Plantar Fasciitis – What is it and Finding Relief

I frequently get questions about specific injuries. Many of these are about plantar fasciitis. Here is a breakdown of one of the more common causes of plantar fasciitis.

Picture of the achilles tendon wrapping around the calcaneus and blending into the plantar fascia. Plantar fasciitis.Plantar fasciitis is a pain symptom located at the heel or plantar fascia of the foot–the thick connective tissue which supports the arch of the foot. It is often most painful in the morning with the first steps out of bed, and may be aggravated by standing, walking, or running.

Here’s the deal about plantar fasciitis

It is the diagnosis of symptoms. It is not the diagnosis of the problem. The pain may be in your foot–but the problem is not. What you will not often find in definitions or explanations of plantar fasciitis on the web is that there is a deeper issue at play. The pain in your foot diagnosed as plantar fasciitis can often be traced back up to your gluteus maximus–your butt. These days, we sit too much and our butts muscles wind up not doing much. So they basically shut down or go to sleep–they become inhibited. This is not a good thing.

Your gluteal muscles have some very important functions. They are some of the most powerful muscles in the body and are the primary reason we stand upright. The gluteus maximus is a pelvic stabilizer and powerful hip extensor. The gluteus maximus provides power when we are going upstairs, rising from a sitting position, and climbing or running.

When gluteus maximus isn't functioning well, it get's very angry like the Hulk. This can lead to plantar fasciitis pain.Hip extension is your ability to stand upright. If you look at our primate cousins who still use their hands to walk, you’ll notice they have tiny butts. They also lack the ability to extend their hips into a fully upright standing position. Pelvic stability is hugely important. It provides the ability to stabilize the pelvis to our upper body, support the low back, and provide a solid powerful core. This point where your pelvis stabilizes with your upper body is where most coordinated movement is generated. If you lack pelvic stability, your entire movement system will be negatively affected. Your body demands stability. Without it, your body will find compensation elsewhere, by utilizing other muscles to do the job of those that are “sleeping,” i.e. inhibited. With plantar fasciitis, the calves are recruited to help stabilize the pelvis. This is not the work the calves are functioned to do. They don’t like it. Move like this long enough, and your calves will turn into The Incredible Hulk–they will get very angry and start to smash, i.e. tighten up and cause big hurt.

How this translates into pain in the foot

The two muscles that we call the calves (Gastrocnemius and Soleus) attach to the heel via the Achilles Tendon. The Achilles Tendon wraps over the heel bone where it then becomes the Plantar Fascia. The Plantar fascia stretches across the bottom of the foot to the base of your toes. While we may think of these muscles and tendons as separate plantar fasciitis is pain on the heel or plantar fascia of the foottissue structures, you can see by the picture that these structures are not separate. They are one continuous fascial tissue structure. So you can imagine that tension in one will affect each of the others. If your calves are working overtime–doing not only their job but also the job of your glutes–they may get distressed. With this distress, inflammation and pain will eventually set in. That pain can then show up anywhere in this continuous tissue chain. When the pain appears at the heel or plantar fascia, we call it plantar fasciitis. If it happens above the heel, it is called Achilles Tendonitis or tendonosis. The irony of all this is that the calves are not the issue! If anything, they are the most functional muscle in the group–they’re working overtime, after all. It’s their relationship with the asleep at the wheel Gluteals which need to be addressed. This is where the pain in your foot is literally a pain in the butt.

Relieving plantar fasciitis pain

GRIDXside
The Grid Foam Roller by Trigger Point Therapy

When treating any kind of painful dysfunction, my first goal as a movement specialist is to help my clients find relief from the pain. The method I’ve found most beneficial for this is self massage using The Grid foam roller to release the tension built up in the calves. Here are some simple exercises to help relieve the discomfort in your foot by working with The Grid.

Now once the pain is gone, this does not mean you are fixed. Pain is a communicator–it alerts us to an underlying problem. But it is not the problem itself. This is why the “treatments” often found online (such as this one) will only provide temporary relief; they target the symptom (pain) rather than the core underlying issue.

There is still movement dysfunction that needs to be assessed and addressed, and as detailed above, it likely originates in the hips. Strengthening and balancing movement patterns associated with the glutes is the next step in treating plantar fasciitis, and can best be done by making an appointment with a qualified movement specialist. To ignore this step places you at risk of an even more painful and serious injury at some point in the future. Finding help is hugely important in the long run for continued recovery and pain free movement.

Here are some simple quick tips for quick temporary relief. Or check out this older article with more exercises to help with plantar fasciitis pain.

Place foam roller beneath calves. Slowly roll from the ankles to the knees. Plantar fasciitis
Place The Grid foam roller beneath calves. Slowly roll from the ankles to the knees.
Using a foam wedge, press heel into the ground and actively straighten your knee. Stretch to slight discomfort, NOT pain. Hold for 1-3 minutes each stretch for plantar fasciitis
Using a foam wedge, press heel into the ground and actively straighten your knee. Stretch to slight discomfort, NOT pain. Hold for 1-3 minutes each stretch
The Grid foam roller by Trigger Point Therapy. Self treatment for plantar fasciitis.
The Grid foam roller by Trigger Point Therapy.

 This is the foam roller I recommend: The Grid by Trigger Point Therapy

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Foam Roller Self Massage For Calf and Foot Relief

As a Movement Therapist specializing in hands on massage therapy, I help clients improve movement quality to aid in the healing, recovery, and prevention of chronic pain and injury. In many clients, I see a connection between their persistent pain and the health of their feet. Painful conditions of the knees, hips, low back, shoulders, and neck can often be traced through the fascial lines down to the feet. Foot health is one of, if not the biggest determining factors of pain and injury, as well as overall health, wellness, and vitality. To improve foot health, one of the best self care options available is foam roller self massage.

Anatomy of the foot and ankle. Foam Roller Self MassageThere are 26 bones in the human foot, 33 joints, more than 100 muscles, and roughly the same number of sensory nerves that you have on the palms of your hands. The foot is designed to be incredibly dynamic, sensitive, and responsive. Most importantly, it offers the promise of stability in almost any context.

How to Treat Your Feet

1. Take off your shoes! Even if only for a few of hours per day. (Should you wonder why I am an advocate of making the transition to barefoot or minimalist footwear, take a look at Free Your Feet.)

2. Throw out the flip-flops. It is not the job of your little piggies to curl unnaturally (involuntarily & imperceptibly!) in order to keep your shoes from flying off your feet! Consider finding a similar style with an ankle or behind-the-heel strap instead.

3. Utilize a golf ball and The Grid foam roller self massage the arches of your feet and lower leg.

Using a golf ball to self massage the arches of the foot. Foam Roller Self Massage

Foam Roller Self Massage

Foam roller self massage techniques are very simple to learn. It may be painful in spots. The goal is not to force through the pain, but to be very gentle with your body. There should be some discomfort without being unbearable.

Set up on the foam roller under the desired muscle area to be worked on. Relax your body and breathe. Ease into it and allow yourself to relax.

You are seeking out the most tender spot. Once you find it, stop, relax your body as much as you can; and visualize the tissue as melting butter and the foam roller as a hot knife. Allow the butter to melt over the knife. Hold position for at least 30-60 seconds or until you notice a significant reduction in pain, about 30-40%. Then move on to the next painful spot. Do this in 2-3 different spots for each muscle shown below.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and these suggestions are not meant to take the place of a regular training program with a professional. That being said, it’s a good place to start the recovery process. And if you’re feeling acute pain, foam roller self massage will help bridge the gap until you are able to get advice and treatment from a qualified movement therapist.

The Grid Foam Roller self massage by Trigger Point Therapy.

This is the foam roller I recommend: The Grid by Trigger Point Therapy

The Grid foam roller self massage by Trigger Point Therapy is my go to foam roller. I’ve used it for years and recommend it to clients. In the interest of full disclosure, I am an affiliate for Trigger Point Therapy. This means that if you purchase one of their products after clicking one of these links, I will get a small commission. That said, the only reason I am an affiliate for their products, primarily The Grid, is because I believe in it 100%.

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Self Massage Using A Foam Roller

Self Massage Using A Foam Roller

Deep tissue massage therapy modalities, such as myofascial release, improve flexibility, function, and performance; speed up the recovery process; and reduce chronic pain and injury risk. Regular deep tissue massage therapy breaks down adhesions and scar tissue that form in the fascia. With the use of a few simple, inexpensive tools (foam roller and a soft ball), you can perform daily self massage and receive much of the same benefits as weekly professional bodywork.

The Grid Foam Roller by Trigger Point Therapy - self massage calf muscles.How does self massage work?

Fascia is a three-dimensional fibrous matrix interconnected throughout the body from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet. Fascia surrounds muscles, bones, and joints providing the body structural integrity and strength. Dysfunctional fascia is a leading cause of chronic pain, reduced flexibility, and decreased athletic performance.

Located within the muscle and tendon tissue are two sensory receptors called the muscle spindle and golgi tendon organ. These sensory receptors monitor muscular and tendon tension from the surrounding tissue and relates it to your nervous system.  They are highly sensitive to changes in muscle tension and rate of change.  Stimulation of the golgi tendon organ leads to a decrease in soft tissue tension.

golgi tendon organ Located within the muscle and tendon tissue are two sensory receptors called the muscle spindle and golgi tendon organ. These sensory receptors monitor muscular and tendon tension from the surrounding tissue and relates it to your nervous system.  They are highly sensitive to changes in muscle tension and rate of change.  Stimulation of the golgi tendon organ leads to a decrease in soft tissue tension.

Placing pressure directly on tight or overly toned muscle tissue using deep tissue massage therapy or self-myofascial release techniques stimulates the golgi tendon organ to relax tension in the soft tissue. The decrease in soft tissue tension can be used to reduce pain, reduce scar tissue adhesions, increase joint mobility, and improve overall function.

BENEFITS OF SELF MASSAGE

  • correct muscle imbalances
  • increase joint range of motion
  • decrease muscle soreness and relieve joint stress
  • decrease tight or overly toned muscle tissue
  • increase extensibility of muscle and tendon tissue
  • increase performance
  • maintain normal functional muscular length

The Grid Foam Roller by Trigger Point Therapy - self massage gluteal muscles.What to do
Self massage techniques are very simple to learn. One of the best tools for self massage is the foam roller.

Place your body weight on the foam roller over taut bands of muscle tissue that need to be released. For the best results, begin near the center of the body and slowly work away from the center of the body. Breathe, relax your body, and slowly roll through the length of the muscle.  If you find a painful spot, stop and visualize the soft tissue as melting butter and the foam roller as a hot knife. Allow the pressure into the tissue and within 30-60 seconds you will notice a significant reduction in pain. Repeat this until you have reduced all the painful tissue.

The first couple of weeks of foam roller therapy more than likely will be painful.  It is important to be diligent. The payoff is well worth it. If you use the foam roller every day, within a couple of weeks you will begin to notice not only does the exercise not hurt as much but also it will begin to feel really good.

Self massage on a foam roller offers an effective, inexpensive, and convenient way to both reduce scar tissue and adhesions. For the most effective self massage techniques, I offer a foam roller therapy session geared towards beginner, intermediate, and advanced users.

Check out Foam Roller Massage Therapy For Beginners for more details on how to begin self massage.

The Grid foam roller by Trigger Point Therapy for self massage

This is the foam roller I recommend: The Grid by Trigger Point Therapy

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