Plantar Fasciitis. A huge pain in the.....wrong. I know what you were thinking, but it actually occurs in the foot. It can be caused by a multitude of different things. Strain or injury, tight calves and achilles tendons, flat feet, high arches, or just simply wearing the wrong shoes with soft soles and a poor arch support. The list goes on. We are going to talk about what it is and which exercises you can perform to help with pain maintenance and prevention.
First, what is plantar fasciitis anyways? Well, it is inflammation in the plantar fascia ligament. Let's get to know the plantar fascia ligament! The plantar fascia ligament connects your heel bone to your toes and it supports the arch of the foot. It's also the largest ligament in the body. The most common cause for pain comes from strain (highlighted in the picture) due to tightness in other areas of the foot and attachments into the heel bone. Tightness can come from the achilles tendon which attaches your soleus and gastrocnemius (calf muscles) to your heel bone. If these muscles are tight it causes your achilles to shorten. Thus pulling upward on your heel bone causing stress on the plantar fascia ligament.
Next, we are going to talk about some exercises you can start performing to help prevent and
relieve pain caused by plantar fasciitis by using the Windlass effect as shown. Place your foot flat on the floor. Make sure you stabilize your heel. Start by pulling your big toe back and forth creating an arch in your foot. Repeat this several times. You can then pull all of your toes to increase the effectiveness across the majority of the plantar fascia. Repeat this several times.
Follow the Windlass mechanism up by rolling your feet, specifically your arches, with a ball. I find that lacrosse balls work well, but you can use a tennis ball, baseball, or for the brave, a golf ball. Start by rolling your arch back and forth over the ball from heel to toe. Next, as you roll from heel to toe, make sure you dorsiflex your toes (lift them upward) as you roll the ball closer to them. Repeat this several times. This part shouldn't be difficult as this feels really good. You can also make some small circles over the ball and towards the outside of your foot in order to get the other areas of the plantar fascia. This process should never be painful at any time. If it becomes painful then lighten the pressure to which you are applying. Slight discomfort can be OK, but there should never be any pain.
Lastly, let's loosen up those calf muscles! If you're like me, you find yourself on your feet for most of your day. This can wreak havoc on your calf muscles and feet. However, being sedentary is much worse as it shortens the calf muscles causing tightness. You can help relieve that stiffness by administering some self-myofascial release. This is achieved by rolling your gastrocnemius and soleus (calf muscles) with a foam roller as shown. This will help lengthen the muscle and relieve some of that stiffness. It can also aid in blood flow, increase range of motion, and decrease recovery time after an intense workout. When rolling make sure to apply proper pressure. Again, it shouldn't be excruciating, just some slight discomfort. You can make a few passes on the roller with your legs externally and internally rotated in order to release the inner and outer portions of your calves. Also, make sure you aren't putting other parts of your body (like your shoulders) in a compromising position.
Those are just some basic movements you can perform to help relieve pain and loosen up any soft tissue that may be causing some discomfort associated with plantar fasciitis. Even if you aren't suffering from plantar fasciitis, these exercises are a great preventative measure to take and they'll help increase mobility and recovery. You can perform them when you wake up, before you go to bed, or after a workout.