We have all known someone with this condition, or had it ourselves. It is characterised by pain experienced in the soles of the feet, and often the heel. A web search reveals over 20,000,000 pages or sites that discuss the problem, and most canvas the range of available treatments from the medical perspective, including cortisone injections, stretching, calf muscle operations, special shoes, ice packs, massage; it’s a long list of options.
Here, I will share a range of techniques which we know from personal experience actually work. First, though, what is plantar fasciitis? Literally, this term means an inflammation or a hypersensitivity of the plantar fascia, the strong, thick tendon-like tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot, between the heel bone (calcaneus) to the tips of each toe, and the whole of the arch. The pain can be like a bruise, or it can feel like a red-hot poker pressing into the sole of the affected foot, or feet, and most people with the condition take the first few steps very gingerly when they first get out of bed in the morning. In extreme cases, even the sensation of the soles of the feet on carpet is painful. People with this problem feel they need to have something soft in between the soles of their feet, and whatever they are standing on. One of our teachers in Canberra had this condition so acutely she had to wear soft running shoes to class.
The paradox of plantar fasciitis is that one of its causes is the loss of stimulation to the fascia that is the inevitable accompaniment to softer and more comfortable shoes, which insulate us from the environment. Fascia contains all the nerve organs of the other tissues of the body, and in fact the proprioceptors and mechanoreceptors (sense organs) are most numerous in the soles of the feet (in the plantar fascia) and the palms of the hands (the palmar fascia). These two places are where all our body’s strength comes from (the feet) and where we apply that strength, through our hands as we do work on the world. The proprioceptive sense is extremely important and is critical to both balance and all movement and coordination. When the brain does not receive the information it is seeking (by wearing shoes, for example), it tries harder to feel what it needs to feel. Some people find that the soles of the feet become increasingly sensitive, and in the worst cases, full blown plantar fasciitis can be the result.
When my teacher came to me after class one day and I asked her about her need to wear shoes in a class that typically is done barefoot, she told me about her plantar fasciitis. She asked me if I know of any way of assisting this condition. I told her to recall the gravel paths in front of her house—and I said that she needed to learn to stand on the gravel in bare feet initially—at this point she cried out, “No!”—and, I continued, once she could stand on the gravel and relax there, to take a few gentle steps, and rest again on the gravel. She said strongly that there was no way that she would ever be able to do that, but to her credit she started to practice this every second day, and in a few months the problem had disappeared.
Now, I agree that my recommendation was pretty hard-core, but she was an ex-athlete and I was fairly sure that she would be able to take this on. She told me later that the first time she stood on the gravel, the next morning, the gravel felt like hot knives stabbing her feet, but the next time she tried the same practice, she was certain that the sensation had reduced somewhat. For the first two weeks (so six or seven practice sessions of only a few minutes each) all she did was stand there and try to let her feet go soft. The next weeks she repeated that practise but added a couple of very tentative steps. In six months, she was walking comfortably on the gravel and the plantar fasciitis was a dim memory. She remains free of this problem to this day.
Resources for your feet!
Below are links to a large amount of information, including videos, articles, and image carousels. Please file this email as a resource to work through over time – your feet will thank you for this 😻.
The list below contains all the various methods we have found to benefit plantar fasciitis, arranged roughly from the most gentle to the hardest. Definitely begin with the most gentle!
(If you are new to the Stretch Therapy system) Video: Stretch Therapy cues – to familiarise yourself with some language used in our system.
Video: Foot awakening sequence – this is a series of movements to soften the feet, including being able to spread the toes without cramping.
(An introduction to working with fascia) Video: RollStretch: a new way of working with fascia
Instagram carousel: Still images with text instructions about using a stick to roll the soles of the feet. You can use a hard ball, too. Olivia finds the stick more controllable which allows you to relax more, but some people like the ball because they feel it presses into different spots. Play!
Instagram carousel: Still images with text instructions about bending the toes, and various movements for the ankles.
Instagram carousel: Short videos showing some standing sequences to mobilise the toes, whole of the foot, and ankles.
Facebook image gallery: The link below will open at an image which shows how to soften your calves using a stick, and then a ball (11 images to show this, again with full text cues) – use the righthand arrow to navigate through the images.
Video: Using a stick to soften the calf muscle, but this time doing so while the calf muscles are under stretch.
Video: Foot and ankle mobilisation and stretching
Video: Anti-pronation stretching and strengthening exercise – many people have pronating ankles (you don't want this), and/or very weak calf muscles; this video addresses both of these things.
Instagram post: Working with fascia – a piece by Kit, and the comments also raise questions to which Kit has responded.
Wiki: Myofascial Release – lots of information, including extensive FAQs, articles, and videos.
Webpage: RollStretch | the explicit fascial part of Stretch Therapy – a short read about RollStretch, part of the Stretch Therapy system.