Foot pain can literally stop you in your tracks. But did you know it can also cause issues with your neck, shoulders, hips, knees and more?
If your feet hurt, chances are good you’re making subconscious (or completely on-purpose!) adjustments to your posture and movements—all in an effort to avoid pain. Even subtle shifts can push your body out of proper working alignment, which then affects your range of motion and puts your joints at risk of unnecessary wear and tear. Over time, that can lead to more aches, pains or even injuries… which can make it tough to stay consistent with your workouts and achieve long-term results.
So, let’s talk about a common cause of foot pain—a condition called plantar fasciitis. What exactly is it, what is it caused by and what can you do to help avoid it?
The What and Why of Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis affects more than two million Americans each year, causing pain in the bottom of the foot, typically just in front of the heel. Often, the pain is the most intense first thing in the morning and at the end of the day—particularly for people who spend a lot of time on their feet.
To understand how the condition develops, it’s helpful to know a bit about the biomechanics of walking. With every step we take, the weight of our body comes to rest first on our heel. As we move forward, the length of our foot begins to bear weight, and so it flattens—which puts pressure on the plantar fascia and causes it to pull where it attaches at our heel. That’s the way our feet are designed to work, so that “pull” isn’t typically a problem. The trouble happens only if our feet aren’t properly aligned. If they either roll out at the ankle, or in at the ankle, the plantar fascia tugs too strongly at the heel, which causes strain, inflammation, and pain. A lack of dorsiflexion—the ability to bend the ankle forward—can also cause a muscle imbalance that leads to uneven weight distribution and, therefore, plantar fasciitis.
Women are slightly more likely to develop plantar fasciitis, and additional risk factors include:
- Engaging in high-impact exercises, such as running.
- Gaining weight, particularly when it’s sudden because it puts extra strain on the plantar fascia.
- Having an active job that requires standing for a significant portion of the day.
- Pre-existing foot problems, such as high arches, flat feet or tight Achilles tendons.
- Wearing improper footwear.
Plantar fasciitis is also more common among older people, because the plantar fascia becomes more rigid over time, making it more prone to stress and injury.
It’s important to understand that plantar fasciitis doesn’t just affect your feet. The condition can cause your knees to roll inward and your feet to flatten, putting excess strain on your joints. The effect can also ripple up through your entire body, causing alignment issues from your knees, hips and back all the way up to your shoulders and neck, leading to other potential problems and pain. Similarly, postural issues or misalignment in the upper body can also work their way down, causing issues within the feet as well.
If you think you may have plantar fasciitis, be sure to contact your doctor for an expert diagnosis. It’s important to rule out other conditions that can cause foot pain, and only a physician is qualified to refer you to specific treatment recommendations.
3 Ways to Help Prevent Plantar Fasciitis
Whether you’re just starting an exercise plan or you’ve been working out for years, it’s important to work from the ground up. You’re more likely to avoid plantar fasciitis if you properly support, strengthen and stretch your feet.
#1: Support (and Provide Space For) Your Feet
Proper footwear is critical, and it’s not just about support. While you may think the right footwear needs to be supportive, it’s actually more important that your shoes be the right width. It’s important to have enough room in your shoes for your toes to spread out to help your feet distribute your weight evenly as you stand or walk. Narrow toe boxes (the area of your shoe that surrounds your toes) can also cause or worsen bunions, which are also common if your feet roll inward (or overpronate). Worse still are high heels, which shift your weight forward. Avoid shoes with too large of a heel, and choose ones that allow your toes to spread out so that your foot can work properly.
It is important to support your feet both inside and outside of your shoes. Focus on developing supportive strength and range of motion in the feet and ankles (see points #2 and #3 below). While orthotics or arch supports can offer temporary relief, but they’re not great long-term solutions. (Of course, be sure to follow any of your doctor’s guidelines and recommendations if you have been diagnosed with plantar fasciitis).
#2: Strengthen Your Feet
Exercises such as toe curls, towel toe grips, and ankle circles can all help develop more supportive strength in your feet.
Not sure how to do them or if you’ll be able to find time to fit them into your already tight workout time? We’ve got you covered! Our Walk Strong: 6 Week Total Transformation System includes many of these exercises and more into a schedule that’s easy to follow and designed to help prevent the aches, pains and stiffness that can occur over time in our shoulders, neck, back, knees, feet, and ankles, in our “Prehab Routine,” found exclusively in this program. We also have several barefoot sessions included in the program, all designed to help you work on moving with an even distribution of your body weight without the inhibition of shoes.
#3: Stretch Your Feet
Stretching the plantar fascia—the bottom of your foot—can help to restore range of motion and may help reduce pain. Stretching the calves, which can help improve dorsiflexion, is another effective preventive measure.
Watch for these stretches designed for your feet—and the rest of your body—in our “Dynamic Stretch” routine, also found exclusively in our Walk Strong: 6 Week Total Transformation System.
Plantar fasciitis can be painful and uncomfortable to deal with, but it’s treatable—and may even be preventable if you start taking action now.
Take Action: If you believe you may be suffering from plantar fasciitis, overpronation of your feet, ankles or knees, or any kind of major muscular imbalances or misalignment, be sure to contact a qualified professional for a diagnosis, personalized treatment plan and/or corrective exercise program.
For prevention, start incorporating some foot- and ankle-specific exercises and stretches into your weekly workout routine. But don’t just focus on your feet! Instead, strengthen your entire body evenly to avoid weaknesses or imbalances throughout the rest of your muscles, which can contribute to a higher risk for plantar fasciitis.
If you are looking for an at-home plan, be sure to check out our Walk Strong: 6 Week Total Transformation System, which offers a way to incorporate both foot/ankle exercises into a complete and balanced workout program that may also help to combat muscular imbalances and weakness.
This content is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. Be sure to consult with your physician or other health care provider with questions about your fitness goals.