Our feet are amazing structures and probably far more complex than you think. Feet consist of a combination of 26 bones, 33 joints and over a 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, that all work together beautifully. So, if they are so well put together, why do they cause so much pain, in particular plantar fascia pain?
To begin with, these amazing structures called our feet work hard for our bodies.
The two main functions of our feet are to act as supports to hold our bodies up when we are standing, and to act like springs when we walk.
An average person walks approximately 10 000 steps a day, so if you do the maths thats a million steps every 2 years!! That’s a lot of pressure they have to withstand. Then, if you wear high heels, business shoes with a heel, thongs or any other shoes that place even more pressure on the feet, the load goes up exponentially.
You can read about the damage high heels place on your feet in our previous article: How to survive high heels (https://spinalsymmetry.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/how-to-survive-high-heels/)
But why is the plantar fascia often so painful and tight?
The plantar fascia is the flat band of tissue that connects the heel of your foot to the toes. Its main role is to support the arch of your foot while you walk. This band can become weak, swollen, tight and inflamed when over used. This overuse is most commonly a result of the some of the 33 joints in the foot dysfunctioning, which overloads the plantar fascia, or the muscles in the foot being too weak, again overloading the plantar fascia.
The pain of plantar fasciitis is normally worse when you take the first few steps, especially in the morning. It normally feels better as you get moving, but those first few steps can be quite debilitating.
So how can we get rid of this pain? First thing you need to ensure is that your hips and pelvis are in correct working order.
As we have discussed in previous articles, your pelvis is the foundation to your whole body, even your feet!
If your pelvis is out of alignment it can change the force going through each leg which can load one foot more than the other, hence placing more pressure on the foot itself and as a result, making the plantar fascia work harder.
Once your hips and pelvis have been corrected, the next aspect is to look at your calf muscles and foot.
Firstly, if you have ever had plantar fascia pain in the past you have probably been told to ice it. STOP icing it now!
Research now shows that plantar fasciitis is actually a avascular disorder, not an inflammation disorder, meaning it is not getting enough blood supply to it.
So the quickest and easiest way to get more blood to an area is to use heat. Place a heat pack or put your foot in hot water as much as possible. This increases the blood supply, which increases healing in the area and will speed up your recovery time.
The next thing you need to do is work on your Achilles and calf muscles. The Achilles and calf muscles (soleus and gastrocnemius) attach into the bottom of your foot and if they are tight they can also add extra load onto the plantar fascia. The best way to take away this tightness is through using a foam roller.
See image below as the set up method.
Sit with affected leg on top of the foam roller.
Place the other foot over the top.
Use the top leg to roll the bottom foot back and forth – causing a cross friction effect of the muscle.
If it doesn’t hurt continually rock back and forth for 5 seconds, if it does hurt rock for 10 seconds. It will only hurt if the muscle is tight so it needs more time to loosen
Then move the roller slightly up the calf and continue the rocking back and forth again.
Continue moving up the calf until you reach behind the knee.
This should be done every day and should not take more than 5 minutes
Rock to the left
Rock to the right
The next way to treat the plantar fascia is to roll a ball underneath your foot to massage the muscles under the foot and in particular the plantar fascia itself. To do this, again look at the picture below.
The best ball to use is a ball that is hard enough that it doesn’t squash when you put weight on it however has a little give that can mold to your foot. Examples of good balls are hard rubber trigger point balls, lacrosse balls, baseballs etc. Golf balls can work but tend to be too hard and can easily slide out from your foot when you put weight on it.
Start with the ball under your foot just below your little toe. (Start by sitting down, you can progress to standing on the ball once you get use to it)
Press your body weight down into the ball as much as you can handle.
Then slowly roll the ball into the inside of your foot, finishing at the big toe.
Then take your weight off the ball and roll back to the outside of your foot, this time starting slightly below the previous point.
Then repeat step 3, however finishing slightly lower then where you finished last roll.
Continually repeat this rolling across the foot placing your weight on the foot while you roll it from the outside into the inside of your foot.
Do this until the whole foot has been rolled.
NB: This method ensures that you don’t miss any parts of the foot. It should be done at least once a day and should not take any more then 2 minutes to do.
Now we have loosened the muscles in the foot and leg, it’s now time to strengthen them.
Look down at your toes right now. Are you able to wiggle all your toes? This means spreading them and bending them forward and backwards. If you can, well done you have good toe strength. If you can’t you have some work to do!
The toes job is to grip and move with your foot, they are not to be solid and stationary objects. A good way to strengthen them is to take a towel and try to scrunch it up with your toes. You can do this every day while your watching your favorite TV show. At the same try to continually spread the toes open on both feet.
Feet in the correct shape with the toes spread out
Feet with the toes squashed together by incorrect foot wear and weak toe muscles.
The next way to strengthen the foot and calf is to do the 5secexercise. Stand with your shoes off with your feet together. Its good to do this in front of a mirror to make sure you are doing it correctly.
To start with slowly rise up onto your toes keeping your feet straight. Take 5 seconds to get to being up on your toes.
Then in this position hold for 5 seconds on your toes
Then slowly lower down for 5 seconds
Repeat 5 times
Do this every day – it only takes 1min 15 seconds!
If you can do these simple exercises to firstly loosen and then strengthen your feet and legs, as well as of course ensuring your whole structure is correct, you are on your way in getting rid of that foot pain! It does take time to achieve this however, so you need to stick at it!
If you have any questions about any of the exercises or treatment for your foot pain please ask one of our practitioners.