Plantar fasciitis is the bane of injuries for most long distance runners and endurance athletes. But what about strength athletes? Can strength athletes get plantar fasciitis as well? You bet they can. That isn’t the worst news either. It can also dramatically impact your lifts. Before you go and vomit, let me just say that it doesn’t have to be this way. You can treat plantar fasciitis and even prevent it from happening in the first place. But what is plantar fasciitis and how does it happen?
What Is Plantar Fasciitis?
The plantar fascia is a sheet of tendon that runs from the heel of the foot all the way up to the toes. This tendon is very rugged and helps to stabilize the foot. Ironically though, this tendon is not just isolated to the foot. The plantar fascia is actually part of the achilles tendon. As we all know the achilles tendon is the insertion point for the gastrocnemius (calf) muscle. If the calf gets too tight, then this tension will eventually spread to the plantar surface on the bottom of the foot. Resulting in eversion of foot.
When the foot becomes everted during our everyday walking patterns the arch collapses and this puts strain of the plantar fascia. If the athlete is conscious of his/her walking behavior, then they will try to compensate. This compensation usually results in a forced arch. This puts strain on the outside of the foot. In particular, the fibularis muscles. As a result the foot wants to evert even more. This continual wear and tear on the plantar surface leads to the dreaded plantar fasciitis. To make matters worse performing explosive and ballistic movements, such as running, on a damaged plantar surface puts an enormous amount of strain on the plantar fascia.
In a nutshell, plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the plantar surface. Ask anybody who has plantar fasciitis and they will tell you that it is very painful. Adding to injury it also takes a long time to heal as well. Unlike any other area of the body the feet are placed under constant stress. If you punch a hole in the wall and bust up your hand, your hand will still heal quicker than most injuries in your foot would. So now that we know what plantar fasciitis is, what exactly causes it?
What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?
We already discussed how tight calf muscles can cause eversion of the foot. But let us remember that the human body is one giant organism trying to work in unity. So this problem may be displaying itself in your calves but in actuality it is really a problem in your hips. In particular, the glutes.
If the glutes do not fire properly the hips are going to be set in a bad position. Usually the most common problem is anterior pelvic tilt. Anterior pelvic tilt is when the pelvis is trapped in a forward tilted position. This forward position results in individuals placing unneeded pressure on the balls of their feet. The calf muscle will get very tight from doing this. Also if the glutes are not firing properly, then the foot will tend to over-pronate and the arch will collapse. Runners who have knee valgus and lifters whose knees cave in during squats usually have weak glutes.
Posture is a key player in both treating and preventing plantar fasciitis. But the glutes are ultimately the real underlying problem. When people sit down for too long, the glutes get amnesia and the body forgets how to use them. This sets the mechanics of many overhead and lower body movements, the squat in particular, into shambles. Sitting all day and then performing hardcore plyometrics is definitely an accident waiting to happen.
Since we know that plantar fasciitis is something that has its origins up high in the hips it should be fairly obvious that this is not something that is going to go away overnight. In fact, this is going to take weeks or even months depending on how much work you put into it. The first step is to assess your posture and perform glute activation exercises. This will help to address the actual problem and not just the symptoms.
The next step it to provide relief to the affected area. We want to roll out the plantar surface with a lacrosse ball, yoga tune up ball or Trigger Point foot roller. This will help to loosen up the achilles tendon which should be rolled next followed by the calves. Another neat little trick is to use a cold water bottle as a foot roller. The cold will reduce inflammation and the pressure will break up scar tissue. Now that we have most of the lower leg loosened up we need to stretch the achilles tendon. Grab a slant board or stand against a wall and stretch the hell out of your calves. Hold for at least 2-5 minutes on each leg.
Seems pretty simple right? Well, I wish you would only have to do this for a couple of days and it would just disappear, but unfortunately that is just not how this works. You are going to have to do these mobilizations and stretches EVERY DAY. Remember unlike any other area of our bodies we are bearing weight on our feet most of the day. So our feet need some down time to recover.
The Strassburg sock is only to be worn at night and when you are sleeping. The sock looks like pretty strange at first glance. It contains a big strap that wraps around your toes and pulls them up. This stretches the plantar surface when resting and sleeping in order to relieve tension on the plantar surface. Sounds crazy but trust me give it a shot.
KT Tape is also known as kinesiology therapeutic tape. This tape is very elastic and can be stretched more than its resting length. Applying this elastic like tape to an injured athlete will help provide pain relief for a large multitude of injuries. One of those injuries is also plantar fasciitis. If you have never used KT Tape before, the company provides free video tutorials on its website.
If you only choose one of these other options to treat plantar fasciitis, definitely go with new insoles. Many zero drop shoes will place a huge amount of stress on the plantar fascia and it takes the body a long time to adapt to these types of shoes. Insoles will help to solve this problem. If you already have plantar fasciitis, then the insoles will help provide instant relief to your feet. What you want to look for is strong arch support WITH heel support. 80% of plantar fasciitis cases are proximal, meaning they are near the heel. So heel support is a must. My personal preference for insoles is Superfeet.