Millions of people suffer from heel pain - most of which (although not all) is due to plantar fasciitis/heel spurs/plantar fasciosis. Some people swear by their Vionics/Birkenstocks/Oofos/Chaos sandals and most podiatrists will tell you to wear a closed heel shoe such as a running shoe for stability. So which shoe is right for you and why??
First of all, let me tell you that not only am I a podiatric physician, but I also suffer from plantar fasciitis (PF) on and off. I have personal experience as well as professional experience and knowledge of the anatomy and biomechanics of the lower extremities. The simple answer is: What works for you may NOT work for someone else!
The more complicated answer comes down to foot type, foot structure and the reason for your plantar fasciitis and how long you have had it. These individual factors become especially important in controlling re-occurrence which is common with PF.
First of all, it is so important to get rid of PF before it becomes chronic. Acute PF is thought to be inflammatory but chronic is not. Chronic PF is a topic in of itself; but for now, know that steroid injections often fail because chronic PF progresses beyond inflammation producing scar tissue or tears within the fascia itself.
There are two important parts to controlling most acute PF - control of your rearfoot (heel and subtalar joint) and allowing the tight tissues to stretch. Heel control is an integral part of treating acute PF because it helps control the motion of the heel causing inflammation. Shoes with a stiff heel counter (the back of the heel) such as running shoes are a very important part of resolving heel pain. I tell all my patients to wear them 24/7 "for now" to control the heel. It's not necessary once the pain subsides, but until then it is a must!
Rearfoot control is also achieved with most types of custom orthotics. (This is how they differ from over the counter arch supports sold as "orthotics"). There are many factors if prescribing custom orthotics based on your shoe wear, foot type and associated anatomy. Even if the orthotics prescribed by your podiatrist don't help the acute pain, they are important in controlling the heel to prevent re-occurrence! Hopefully your podiatrist explained this to you, but if not, don't be upset if they don't help get rid of the acute pain because they are still very important!
Both flat feet and high arch feet can develop PF due to tightness of the fascia, but also can develop from tightness of the Achilles tendon and even the hamstrings. Vionics and Birkenstocks help people because they have a negative heel (where the heel sits lower than the toe box) which helps to stretch the Achilles tendon. While those sandals may help with the pain while wearing them, they often don't improve the condition overall because they don't provide heel control. I think they are great once the pain has subsided and for those times that you absolutely can't wear sneakers, but sneakers with heel control are much better at getting the problem under control quicker. Running shoes that have a negative heel are a great tool in allowing stretching of the Achilles as well as providing heel control.
Finally, a few words about those sandals that I mentioned and others that are heavily marketed to the public for heel pain. Whenever anyone talks about heel pain, recommendations for these sandals are given quickly but the success of specific sandals is based on individual foot type! Oofos, for example, provide extra shock absorption so they may be great for a high arch foot type but not for those that need a negative heel. Vionics (based on personal experience) seem to provide rearfoot control further back in the arch as opposed to the high mid-arch support found with Chaos which is a different type of control. I know for myself and my foot type, this makes a huge difference. It is important to make sure you have a discussion with your podiatrist on which sandal might be best for YOU once you get the PF under control.
Controlling PF goes beyond the control of shoes and sandals; but with so many people making recommendations to their friends on which of these costly shoes to buy I felt compelled to write about the differences between them and why YOUR foot may need something different than your friends. Please see a podiatrist well versed in PF if your heel pain persists for longer than 4-6 weeks to be properly evaluated for YOUR individual treatment and shoe recommendations!