As spring weather begins to draw us out of our stale, sweaty smelling gyms and into fresh air, many people dust off their old running shoes and say “This year I am going to run, cycle or ____ (insert yours here) again”. And, if you’re a little rusty or out of practice, it is important to remember that foot injuries are just as common to spring as colds are to winter.
April is Foot Safety Month –and for good reason! Foot issues from poor form, gate misalignment or improper shoes are the cause for many people to have to sideline activity if they’ve become injured.
Plantar Fasciitis is one of the most common foot injuries Doctors and Physical Therapists encounter and treat. It’s described as pain in the heel as you walk or stand, especially right away in the morning or if you have been sitting for an extended period of time. It is caused by the irritation of the fascia (ligament) that connects the heel to the toes and supports the arch. If you have tight achilles tendons (back of the lower calf to the heel), high arches or flat feet you may be more likely to experience this foot injury. And if you are standing a lot or moving around on a hard surface more than normal, this scenario, on a foot that is already aggravated, may lead to micro tears in the ligament that can impinge on your daily routines or most basic movements. Not to mention, wearing shoes that do not fit well or carrying extra weight can add even more fuel to the fire in the foot!
So how do you heal this painful problem? Heather Herod Cole, Physical Therapist Pilates Instructor and owner of P3 Precision, Physical Therapy and Pilates in Nashville, TN says most of the research online indicates stretching the foot is the best way to manage pain and facilitate healing. However, in her experience treating patients, most Plantar Fasciitis pain results from the tissue being in an over-stretched state. Stretching the ligament too much, whether is it manually or facilitated by rolling on a ball or using a band, can re-aggravate or over-aggravate the micro tears in the tissue. She focuses more on strengthening and lengthening the muscles of the calf muscle and building strength in intrinsic “small muscles” in the arch of the foot.
If you are currently experiencing this type of discomfort or pain or just beginning to exercise with impact on the feet, here are some exercises that you can do to alleviate or prevent Plantar Fasciitis.
Heel Raises- Lift the heels off the, feeling equal weight on all parts of the ball mount of the foot. Watch “sickling” (rolling out of the ankle) or “over-pronating” )standing on the ball and big toe). Emphasize power up and control down.
Intrinsic Foot Strength- Doming is to pull up the metatarsal heads (balls of the toes) towards the heels. Most cases imbalanced internal foot stabilizers or muscles are the main issue.
Balance Exercises- Strengthens the muscles of the lower body and challenges core stabilization.
Stretch the Calf- Lengthen the back of the leg by pulling the toes back with light pressure either from standing, seated or toes against the wall.
Careful not to roll or stretch the foot on ball too much- Over stretching can cause micro tears or re-injure the tears in the fascia of the foot.