What is Plantar Fasciitis?
Have you ever experienced a sharp pain in your heel when taking your first steps of the morning? This is the hallmark sign of plantar fasciitis, an irritation of the tissue on the bottom of the foot.
The heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis can be persistent and debilitating. Many people with the condition go for months without being able to walk or run comfortably, unable to find lasting relief. To resolve plantar fasciitis completely, we need to address each of the many factors that contribute to the condition.
Here, we will address three of the most common factors that contribute to plantar fasciitis. These tips can also help with other issues of the lower limb, including foot and ankle pain, Achilles tendinitis, shin splints, and tarsal tunnel syndrome.
1. Flat Feet: Do They Matter?
Have you ever been told that you have ‘high arches’ or ‘flat feet’, and that this is the cause of your limb dysfunction? While it’s true that the shape of our feet can contribute to problems in the feet, ankles, and knees, a common misconception is that the shape of our feet is fixed, and that we can do nothing to change it.
In fact, the arches of our feet are formed partly by muscles. Arch height and foot shape can change along with the strength and tension in these muscles. The muscles that form the arch also help to propel us forward and absorb shock during gait.
It’s very common for these muscles to be weak and uncoordinated. Having adapted for millennia to climb trees and grip the dirt as we ran, our feet atrophy when we confine them into a shoe for most of the day. As they weaken, the arch of the foot becomes flat, and the forces normally absorbed by the foot musculature are directed through the plantar fascia. This can cause the irritation and heel pain associated with plantar fasciitis.
How To Strengthen Your Feet
Want to check how active your foot musculature is? Take off your shoe and sock so you can see your toes.
Now, raise the big toe up as high s you can while pushing the other toes down into the floor. Then perform the opposite movement, pushing the big toe down as far it will go while raising the other toes.
Kind of hard, right? Now do it nine more times, and you’ll have started to strengthen your foot.
Strengthening the feet is an essential part of improving plantar fasciitis and other lower limb disorders. It can help to build the arch of the foot, making it less flat and a better shock absorber. But the foot is just one of many contributors to plantar fasciitis. We need to address the rest of the body if we’re to resolve plantar fasciitis completely.
2. Increase Ankle Stability
The next factor to consider when treating plantar fasciitis is the strength around your ankles. The muscles that turn the ankle in and out contribute to the arch of the foot and help to determine the position of the foot as it hits the ground. They are usually weak in people with plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, ankle pain, and shin splints.
To strengthen the muscles that stabilize the ankle, start with a simple coordination exercise. Raise one foot off of the ground and use it to trace the capital letters of the alphabet in the air (A, B, C, and so on).
Make sure to move only the foot, keeping the rest of the leg still. Draw each letter as big as you can to work the ankle through its full range of movement.
The ‘ABC’ exercise will help to activate the muscles around the ankle. Do it before painful activities like taking the first steps of the day to reduce heel pain.
When you can draw the entire alphabet comfortably, move on to exercises that involve moving the ankle against resistance. These will build strength more effectively. You can find a series of ankle exercises and how to perform them on the Phyx app.
3. Proximal Strength
So far, we have worked up from the bottom, strengthening the feet and ankles to help reduce the stress on the plantar fascia. But what about all the other joints involved in walking and running? The position of the knees, hips, lower back, and trunk all play a role in how our feet strike the ground.
Strength in the areas higher up on the body, also called ‘proximal strength’, can contribute to plantar fasciitis just as much as strength in the feet and ankles, and is often overlooked during treatment.
Weakness in the muscles around the butt and pelvis is the biggest contributor to lower limb dysfunction. Among other things, these muscles are responsible for driving our leg backward during a stride and keeping the knees from buckling inwards.
If the proximal muscles are not doing their job effectively, these tasks are left to the calves, ankles, and feet. Over time, this can lead to the overload and irritation of structures like the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia.
Building proximal strength can help to ensure that more work is done by the large muscles in the butt and pelvis, reducing stress on the relatively fragile feet and ankles.
How to Build Proximal Strength
There are a few steps you’ll need to follow to build proximal strength effectively. These include improving mobility in the hips and lower back, learning how to control pelvic tilt, and engaging the glutes and core during functional activities. You can find a guided sequence of exercises and tutorials on how to build proximal strength on the Phyx app. If you don’t have an iOS device, contact us for an exercise program.
For now, try this exercise from the app to challenge your proximal strength.
Lower limb disorders like plantar fasciitis can be caused by a number of factors. Three of the most common contributors we see in the clinic are weak feet, weak ankles, and a lack of proximal strength. To resolve plantar fasciitis and other issues in the lower limb, you should improve the strength and mobility in all of these areas.
You can find all the tools you’ll need to do this on the Phyx app. Just open the app, tap the area that you have pain in, and your prescription will be generated. To access your full prescription, start your two-week trial of Phyx Premium by selecting any of the subscription options. You can cancel at any time during the trial, and won’t be charged until the end.