Nothing takes a pounding every day like your feet. And often they are neglected until the screaming starts in the form of foot pain. This may not be an easy philosophy to swallow but pain is the voice our bodies use to communicate with us and so rather than getting stressed out by it we may need to relax with our foot pain, listen to it and communicate as politely as possible. Of course, it is always recommended to get your doctor’s opinion as soon as possible. Research has shown that as many as 40% of patients continue to have plantar fasciitis pain 2 years after initial diagnosis.
Active listening is a strategy that is often applied in human communication and it can also be applied to interacting with our bodies. Listen carefully to how your body is making you feel, then dig deeper by open-ended questioning in your body’s language of touch, movement, relaxation, nutrition, hydration, stretching, exercise and balance. These are strategies that anyone with plantar fasciitis can apply and discuss with their doctor.
Plantar fasciitis is a complex problem that varies in its resolution among individuals, therefore it is important to take it seriously and begin the process of behavior modifications that are necessary to eliminate it.
Both my wife and I have recently had a bout of plantar fascia pain, and while my pain healed after a couple of weeks, her pain has not completely resolved over a couple of months. My wife is also a group fitness instructor and is on her feet much of the time which may add to the recovery time.
However, we both had pain on the right foot only, and because of this I surmised that the problem could potentially be one of foot dominance. That is, I realized that the problem could be caused by uneven loading and balance.
Foot and Feet Balance
The balanced loading of the foot has been described in, The Inner Structure of Tai Chi, by Mantak Chia. In Chapter 3 he states:
“A chair or table is most stable when its weight is equally supported by all four legs. Similarly, a person is most stable when the weight is evenly divided over the nine points of the foot. These nine points are the heel, the outer edge, the small ball, the large ball, and each of the five toes.”
I have often noticed, that while brushing my teeth or doing dishes, I place all my body’s weight on my right heel. I often do not hear my heel complaining until it cries, “Pain”. By becoming more mindful of my foot’s sensations (which we can consider as cellular voices), I have learned to readjust my weight to distribute it across the nine points of the foot. I have also learned to shift a balanced amount of weight to the left foot. In fact, since the right side often takes the full load unconsciously, I often compensate by consciously shifting the full load onto the left foot for a while. By using this strategy alone, I was able to eliminate my plantar foot pain in several weeks.
Of course, each person’s situation can be different. Some people have pain in both feet, indicating a more general systemic cause. Dr. Jonathan Axe recommends 4 strategies for healing plantar fasciitis. In a nutshell they are (see video for details):
- Deep tissue work / massage – rolling-pin or tennis ball
- Stretching – dorsiflexion and extension of foot
- Nutrition – magnesium, vitamin B5, C and fish oil / omega-3
- Strengthening foot muscles – barefoot exercises / barefoot shoes
Stretching and Strengthening
Dr. Andrew Weil recommends that you take a break from exercise activities that may be aggravating the condition. He quotes research indicating that plantar fasciitis may be caused by small tears rather than inflammation that weaken the fascia. The following exercise investigated by M. S. Rathliff, et al., (2014) in Denmark has been highlighted by Dr. Weil as a possible way of speeding the recovery from plantar fasciitis:
“stand barefoot with the affected foot on a stair or box. Place a rolled up towel under your toes and let your heel hang over the edge of the stair or box. The other leg should hang free, bent slightly at the knee. You then raise and lower the painful heel to a count of three, hold for two seconds and then lower for three seconds. You aim for 12 repetitions. When you can do these heel raises easily, you are supposed to fill a backpack with books and then do eight to 12 repetitions of the heel raises every other day while wearing the backpack.”
There are many different strategies and perspectives on plantar fasciitis that are worth learning about. For example, Dr. Scott A. Mills highlights that most people sleep with their foot in extension, which shortens the fascia. The fascia then begin to heal overnight in the shortened position and tear again in the morning when the person first gets out of bed. He recommends performing a series of stretches before loading the foot in the morning and also mentions that night splints may help for some people.
Foods that may help the healing process for plantar fasciitis given their nutrient content are:
- Rice bran, crude
- Pumpkin seeds, dried or roasted and seeds in general
- Legumes such as hyacinth and yardlong beans or soybeans
- Nuts such as brazil nuts, almonds or cashew nuts
- Grains such as quinoa and sorghum
- Green leafy vegetables such as spinach
” brewer’s yeast, corn, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, avocado, legumes, lentils, egg yolks, beef (especially organ meats such as liver and kidney), turkey, duck, chicken, milk, split peas, peanuts, soybeans, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, whole-grain breads and cereals, lobster, wheat germ, and salmon”
One of the richest vegetarian sources appears to be sunflower seeds with about 20% of the recommended daily value per ounce.
Vitamin C – required for the biosynthesis of collagen – Collagen is an essential component of plantar fascia, and is necessary for wound healing. A few whole-food sources are:
- 1 medium orange provides 117% of the recommended daily value (DV)
- 1/2 cup of red pepper (sweet, raw) provides 158% DV
- 1 medium kiwifruit provides 107% DV
Omega -3 fatty acids sources include flaxseed, walnuts and fish.
The Feet Have It
If you have foot pain, there is no time to lose in learning to tune in to your feet. Health begins with a foundation and the feet are often described as a mirror for the entire body. If your feet are already strong and symptom free – congratulations – but you may still want to begin improving your foot-communication in order to keep them happy and attended to in the years ahead. For now, dorsiflexion- extension and have good day!