Recently, I've had some clients with plantar fasciitis, a common but painful condition which affects the foot. And it's not just me either, with longer days, warmer weather, sandals and road running season in full force, many therapists start to see an increase in injury rates across their clinic.
The condition is more common than you might think, with 1 in 10 people developing plantar fasciitis at some point in their lives. It can occur at any age and is twice as common in women than men.
It is commonly seen in runners, especially those who have recently started. It's also common in dancers and martial artists who typically exercise on hard surfaces with little or no footwear. I also see it in my clients who are on their feet all day; shop workers, hairdressers and nurses. Plus, those who have been running around all summer with little or no support in their shoes (i.e. flip flops).
The pain and discomfort of plantar fasciitis make it very difficult to walk correctly, and swelling may occur in the ligaments of the foot.
You may experience a stabbing pain, swelling and tender areas in the heel to the ball of the foot. The problem will be worse as you get out of bed, and take your first step of the day, and may make it difficult to walk normally for a short period, or might also be a problem later in the day. Periods of inactivity or sudden exercise will also produce the same pain. Pain is often worse after exercise but may ease off during exercise.
So what can we do to ease the pain and help the body heal itself?
First of all, as it’s World Reflexology Week, it’s a great time to mention the benefits of reflexology for plantar fasciitis. You may choose to see a reflexologist as a natural and alternative way to help relieve your systems and facilitate your recovery. In a reflexology treatment, I would manipulate to the foot to release muscle tension, foot tension, swelling and the adhesions that form when inflammation is present.
Releasing the pressure in the foot allows for greater movement and improved circulation. I will also work other body systems to ease the condition and promote healing. Like most injuries, there is no instant cure, but regular Reflexology sessions can support healing, pain relief and keep the foot flexible.
There are also several things you can try at home. Over the longer term, it's a good idea to try and develop foot and calf strength. When the symptoms have started to reduce, then mobility exercises can be introduced, such as picking up a pencil with the toes and calf raises.
But let's start with a good stretch.
The ideal stretch to ease your plantar fasciitis is the basic calf stretch:
Face a wall and place your hands on it at about shoulder height.
Stretch one leg behind you, heel to the ground. Find a position that gives you a nice stretch in the calf of the back leg. You might need to lower your hands a bit or change your distance from the wall.
Hold for 30-60 seconds.
Then pull your back leg forward a bit, bend your knee, and sink your weight onto that leg. This should move the stretch from your upper calf to down around your Achilles' tendon. Again, hold for at least 30-60 seconds.
Repeat the whole process with the other leg.
And then run through the whole routine again on each leg. Do it a third time if you're feeling really motivated.
Repeat three times a day.
The trick here is consistency and duration. If it seems like it's not working, keep practising as it does take time to stretch tight ligaments. Give it at least a few weeks to start working.
You can also try …
Basically, anything that warms and/or loosens your muscles can help. Experiment and see what works for you.
1. Stretch the bottoms of your feet.
Kneel on the ground and tuck your toes, so the bottoms are pressed against the floor. Settle your weight back onto your heels.
Depending on how flexible your feet are, this will cause some pain that can range from intense to excruciating, but it's really good for your feet if you can manage a few moments every day.
2. Use a foam roller or tennis ball to release tight muscles.
Sit on the ground, place a foam roller or tennis ball under your foot and/or calf, and roll it around with your leg. If it hurts, you've hit a tight spot—keep it at that location for as long as you can stand it.
If the ball is too intense, then a plastic bottle filled with cold water or ice can be used instead to help roll out the foot.
3. Calf raises.
Start with between 5-15 repetitions on a flat surface.
As your strength improves, move onto to calf raises from a step. Here, the area can be stretched further in between each lift.
4. Picking up a pencil.
Try picking up a pencil using the toes.
Start with trying between 3-5 times, and building up to between 15-20 repetitions.
Other options include ...
5. Soak your feet (and as much of your leg as you can) in hot water.
Heat relaxes muscles. Try adding some bath salts if you want to detox and soften the feet or try soaking in a hot bath before bed.
6. Use a heat pad on your calves.
Again, heat leads to looser muscles. It's nicer and more fun it you can get someone else to massage your calves afterwards, but you can do it yourself too. Just remember: When you find a spot that hurts, that's the place you need to be focusing on.
7. Get a massage.
You can do some good by self-massaging using the tennis ball or foam roller technique, but to help the muscles truly relax and to work out some of the knots on the calf, get a professional massage, often therapists will work just the leg and calf area for you.
Do you know the song about how all the bones are connected: "the thigh bone connected to the backbone / the backbone connected to the neck bone"?
Well, the same is true of your muscles. If your neck is stiff and your back is achy, guess what? Your legs will probably be tight, too. A good massage can help address all that, especially if you can afford it regularly.
8. Take a yoga class.
Yoga makes you stretchy, and stretchy is good.
9. See a reflexologist.
Depending on where you live, it might be hard to find a good reflexologist. But if you find a good one, it's worth every penny. Find a reflexologist that understands your condition and will work the muscles you need to relieve pain and increase flexibility. Sometimes, working a little deeper maybe more painful during the treatment session, but will yield better results for you.
Cinderella is proof that a pair of shoes can change your life.