Foot pain is all too common among runners, and there are a number of sources. One very common source of foot pain is the plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is a thick band of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot. The stiffness of this fascia (among other things) helps to maintain the natural arch of our feet. That being said, when the plantar fascia is the source of one’s foot pain, it is extremely important to look beyond just this structure! The plantar fascia is continuous with the fascia that covers the muscles of our legs, right from our Achilles tendon to our gastrocnemius and soleus, and so on up the chain. Further, several of the muscles originating in our calves pass under the arch of our feet and act as a sling to help support this arch. Additionally, the joints of our feet, when healthy, also help to maintain the arch.
How would you know if your plantar fascia was bothering you? Plantar fascia pain typically presents as a sharp pain at the inside aspect of your heel. This pain is worst in the morning, or when walking after prolonged sitting. There are a number of things that your chiropractor can do to help with this! The most important among them, is determining why you have this pain. This involves assessing the muscles of your legs, the joints of your feet and ankles, and your functional patterns in walking and squatting.
Aside from seeing your chiropractor, there are a number of exercises that all runners – not just those with plantar fascia pain – can do to increase the strength and endurance of the intrinsic foot muscles. These exercises will help to take some of stress off the plantar fascia by having our muscles do the work they were designed to do!
Spread a towel out on the floor; place your foot on the towel close to one end. Now use your toes to pull the towel toward you. As this exercise becomes too easy, try using just your big toe and the one next to it to pull the towel in on an angle, and then use your smallest 3 toes to pull it from the other direction.
Place your foot flat on the floor; lift only your big toe while keeping your remaining toes flat on the ground. Next, keep your big toe flat on the ground while lifting all your other toes. It might seem nearly impossible to do this so, it’s ok to cheat a little! Hold down the toes that are meant to stay down at first. Practice this way until you can do it without any help.
With your foot flat on the ground spread all your toes out – abduction. Next try to bring all your toes together – adduction. It’s ok to cheat here too! When you’re trying to bring your toes together, hold a pencil between your toes, or use a toe separator (like when you’re painting your nails) and focus on squeezing it.
These exercises will be tough at first, you may just get a flicker of a contraction when you’re first trying them, and you may get some cramping in your arches, but be persistent! I recommend that you try these exercises as often as possible. Whenever you find yourself sitting down with a few minutes to spare, take off your sock and give them a try!
Dr. Julia Callaghan, BSc (Hons), DC, ART,
CSCS, Contemporary Medical Acupuncture
Julia is a regular contributor to the RunWaterloo blog.
Spina, A. (2012). Developing Intrinsic Foot Strength with FRC™ Methods. Retrieved February 4, 2013, from Functional Anatomy Blog: http://functionalanatomyblog.com/2012/11/06/developing-intrinsic-foot-strength-with-frc-methods/