Plantar Fasciitis: Learn the Causes and How to Prevent & Heal From It
In the United States 1 in 10 individuals suffer from plantar fasciitis. That’s 30 million people! Its range of victims includes elite level runners and sedentary, overweight individuals. But, why such a large group? Well, extensive research has concluded the issue lies with the ‘Windlass Mechanism’. Confused yet? Don’t be. Let’s start by defining what plantar fasciitis is:
What is plantar fasciitis?
Inflammation and pain of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue lying beneath your feet connecting your toes to your heel.
So, what does the ‘Windlass Mechanism’ have to do with it?
The ‘Windlass Mechanism’ is how your plantar fascia works when you move. As you step and move forward the plantar fascia stretches near the front of your foot allowing the arch in your foot to rise up. When the plantar fascia can’t perform this function properly (aka dysfunction) then it will result in pain, lots and lots of pain.
What causes the ‘Windlass Mechanism’ to dysfunction?
The TWO main causes are over pronation of the feet OR limited dorsiflexion. Over pronation occurs when the inside of your foot rolls inward as you walk or run. Dorsiflexion is when you pull your toes toward your shin (think doing a calf stretch). When your feet over pronate or have limited dorsiflexion the ‘Windlass Mechanism’ has an altered movement pattern putting undo stress on the rear part near your heel (the site of the pain when you have plantar fasciitis).
What causes my foot to over pronate or have limited dorsiflexion?
Weak or inhibited muscles/tendons along the inner part of your tibia bone (flexor digitorum longus, flexor hallucis longus, posterior tibialis, and Achilles tendon) will cause over pronation. These muscles keep your feet supinated (rolling outward) maintaining balance with muscles on the outer part of your shin allowing the ‘Windlass Mechanism’ to function properly.
Limited dorsiflexion occurs when your Achilles tendon, gastrocnemius, and/or soleus muscles are too tight. If your foot can’t freely move into a healthy dorsiflexion range then the ‘Windlass Mechanism’ will strain and cause pain.
What causes all those muscles to be weak or inhibited?
There is a two-part answer to this question. First, it could be the muscles themselves are weak/tight and need to be strengthened/stretched. Another reason could be the muscles near the hip are not functioning properly creating a dysfunction of the lower leg muscles. The muscles near the hip causing dysfunction could be the gluteus medius and maximus (aka your butt muscles) and tensor fascia latae (TFL). If these muscles are not working correctly then the lower leg muscles will be overworked or tight leading to over pronation (foot rolled inward) or limited range of motion.
How do I prevent over pronation?
There are several exercises you can use to heal from or prevent over pronation in order to prevent plantar fasciitis (some of these exercises include the weak muscles at the hip):
- Single-Leg stance balance activities (start with stable then move to unstable)
- Lateral step downs from a short step or box (keep foot in neutral position)
- Calf Raises with toes pointed inward
- Ankle Inversion using elastic bands
- Side steps with band around ankles
How do I improve ankle dorsiflexion?
You will have to increase ankle mobility and strength using several drills:
- Wall calf stretch (press lead knee against wall until you feel ‘pulling’ at the ankle)
- Downward dog alternating calf stretch (think yoga)
- Calf raises on a step or stool (allow heel to go down as far as possible)
- ISC (isometric squeeze countdown) single-leg calf raise (Perform 5 calf raises then pause for 5 sec. at the top. Perform 4 calf raises then pause for 4 sec. at top. Repeat until you reach 1. Switch and repeat on other calf).
Pick at least 2 stretches and strengthening drills to be performed daily for 1-3 sets. Do not go over board with your reps or sets. You need just enough to prevent any personal injury. Too much work and you’ll create one.
– Joshua Jarmin Blueprint Fitness – Owner and Director of Fitness (a.k.a. The Mad Scientist)