"Plantar fasciitis is a condition in which the fascia—AKA connective tissue—within the base of the foot becomes inflamed and often times uncomfortable," says Jeff Brannigan, program director at New York's Stretch*d. "Most noticeable in the morning, this makes it hard to take those first few steps out of bed due to a sharp painful sensation at the bottom of the foot." My colleague's been there (hi, Ali!) and says it's absolutely awful.
A major cause of the issue is from pronation issues: "Plantar fasciitis can occur with hyperpronation—especially if the foot remains pronated or rolled inwards at push off. This happens because the pronated foot stretches the plantar fascia both longitudinally and laterally, which leads to a connective tissue strain," says Lara Heimann, physical therapist, yogi, and founder of Movement by Lara. So the condition is essentially a strain of the tissue in the bottom part of your foot.
Typically, you'll also have less cushion: "People with hyperpronated feet also happen to have less bony stability in the foot, and weak intrinsic feet muscles, which usually absorbs around 50 percent of the loading force, so there's extra stress in the plantar fascia," says Heimann. You can also face plantar fasciitis with calf issues, since it's connected to your foot. "Many of the muscles throughout the calf run into the foot and can very much contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis," says Brannigan. "It's very common to find an overly tight or tense calf when dealing with it."
You'll know you have it if you have that distinct pain upon waking up. "It's identified by the hallmark 'pain when I step on my foot right out of bed' feeling," notes Heimann, who notes that the sensation can get a little better once you start moving, thanks to blood flow. If it doesn't, "the irritation, pain, and inability to continue activity will continue and worsen."
How to deal with—and prevent—plantar's fasciitis
Since fascia is pliable (thankfully), there are plenty of ways you can deal with the foot condition and then keep it at bay. Once you've got that pain, deal with the inflammation first and foremost—and stay off your feet. "Once pain is felt, that means the fascia is now at a point where the inflammation is so great that the arch of the foot is compromised," says Brannigan. "You can begin by a lacrosse or golf ball to roll out the bottom of the foot and slowly unwind all the adhesions that have formed." Be sure to keep stretching, rolling, and icing or heating it up for improving the fasciitis, he says.
Your shoes can be a culprit behind the condition, too—so it's key to wear proper ones that don't exacerbate the issue. "Modern shoes with elevated heels, narrow toe boxes, and exaggerated heel posting all make this hyperpronation more likely as well as weaken the intrinsic feet muscles," says Heimann. "Tight gastrocnemius, soleus, and Achilles' tendon also put more stretch strain on the plantar fascia, and elevated heels will as well."
Switch to shoes that have arch support. "The long-term solution is to gradually transition to flat, flexible shoes and to use toe spacers like 'Correct Toes' if needed," says Heimann. "Temporary uses of orthotics and arch supports as well as taping to shorten the distance between the calcaneus and metatarsal heads may help initially." (Those are your heel bone and the long bones in your foot, respectively.)
Of course, stretching and strengthening the area is essential, too. Brannigan recommends dynamic, movement-based stretches that pump blood into the area and lengthen the tissue in a more natural way. "I recommend addressing each area individually to be as comprehensive as possible," he says. "This means starting with the toes and working your way up through the foot and calf." His fave stretches for doing this? One is where you lie on your back with one leg down, the other straight into the air—use a band to put around your lifted foot, and point and flex as you pull your foot to ensure it's straight in the air. The other involves taking your affected foot into your hands, and flexing it with assistance from your hands.
Note that you're not necessarily doomed to be lying horizontally until the plantar's fasciitis is healed. "Just remember if you do continue to be active, the foot and lower leg are already compromised, so the added stress from activity can easily exacerbate the problem," says Heimann. "Take time everyday to focus on the issue, and with consistency, you may be able to see improvement in a few weeks' time."
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