Plantar Fasciitis Has Very Little To Do With Your Foot


Regardless of what the experts have told you, plantar fasciitis is very rarely about your foot.

 

Like so many other running-related injuries, the reason you are left managing all of the things that go along with plantar fasciitis (PLAN-tur fas-e-I-tis) comes down to the same things.

Having dealt with plantar fasciitis myself, I’m sure it isn’t easy for you to read this.  At this point in time, you might even be skeptical.  Or maybe you like so many other people are on the complete opposite side of the spectrum, and you are so frustrated that you are looking for answers.

As you continue reading, I think that you will see that everything that you have done so far is only addressing the symptom.

I’m sure you have felt that excruciating pain and stiffness throughout your foot first thing in the morning.  And how about that feeling that something in your foot is tearing.  Have you felt that?  If you have experienced either one, I’m thinking that you have also felt how tight your calves get.

Your calves get so tight that it is very difficult to take a confident step forward in the morning.  And forget about going downstairs as soon as you step out of bed. Without a little warm-up, it’s next to impossible to get down the stairs in a hurry.

The story that you are about to read is unlike any story that you’ve heard thus far.

For starters, plantar fasciitis doesn’t start or even end in the same way for everybody.  So it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to use a cookie-cutter approach.

In physical therapy-speak, or chiropractic-speak, or even athletic training-speak that cookie cutter approach that you’ve experienced is called a protocol.

Although using the term protocol has a better ring to it, it’s designed around the notion that it’s possible to take the thinking out of the equation.  And as I think you’ll find, when it comes to plantar fasciitis or any other pain and/or injury, that thought process is not based on reality.  But rather, a lazy way to do business.

That approach might get more people through the door in a day, but it doesn’t allow for deep work And given how much time we spend at work, I’d rather spend it doing work that is meaningful.

“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” — Elon Musk

Protocols don’t allow for that.

You might not be ready to hear this, but your calves are tight for a very good reason. Without your conscious awareness, your brain is trying to protect you from going into a position(s) where you don’t have stability.  You could say it’s a position that your brain senses as being vulnerable to more pain or even a more involved injury.

So even though those age-old stretches might have helped you, they are only targeting the symptom.  And like I mentioned in my most recent article on stretching, that’s why you continue to perform those same stretches.

Meanwhile, your plantar fascia continues to take a beating.

Here is the twist (because there is always a twist!), your brain will always seek out and find stability at the joint.  And that is why your calf muscles continue to tighten up.

(Prevention)

Did you know that 4 out of the 7 muscles on the back of your leg are attaching to a bunch of different bones throughout the bottom of your foot?

And believe it or not, one of those muscles attaches to 9 out of the 28 different bones in your foot.

Like so many other things in life, plantar fasciitis is a story.

And unfortunately, you haven’t heard the whole story.  Yet.  Rather than tell you a story that comes straight out of first-layer knowledge, I’m going to give you some additional factors to consider.

For starters, given what we know about the value of stretching, why do you have to continue to perform those same stretches?

If we’re being honest, you can do those stretches that the expert recommended every hour of every day, and you still will not be able to get your leg and the rest of your body over your foot in the morning.

 

<figure><img src="https://www.engagingmuscles.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Plantar-Fasciitis.jpg" alt="Anatomical Foot Model Showing Plantar Fasciitis" width="500" Height="434" /></figure>

For more information, hover over this image.

 

I’m not saying it’s the only thing, but there is a tibialis anterior muscle that runs down the bigger of the two bones in your leg and attaches to two bones throughout your arch. (For more information, hover over the above image.)  When the tibialis anterior is weak, it will have an impact on how your foot interacts with the ground.

I’m not saying it’s the only muscle that holds up your arch but given where it wraps around and attaches to the inside of your foot, a weak tibialis anterior will definitely have a negative impact on the muscle’s ability to support your foot.

The role of your tibialis anterior muscle doesn’t end there.  When your foot is on the ground, as a compensation, a weak tibialis anterior will also limit motion of your leg. Meaning, your leg and the rest of your body won’t be able to travel as far over your foot. So in order to compensate for a weak tibialis anterior, you’ll shorten your stride.

And that is what you’re feeling first thing in the morning.

Given that we’re talking about muscle weakness taking priority over tightness, you can pluck your thinking-strings as hard or as soft as your heart desires; you can even visualize the muscles throughout the back of your leg lengthening while at the same time playing the most beautiful melody in your mind, and you still will not override the power of your brain to protect you from further injury to your foot.

The muscles will still tighten up again (and again!) because that is your body’s natural protective mechanism.

(Principles)

Plantar fasciitis is just the label for your pain.  Although it doesn’t feel like it at the moment, that pain you’re feeling is also the symptom.   The inflammation of your plantar fascia that runs from your heel to your toes has nothing to do with the pain that you are experiencing when you first put your feet down in the morning.

Rather than belabor my point, and tell you that the story is different for everyone. It’s much easier to tell you that it is not just one thing that has contributed to that pain and stiffness that you feel throughout your foot first thing in the morning.

If I had to guess, I would say the expert pointed out a few things that could be contributing to that pain and stiffness.  And as I’m sure you are well aware, all of those things point right down to your foot.

And if I had to take another shot at what you were told, I’d say you have been told it is the same foot that just so happens to be over-pronating.

All of that without any consideration for your pelvis.  A pelvis that is also capable of pronating (i.e., flexing).

But just because those two pelvic bones are capable of moving separately, doesn’t mean they are.

And because of that, your brain has figured out a workaround.  A workaround that forces your base of support to take advantage of more motion throughout those 33 joints.  Joints that are meant to adapt to the ground and anything else that requires a little more motion there.

That is just one scenario out of a multitude of different scenarios.  (emphasis added)

One truth that comes out of the story that you have heard about plantar fasciitis:  It can be extremely difficult to come back from.

But given the right input, it doesn’t have to be that debilitating.  Or, take as long as it would with the various band-aids that you have already heard about.

At this point in the conversation, I think it’s worth telling you that just because it’s an input, doesn’t mean it’s a productive one.

In other words, if you reflect on what you’ve read so far, any input that focuses on your foot by itself, is not productive.  Why?  Because that pain and stiffness is the symptom.

Said another way, plantar fasciitis has very little to do with your foot.  

And that is a great way to start this next chapter in your journey with plantar fasciitis.

When it comes to getting out from under plantar fasciitis, the one constant is the speed at which your muscles contract.  That’s right.  The ability of your muscles to contract at the right time is imperative.

“On some asphalt court, a kid dribbles ever faster, pushing his own envelope.  A mechanic is tinkering in his garage, trying to get more speed.  A golfer is trying to find the perfect zone to swing just a little harder.  Because through all the complexities of sport, faster is better.”  — Excerpt from SPEED by Tim Layden

You might not be a golfer, a mechanic or even somebody that dribbles a basketball on a daily basis.  You might not even consider yourself to be an athlete.  But you are!  Just not in the way that we’ve been conditioned to think about what an athlete looks like.

(Performance)

The truth is, it doesn’t matter what you do on a daily basis.  The principles don’t change.

Spend a day observing what goes on in your local specialty running shoe store. It’s not just a tribe of runners wanting to be fitted for running shoes.

You’ll see many people come through that door.  And many of them have no interest in pounding the pavement for even a mile.  Never mind an ultramarathon.

Rather than spend their time running, they sit for the majority of their day.  And if you were to take the time to talk to those individuals, you would find that they’ve spent many months, and more often than you might think, years, dealing with plantar fasciitis.

Like so many runners and non-runners before them, the cookie- cutter approach that came out of the factory mindset failed them.

And that’s why they’re there. They are still searching. Searching for answers!

 

<figure><img src="https://www.engagingmuscles.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Golfer.jpg" alt="female swinging a golf club" width="500" height= "334" /></figure>

For more information, hover over this image. Photo Credit: isogood via Compfight cc

 

If you want to feel how interconnected everything is, stand up from where you are reading this right now.  From where you are right now,  pretend that you have an invisible golf club in your hands, and your goal is to drive the ball down the fairway.

When you brought the golf club behind your head, what moved first?  Your pelvis or your feet?

Your pelvis moved first.  And then your thigh and the two bones that make up your leg followed your pelvis in the same direction. Which means the last thing to move was your feet.

Why are the experts not talking about that?

If you can’t feel what transpired when you brought that invisible club behind your head, prior to exploding out of the position that you are in, look down at your feet and you will see that one foot moved in one direction while the other foot moved in the opposite direction.

And as you can see, each of your feet followed the direction that your thigh and leg were moving.

If you are a right-handed golfer, your *left* pelvis, thigh, leg, and foot were all driven in (i.e., pronation).  While at the same time, those same body parts on the opposite side were all driven out.  (For more information, hover over the above image.)

Which means that your *right* pelvis, thigh, leg, and foot were all driven out (i.e., supination).

[ Note: If you just tried that while wearing anything that is artificially supporting your feet, your feet will be forced to move in an abnormal way.  And because of that, there won’t be much movement in either direction.

Which is one more way of saying, it’s never a great idea to artificially support or block motion of your feet!

Because when you do, your inability to pronate or take advantage of the normal motion that you are supposed to have throughout your feet has to be picked up somewhere else.

It’s unfortunate that the experts will prescribe “custom” orthotics for everything under the son.  And then they can’t or won’t bring themselves to a place where they can see the relationship between your feet and lower back.  

Because it is (very!) possible that those spinal joints are taking a beating because of what your feet aren’t capable of doing.  And much like the ground, that long lever that we call a golf club is going to drive motion regardless. ]

Increasing the speed of muscle contraction will also improve performance, and prevent an injury over the long-term.

But when it comes to plantar fasciitis, you don’t hear much about the speed of a muscle contraction.  Or to say the same thing in a slightly different way:  Improving your muscle’s ability to contract at the right time.

(Curiosity)

We are talking about every single muscle contracting on demand, in any environment, with no conscious effort on your part.  Why?  Because your ability to store elastic energy is in direct proportion to your muscles’ ability to contract when called upon.

And your ability to store elastic energy is not a guarantee.  Or, to say it another way, it is not given for free.

Muscles have to be willing to allow your joints to go into the necessary positions. Positions and motions that have to be taken advantage of at the right time.

In order for your foot and the entire chain to perform at the highest level, every day, your muscles have to be receiving the right amount of input from a high-speed connection that is sent from your central nervous system (read: brain and spinal cord).

This connection between your brain and the muscles that the feedback goes out to is essential!

Without it, your muscles can not decelerate and dissipate forces effectively.  Not only that, without a clear form of communication between your muscles and the brain, your muscles will be unable to capture the elastic energy that was stored.

And that stored elastic energy is only possible when there is an optimal lengthening of the muscles throughout your chain.  Anything less than that means that you will have to work much harder to cover the same distance.

 

 

Essentially, all running injuries come down to the same things.

And one constant is, how well is your entire foot not only adapting, but also reacting to what the ground is bringing on every single step forward?

We are not talking about seconds.  But rather, milliseconds!

This is not only about speed in the traditional sense, however.  It’s about your muscles working from a place where your chain can take advantage of all of that motion that is being driven by the ground.

Because no matter what part of your foot touches down first, your foot is going to be driven by the ground.  Other than laying off running altogether, you have no choice in the matter.

Much like gravity, the ground is relentless.    

 ➡ The question that the experts don’t seem to want to ask:  Is your foot being driven out at a time when it is supposed to be driven in?

Given how strong the ego can be, combined with how difficult change can be, combined with an inability to observe what is happening with an open-mind, combined with how hard listening with more than just our ears can be, I just don’t see any relevant questions that come from a place of curiosity being asked anytime soon. (Reasons Coming!)

Rather than commit to all of that difficult work, it’s much easier to go to the default setting and say something like, “Let’s just support your arches.  What do you say!?!”

Being that I have enough second-layer knowledge to not buy that story, I’m not going to spend any time making the theory on supporting my feet sound any truer in my mind.

I’m well aware of how badly that one decision will wreak havoc with my entire chain.

Therefore, I choose not to support my feet.  And that’s why I only wear flexible zero-drop dress shoes (affiliate) and running shoes.  By doing that every day, I know that over the long-haul, I’m staying on the side of being less fragile (affiliate).

[ That being said, here’s what I imagine the internal dialogue in the unconscious mind of the expert to sound like: “Even though you’re only over-pronating on one side, and I’m completely ignoring the role of your muscles here; rather than take the time to think about all of that, I’d rather just choose to do the opposite of deep work.  So let’s just support both feet, make the muscles that were strong, weaker, and then call it a day. What do you say!?!”  ]

The great thing about having second-layer knowledge is, it allows us to drill down even deeper.  Which means we can go beyond that superficial layer that sounds a lot like what you could read in a magazine.

So let’s take advantage of that second-layer knowledge with a similar, but yet a very different question.

Is your foot being driven in, but because there are muscles that are not capable of pulling their weight, your foot is staying in one position at a time that it is supposed to be driven in the opposite direction?

At first glance, that question doesn’t sound like much.  Until you stop to consider that those two bones that make up your leg are being driven by your foot.  And if your foot can’t move from the bottom-up at the right time, your leg isn’t going to either.  And if your leg can’t move in the right directions at the right time, those big muscles throughout your thigh are going to be at a disadvantage.

Since those 26 bones throughout your feet are supposed to be able to move in three different directions at their respective joints, your leg and thigh are supposed to follow along in all three directions.

So what does all of this mean for your plantar fascia?

I’m not saying that it’s the only thing, but it is definitely one variable that is worth considering.  Your foot is crashing into the ground without a lot of help from the muscles and joints throughout your chain.

So even though the expert is ignoring the role of your muscular system, whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, the reality is, there are energy leaks.  

And more often than not, that plantar fascia is taking a beating because of what the muscles throughout your suspension system (read: core musculature) is not capable of bringing at the right time.  And that variable by itself can be enough to irritate your plantar fascia over time.

Are you starting to see why focusing on the pain in your feet doesn’t make a whole lot of sense?

You have numerous muscles that run the entire length of your thigh.  And most of those muscles attach to your pelvis.  You also have muscles that are located above and below the level of your knee. Included within those muscles is a group of muscles that are capable of some heavy lifting from way above the level of your foot (i.e., adductors).

To see how BIG this is, I think it’s worth mentioning that the majority of the muscles that are responsible for moving your bones, attach to your pelvis.

To help visualize all of this musculature that I’m referring to here, imagine that all of those muscles are attaching to your pelvis from every direction imaginable.

Ultimately, what we are talking about here is, your bigger muscles from above are assisting the smaller muscles throughout your calf.  From the top-down.

That way the smaller muscles throughout your calf don’t have to do all of that heavy lifting.

Said another way, in order for your foot to explode away from the ground, muscles from above have to be capable of driving your leg in a direction that will allow your foot to move in the same direction.  At the right time.  Just like when you swung that invisible golf club.

Your lower leg muscles have to rely on the bigger muscles from above to assist in your ability to explode away from the ground (i.e., supination).

(Propulsion)

And let’s not forget, you are also going against gravity.  And gravity is constant!

So rather than all of the experts parroting something that points back to your foot, they should be looking to why you are unable to *supinate* at the right time.

But that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.  Because there are no Band-Aids that will improve your foot’s ability to supinate at the right time.

Although this version of the story on how to best deal with all that plantar fasciitis brings on a daily basis is less compelling, it doesn’t make it any less true!

So if the recommendation sounds like a band-aid, don’t waste all of your energy and time making it sound better than it really is.

This is also about being more self-aware (E.Q.)

Said another way, if you feel like it sounds like something you could read in a magazine, 9 times out of 10, it’s not worth buying into.  

So don’t give into it!   🙂 

SHIP.

(Art)

If you found this post on plantar fasciitis to be educational, and you feel like somebody that you know could benefit from the information that I have provided here, I would greatly appreciate you sharing this post.  You can do this by emailing it to a friend, family member, colleague or feel free to share it on Facebook. 

A BIG thanks in advance.  (:D

Thanks for taking the time to read this post!  If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to Engaging Muscles.  You can also like Engaging Muscles on Facebook, subscribe to my YouTube Channel or feel free to connect with me on Twitter @rickmerriam.

Books Mentioned (affiliate):

Antifragile:  Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Photo Credit: isogood via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: 2015 New York City Marathon via photopin (license)

The following two tabs change content below.
I have held a license to practice massage therapy for over 20 years. For the first 18 years of my career, I was a nationally certified personal trainer. During that time, I completed thousands of one-on-one personal training sessions. I went on to teach biomechanics to personal trainers, group exercise instructors, and physical therapists throughout New England. I worked as a sports massage therapist at ESPN. Over the last few years, I have been quoted in Runner’s World UK, Massage Therapy & Bodywork, Massage Magazine, IDEA Fitness Journal, Massage & Fitness Magazine, and The Guardian Liberty Voice. I have also served as an applied biomechanics consultant for the fitness staff at Canyon Ranch, The Greenbrier, and ESPN. For the last 7 years, I've been teaching applied anatomy & kinesiology at Parker University. I have a private sports massage therapy practice in Dallas, Texas.