Plantar fasciitis. It’s a real pain in the…heel?
Lots of us deal with this aggravating, painful condition, but what is it?
First off, plantar is the term for the bottom of the foot. So plantar fasciitis is an inflammation occurring on the sole of the foot (the top is called the dorsal surface, if you’re curious).
Fascia is a connective tissue that exists all over our bodies, in several different patterns and densities. There’s a broad, dense band of it that runs along the bottom of your foot (and there’s secondary, smaller band towards the outside of your arch as well) from your heel bone (calcaneous) towards your toes.
When that fascia is repeatedly put under un-varying tension and impact, it can get irritated and inflamed creating that oh-so-familiar pain.
The pain is often worst in the morning, when there hasn’t been any movement to keep things warmed up and mobile. Really nasty cases can be irritating or painful most of the time.
But it’s not enough to just look at the foot as the sole culprit here (see what I did? I like puns…) As we know, it’s all connected. Especially fascia!
So what runs along the same line as your plantar fascia?
Your Achilles tendon and your calf muscles.
Tension and lack of mobility in your calves is a huge contributor to what’s going on with the fascia (and the muscles) in your feet!
When you wear heeled shoes (even low heels and flats), it creates a pattern of shortening in the backs of your lower legs.
Your calf muscles just don’t have as much opportunity to go through their full range of motion, especially the lengthened one when your feet are flat on the ground. and that means your heel is being pulled up towards the back of your knee and your plantar fascia is being pulled along with it.
So what to do?
Move your feet. A lot!
Wiggle your toes, spread your toes, rub your feet and your arches. Nothing fancy, just rub them, squeeze them and wiggle them. Do it before you get out of bed in the morning and it might help those first few steps from being horrible!
I know that having sore feet is no fun, and that it might feel like you’ve damaged something, or done something wrong because your feet hurt. That you need to protect them and not move them around too much. Because they hurt, dammit!
What if we re-frame that a bit?
The parts of our bodies that hurt are often sore because they haven’t been used enough, or they’re making up for some other part that hasn’t been used enough. Usually some small, easily overlooked part that we don’t even know exists!
If you have PF or any other kind of foot pain, I really encourage you to just get your feet moving more. Wiggle them. Really. It’s that simple!
Here’s a 15 minute foot and calf sequence that will get not only your feet but your calves in better shape. It builds circulation, blood flow and strength to your calves, ankles and feet which is exactly what you need to get out of the pain cycle!
And here’s another thing. Most people will tell you that you need orthotics, maybe forever. I’d like to respectfully disagree with that.
Orhtotics are really helpful in the short term. If they mean you are more comfortable and able to move around in your day and get things done, that’s great.
But they do all the work for you. Your feet just sit on top of them. Supported, yes, but not building any of the much needed strength and pliability that actually solve the problem.
For my clients with bad foot pain, we start with keeping the orthotics, shoes with a slight heel and soft cushioning against the impact of the ground. And LOTS AND LOTS of foot and calf exercises!
The goal is to make your feet feel better, not worse. So if you have a serious case of PF, then you want to progress gradually. Keep the exercises and stretches in a gentle range that feel good, not terrible. Add more movement at a pace that feels good to you and respects your body, your brain and your sensations!
Gradually get to the stage where you can spend time barefoot, use toe spreaders , maybe invest in a pair of minimal footwear. You can change your feet and feel better one sustainable step at a time!
I’m the owner of Boomerang Pilates and creator of the Move SMART program. I teach teachers how to incorporate sustainable movement and authentic teaching in their classes.