What are the Best Shoes to Wear When You Have Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is the bane of many runners’ existence.
It’s the third-most common running injury, accounting for one in every twelve doctor visits for a runner.1
The aching, stabbing pain in your heel that rears its ugly head every morning when you get out of bed is a constant reminder that your body is still injured.
Plantar fasciitis has a nasty reputation for becoming a chronic, long-lasting injury that sticks around for months or even years.
But it’s not just about what you do while your running shoes are on.
Today we are going to look at things you might be doing in your daily life that explain why your plantar fasciitis is not healing, most importantly focusing on shoes for plantar fasciitis that will help you recover, rather than make it worse.
Before we begin, if you are looking for our plantar fasciitis exercises, you can find it in our treatment for plantar fasciitis article, including a plantar fasciitis home treatment plan.
Let’s help you find the best plantar fasciitis running shoes, dress shoes for plantar fasciitis, best work shoes for plantar fasciitis, and even sandals!
Part of the reason plantar fasciitis feels like it never heals is because it isn’t just aggravated by running.
Yep, it’s true:
Plantar fasciitis is common among sedentary people who never run.
It gets worse:
According to one study published in 2005, up to ten percent of the adult population may suffer from plantar fasciitis.2
Risk factors for plantar fasciitis among the general population include obesity, spending long hours on your feet, and poor ankle range of motion.
Did you notice they all have something in common?
All three of these factors put increased stress on the plantar fascia.
Even if you have the best running shoes for plantar fasciitis and heel spurs, if you are trying to get over plantar fasciitis, reducing plantar fascia stress in your daily life is a big part of the solution.
What does that mean?
No factor is more important than the shoes you wear.
Could it be that your work shoes, dress shoes, or even house shoes are to blame for your aching heel?
Kristin Marvin talked about this in the podcast episode about how our lifestyles are actually why we are injured, not so much that we are injuring ourselves in running.
Although of course that is part of it.
Think about it this way:
The plantar fascia acts as a “tie bar” that helps hold the arch up.
Therefore the shoes best for plantar fasciitis problems involve reducing stress on the plantar fascia by holding up the arch through external support.
“Arch support” might be one of the misused terms when it comes to shoe support, but it’s the pivotal factor when it comes to finding shoes that will help, not hurt, your arch pain.
Most traditional running shoes have some type of molded foam build in to support the arch.
Will arch supports help my plantar fasciitis pain?
Shoes marketed as “support shoes” have denser layers of foam underneath the arch and softer foam elsewhere in the shoe.
This type of design, called a medial post, was originally designed to counter pronation, though it isn’t particularly effective at its task.3
Nevertheless, a support shoe might be a good place to start if you’re looking for an athletic shoe to take stress off your arch, since a medial post should still reduce stress on the plantar fascia.
These factors make a quality running shoe a great choice both for walking around and for actual running if you’re getting over plantar fasciitis.
How to Find the Best Shoes for Plantar Fasciitis Pain?
Beyond the structure of the midsole, the overall firmness of the shoe will affect the amount of stress on your arch as well.
The specifics of how soft or firm your shoe ought to be will depend on the structure of your foot.
What if I have a high arch?
If you have a fairly rigid foot with a high arch, you may need a softer shoe, since a firm surface will put a lot of localized stress on your forefoot and heel, which will translate into tension in the plantar fascia.
Don’t go too soft, however:
If there isn’t enough rigidity, the shoe’s arch support will just crush down uselessly.
For this reason, cheap insoles from brands like Dr. Scholl’s are not a good choice for augmenting your shoes—the support structure is too soft to make a difference.
What if I have a low arch?
If you are a pronator, you have a lower arch and a foot that tends to pronate more, you might benefit more from a rigid shoe, albeit still with good arch support.
Birkenstocks are often popular sandals for plantar fasciitis runners for this reason—the cork molds to your foot’s shape and reduces strain on your arch by providing firm, rigid support along the length of your foot.
Using Shoe Insoles for Plantar Fasciitis
Sometimes the best options aren’t feasible.
Running shoes or cork sandals aren’t going to cut it at a business meeting.
This is where insoles can come in handy.
Supportive insoles also have a strong body of evidence behind them when it comes to their use in treating plantar fasciitis.
A clinical trial published in 2006 by Karl Landorf, Anne-Maree Keenan, and Robert Herbert in the Archives of Internal Medicine tested the effects of a custom orthotic, an over-the-counter orthotic, and a sham device (a thin, flat piece of foam) on plantar fasciitis over the course of a year.
Both the custom and prefabricated orthotics were equally effective at speeding the pace of recovery when compared to the sham orthotic, but the custom design fared no better than the pre-fab insert.4
However, don’t throw your custom orthotics out just yet:
They may be useful if you have specific needs that can’t be met by an over-the-counter insole.
For example, a strangely-shaped foot, or an extremely narrow shoe or boot that a standard orthotic won’t fit into.
What are the Best Work Shoes for Plantar Fasciitis?
Beyond arch support and rigidity, there are a few other shoe-related factors that might affect the amount of stress you put on your plantar fascia.
But what are the best dress shoes for plantar fasciitis?
Kristin Marvin explained that if you must wear dress shoes to work, be sure to walk around barefoot around your house to combat the time your feet are in shoes, and start to add in foot exercises to strengthen your foot muscles to help get rid of your plantar fasciitis.
High Heels for Plantar Fasciitis
Heel height is a big one.
In theory, a shoe with an elevated heel should decrease pain by reducing tension on the plantar fascia.
But here’s the deal:
Shoes with an elevated heel also put more direct compressive force on the heel.
Tension on the fascia is assumed to be the main cause of plantar fascia pain, but direct compression might cause aggravation too.
Give your work shoes or dress shoes a test-run before you wear them out for the day.
Will Foot Strength Help Cure Plantar Fasciitis?
The Vivo Barefoot shoes work to strengthen your foot with a minimalist, flexible shoe.
We also know there has been a great deal of attention on minimalist shoes and barefoot running, but what has the research found about strengthening our feet?
To date, only a few small studies have looked at this prospect.
A 2015 paper published by Michael Ryan and other researchers at the University of British Columbia examined whether a plantar fasciitis rehab program done in Nike Frees (a shoe with a highly flexible sole, albeit with some cushioning and arch support) was more effective than the same program done in a standard athletic shoe.5
The study was small, and it had some methodological flaws, but did appear to show a more rapid improvement in pain levels in the Nike Free-wearing group.
Another paper presented at the 2005 American Society of Biomechanics conference demonstrated that athletes who warmed up in ultra-flexible Nike Frees experienced an increase in the size and strength of the small muscles that control the toes, foot, and ankle.6
Given that other researchers have proposed a connection between foot muscle weakness and increased stress on the plantar fascia, it’s not outrageous to hypothesize that a program like this might be helpful with plantar fasciitis.7
At this point, it’s not possible to say whether cautiously introducing a controlled amount of physical activity in flexible, minimalist shoes is advisable if you have plantar fasciitis.
There are certainly no controlled studies of such a program.
If this is something you’re interested in, realize that you’re very much into hypothetical/untested territory, so proceed at your own risk.
RunnersConnect Insider Bonus
Download our Plantar Fascia Treatment Outline inside your Insider Members area.
It’s a PDF with an outline of the conservative and aggressive treatment options to help you get through your plantar fasciitis.
Listen to our interview with Dr Mark Cucuzzella for more about the importance of shoes for your plantar fasciitis pain.
What are the Best Running Shoes for Plantar Fasciitis?
As much as we would love to be able to give you one particular pair of shoes that will help cure your plantar fasciitis pain, there is no such shoe.
Unfortunately, when it comes to finding the best running shoes for plantar fasciitis, a lot of it comes down to finding out what works for you.
This may mean you have to purchase a few different brands and styles of shoes, and monitor each pair over a few weeks to see if you notice an improvement.
This will include varying levels of arch support, heel to toe drop, and cushioning.
Both Dr Mark Cucuzzella and Dr Nick Campitelli, two running experts in the area of biomechanics, recommend developing foot strength and moving towards minimalist shoes with minimal heel to toe drop and limited cushioning.
However, if you are used to a higher drop shoe, this may put too much pressure on those muscles, making it worse.
Every runner is different. We all have our own running style, our own walking style, and our own source of comfort.
Yes, that may mean you have to try a few different pairs before you find the pair that finally works for you, but if it saves you hundreds in physical therapy bills, it is worth it.
Besides, once your plantar fasciitis goes away, you may be able to give the other shoes (or the shoes you want to transition into) another try.
How Do I Know if my Plantar Fasciitis is Getting Better?
Ultimately, the day-to-day and week-to-week trend in your heel pain will tell you if you are making the right decisions when it comes to footwear for plantar fasciitis.
Your best bet is to stick with well-made shoes that offer good arch support, like running shoes or Birkenstocks.
If these aren’t an option, or if you need extra support to avoid pain, try custom or over-the-counter orthotics, as long as they’re firm and supportive enough to make a difference.
Don’t forget, shoes are only part of the equation.
If you have plantar fasciitis, you should also be stretching your calf muscles, stretching your plantar fascia, and possibly using a night splint as well.
Be sure to read our plantar fasciitis for runners article to help you figure out whether you can run through it or if you should stop running, what causes plantar fasciitis and what you can do to prevent it in future. Most importantly, we share the best exercises for plantar fasciitis and an effective plan of treatment for plantar fasciitis.