of dense cushioning. They fit into shoes after the removable insoles that come with the shoes are removed.
Whether or not you need orthotic inserts, plantar fasciitis is helped by good arch support. The shoes you pick will decide it.
Best Running Shoes
I wore the Brooks Adrenaline for athletic walking to help my foot with plantar fasciitis. The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine recommends that you get the proper shoe for the kind of motion control you need to correct overpronation or oversupination and that the shoes has good cushioning to help control trauma to the foot.
Check with a physical therapist or occupational therapist about what kind of motion control you need, as not everyone needs the very stiff motion control of some shoes, and the light motion control of others is insufficient to do the job.
Some models they recommend with extreme motion control include:
Models with moderate motion control include:
- Brooks Adrenaline GTS 8
- New Balance 90
- Ecco RXP 1660
- Mizuno Wave Alchemy 7 WSC
Light motion control models include:
I also read that Ecco has designed the Ecco Women’s RXP 3060 to treat plantar fasciitis to help take the pressure off the heel. Reviews at FootSmart were very positive: 21 reviewers gave the shoe 4 1/2 stars. There is also a men's version that got a 5-star review from one user.
If you're looking for the best sandals or flip flops, there are special considerations, as arch support insoles won't work with sandals for plantar fasciitis. Make sure they have enough support, cushioning, and flexibility.
I have had good results with Chaco and Birkenstock sandals, both of which have extreme arch support. Many models come in a wide width option. (The Birkenstock link goes to a soft foodbed version of the Florida Sandal, which I have the not-soft version of. I used to link here to an inexpensive waterproof sandal that seemed similar to a model mentioned by one of the commenters below, but the link kept breaking so I removed it. It's called the Pacific sandal by Birki's if you want to research it.)
Some people might find that Merrell, Mephisto, or Teva work for them—others might find that avoiding sandals altogether is best. But remember, doctors usually say you shouldn't go barefoot with plantar fasciitis if you want your foot to get better as fast as possible.
Walking, Work & Dress Shoes
Shoe makers such as Clarks, Dansko, Birkenstock, Ecco, and other European comfort shoe manufacturers regularly produce shoes with above-standard arch support.
If you're a nurse or other medical professional, chef, or somebody else who stands on their feet all day, you may want to look at Birkenstock Nursing Shoes for good arch support that would be suitable for nurses with plantar fascia pain. Birks have a contoured cork footbed that molds to the natural contours of the feet. I wore Birkenstocks for dress, work, and walking for almost an entire year and they helped a lot. (Note: I worked in a casual environment, so the style was right.)
I have a normal arch—not high, not flat—and I supinate slightly. I wore Birkenstocks Florida sandals, Paris shoes, and the now discontinued Santa Fe and Phoenix models. The Boston clogs never fit me properly, but I also wore Haflinger clogs as house slippers and they were as good and supportive as Birkenstocks. I would not necessarily recommend the Birkenstock Footprints collection, as these often have a lower arch, but shoes in the Classic collection have done very well for me. For plantar fasciitis sufferers with a high arch, the Tatami line may be the answer.
The CrocsRX Cloud clog for women and men has great ratings by users, although it's not always indicated whether or not the users have heel pain.
Whatever brand you choose, make sure the width is correct and the shoe feels comfortable at first wearing. Don't buy a shoe that a salesperson says will need "breaking in"—shoes shouldn't need to stretch out in order to fit. However, if you're not used to good arch support, you may need to accustom yourself gradually. Begin wearing the new shoes or inserts with arch supports just a few minutes a day and gradually increase until you get used to the feeling.
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Tips for Alleviating Plantar Fascitis
- The use of old and worn-out shoes can contribute to the problem of plantar fasciitis. Replace your shoes—not when they look ragged, but when the arch support or cushioning has worn down.
- If you're not used to arch support for your feet, break in your shoes, insoles, inserts, or orthotics slowly. I can't emphasize this enough. Wear them just a few minutes the first day and gradually increase according to your podiatrist's recommendations.
- If you buy heel lifts or insoles for your plantar fasciitis, wear them on both feet, not just one foot, even if only one foot is affected (which is usually the case), so as not to set your posture out of alignment.
- Plantar fasciitis lasts so long because people get reinjured regularly—like every time they get up. Massage the feet and do calf stretches for plantar fasciitis regularly, and especially after resting, to condition the muscles, alleve the strain of weight-bearing, and help it heal.
- Consider changing your exercise. It may not be necessary to stop walking—in fact, walking can help plantar fasciitis in some cases. But stop doing the exercise that caused the injury for a while.
- If you don't have arch support insoles, tape your foot regularly during the day to help support the arch and if your doctor recommends it, wear plantar fasciitis night splints at night.
- Remember, check with your foot doctor about your pain to make sure it's plantar fasciitis instead of achilles tendinitis, a stress fracture, or some other foot problem.
Heel Spur or Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is sometimes erroneously called a heel spur, which is a calcium deposit that builds up on the bone of the back of the foot, but doesn't generally cause pain. Typically, it's the inflammation of the plantar fascia following degeneration of the collagen fibers that causes the heel pain, arch pain, and pain on the side of the foot.
Since my affected foot has improved beyond recognition, I've moved on to a new level of personal footwear—minimalist. Specifically, moccasins. Since "barefoot" walking can exacerbate a plantar fasciitis injury, I do not advise this unless you're already well on the way to complete healing, and then only with much care.
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