Foot or ankle issues can be multifaceted. The foot has over 26 bones; 4 layers of muscle; several nerves and ganglia; and a lot of ligaments and tendons to keep it all in place. Add onto that daily stress with foot posture and biomechanics, it's not surprising issues can often arise. Today we'll be looking at a common one. Let’s break down why it happens and what can be done for it.
Plantar fasciitis typically begins as heel pain. It then moves to the bottom sole of the foot, and spreads further towards the bottom of the toes. Depending on the severity and nature of the condition, it may spread from the heel up the back of the calf. This area of pain follows a pattern. A long piece of fascia, or connective tissue, runs along the back of the calf, wraps along the bottom of the heel, and continues along the bottom of the foot. On the bottom of the foot, this tissue is called the Plantar Fascia, or Plantar Aponeurosis. Along the back of the calf, this tissue is called the Achilles tendon. One can compare this line of tissue to one long band of elastic. It begins high up the leg, and connects down to the feet.
These different connective tissues, the plantar fascia in particular, don't like to be stressed. With individual stress episodes it is unlikely to be injured; but with repetitive, chronic stress it may often become inflamed. The stress in question can involve being stretched, compressed, tightened, excessively high, or even low arches. Any one of these stressors can lead to plantar fasciitis.
If we were to analyze one of the most common causes of plantar fasciitis, tight calves is high on the list. Often, if an individual has excessively tight calf muscles, they will pull on the Achilles tendon. That pull will create tension on the continuation of the Achilles tendon, the plantar fascia. Chronically strained calf muscles can create a consistent pull on this line of tissue. These muscles don't always become tight from exercising alone, but rather can occur if the foot is placed in a pointed position consistently, such as when walking in high heel shoes. If we continue with our previously mentioned elastic example, the band is being pulled up by the knee, and it's causing everything below it and further down to tighten.
On the other hand, if someone has flat feet they are more susceptible to plantar fasciitis as well whether it is present from birth or due to weak arch muscles, a person can be at risk. With an ideal arch, or one which is consistently strong and mobile, the foot is placed in a stable position. In this ideal arch position, the fascia may have a pulling force applied onto it, but is having no compressive force applied. With a weak or collapsed arch, everything which should otherwise be supported is pressing down on the fascia. This long band of elastic is being stretched by the weight of the body, and it doesn't like it. The fascia is not made to tolerate such compressive forces. If this happens for too long, it will become inflamed and painful.
While dealing with plantar fasciitis may be extremely bothersome, it is a very treatable condition. Ideally, once the potential cause or source of the pain is established, it should be removed. Any physical activity which provokes it should also be avoided. The goal is to relieve any stress and tension applied onto the fascia. Massages for the bottom of the feet are particularly effective, as well as stretches for the toe flexors and calves, or plantarflexors. Depending on the initial cause, lifestyle changes may be necessary in some instances. If the plantar fascia was initially due to lots of running, incorporating more calf stretches would be beneficial. If it's due to weight gain which is pushing on the foot and fascia, applying a weight loss regimen would be helpful in reducing stress applied to the foot. Whatever the cause is, treatment is very accessible and may reliably provide results. Plantar fasciitis may be giving you a hard time, but seeking treatment for it can significantly improve one's quality of life and help decrease lots of pain. Start your path to betterment today!