Plantar Fasciitis is a term we have heard around, but we may not know what it is, what causes it, or how to get rid of it. Are you ready to find out?
What is plantar fasciitis? Plantar fasciitis is simply the inflammation of the plantar fascia. What!?? Let's break it down to simpler terms... Fascia is connective tissue in the body. It surrounds muscle tissue, thickens to create ligaments and tendons, and generally does a lot of support and structuring/organizing of the body. (If you are interested in learning more about fascia, you might want to read the article on the structure of the body.) The plantar fascia is the connective tissue located on the bottom of the foot (the plantar surface, or the sole of the foot if you prefer). The plantar fascia, along with the muscles that control positioning of the foot and the toes, is responsible for creating the arch of the foot (which is actually more like a dome or multiple arches) along with the springy nature of the foot (during activities like running, walking, and jumping). When there are too many restrictions in the tissue, it gets irritated and inflamed (too much blood supply), and painful. Many times the foot pain will be experienced either early in the morning (as one gets out of bed), or late at night (after work). Sometimes waiting out the discomfort works, but usually not... and plantar fasciitis can become a chronic condition that plagues people for years.
What causes plantar fasciitis? It can be caused by many different things, but usually it comes from either over working the foot (by too much activity), or from the foot being too bound up and not being able to move properly. Let's tackle these, each in turn...
If you stand on your feet all day long, the muscles of the lower leg and foot as well as the fascia of the foot are active that whole time. They are all working hard to not only move you around, but to provide a shock absorbing foundation on which to support the weight of the entire body. They can do this for a period of time (days, weeks, months, or even years) without much rest, but eventually the fascia will take more work on as the muscles get overloaded. If the fascia is over worked, it will get irritated and inflammation will occur. Usually the fascia thickens as it takes on more of the work (to provide more structural support), and blood flow through thick fascia is even worse in regard to alleviating inflammation.
Along with being overworked, plantar fasciitis can also come from the foot being too bound. The foot itself is comprised of many bones; finger-like ones for the toes, smaller rectangular ones nearer the ankle, and then larger ones in the ankle area and heel. The foot is constructed this way to allow for many different movement and adjustments of the foot in our daily activities (including standing and walking). In the modern world, most everyone wears shoes. Shoes are good from the standpoint of preventing injury to our feet (such as stepping on sharp glass or a nail), but they are bad for your feet from the standpoint of what the foot is trying to do for you. I can hear some of you saying "that's crazy talk", but just read on for my reasoning... Most shoes (even sneakers) are not really very flexible. Sure some flex at the toe a bit, but that is nothing compared to what a healthy foot can do on its own. In that regard, every time you wear a shoe you are restricting the motions that occur within your feet. The longer you wear shoes, the more this (restricted movement) becomes your pattern, and the more the fascia will thicken to prevent the motions you are no longer using. The thicker your feet become, the easier it is to irritate the tissue and experience the associated inflammation. There are a few exceptions to this shoe issue: If one has always worn REALLY flexible shoes (such as moccasins), or stretches their feet out on a regular basis.
How do we get rid of plantar fasciitis? The goal here is to soften, spread, and lengthen the tissues on the bottom of the foot, and the associated muscles that move the foot and toes. There are many ways to do this, and treatment massage therapy is one of these ways. Once the foot is soft and flexible again, it will be pain free. The goal then is to keep it soft and flexible so that you never experience that pain again.
Making the transition to truly flexible shoes... Shoes do play a part in our normal lives, and we can't really escape them, but we do have choices as a consumer... and it is worth making a choice that is better for your feet and body. If you wear high heel shoes, slowly transition yourself into flats over time (and a few pairs of shoes). If you wear stiff shoes (even sneakers qualify as stiff due to their thick soles which don't allow for flexing sideways), slowly transition from the thick stiff soles you have to shoes that have soles which are thinner. Gradually over time you can work your feet into shoes that are as soft and flexible as moccasins, and your feet will thank you for it. NOTE: Do take time to make the transition slowly. If you go from thick soled shoes to thin soled shoes, your feet will hurt as the foot will not be soft or strong enough to handle the quick change. Taken in steps, slowly moving to more flexible shoes than the last pair will get you there without any major foot discomfort. My own journey from sneakers to moccasins took about a year and a half and three pairs of shoes (sneakers, boat shoes, and the moccasins). People ask me about walking on hard surfaces such as pavement, and doesn't that hurt my feet in the moccasins? Surprisingly, pavement feels softer now than it ever did in sneakers... my foot has adapted to being able to transmit the forces more easily, and so pavement is not an issue at all. Others ask about how walking on pavement is all flat, and how can our feet really adapt on flat surfaces? In reality, even flat surfaces are not very flat. My feet constantly adjust to cracks in the sidewalk, bumps in the road, etc. which other shoes would not allow for. Should you undertake this journey yourself, you will be amazed at how varied the terrain actually is. But be warned... the more you allow your feet to do their natural job, the less you will find "normal" shoes comfortable.
So, soften up your feet and keep them soft to stay pain free.