Must have been early 2007 when my right foot started to complain about holding me up. This was something new and extremely disconcerting: my physical connection to the ground no longer dependable. If you’re alive and weight bearing on this gravity-infused planet, there’s a likelihood you know this one: pain emanating from the sole of the foot. Starts with a little twinge, a random ache here and there, a curiosity. Then it starts to get louder. Wow, first step out of bed exquisitely painful, easing a bit as it warms up. When it never really goes away, when it begins to haunt your every move…well now it has your attention. It can be very shaky ground.
You want to know what it is and how to get rid of it. These days we seek help from a variety of sources. We Google it (is that a verb now?), talk to friends, maybe eventually seek treatment from a GP, chiropractor, acupuncturist, podiatrist, physical therapist, massage practitioner, sports medicine doctor. Each of these experts look through a particular lens to determine a course of treatment.
Speaking from a place of experience, I venture that the overwhelming winner in the diagnosis department will be plantar fasciitis. The single most common answer you’ll receive to “what it is”. On the “how to get rid of it” front, most of these practitioners will focus on where the pain is: the bottom of the foot. Depending on their training, they’ll prescribe anti-inflammatory, cold, heat, massage, walking boot, night splint, expensive shoes, orthotics. I know this because I see folks after they have done many of these things with limited or no success.
And because in 2007, I limped along this same journey. I used my own skilled hands to dig into and massage plantar fascia, took meds, experimented with support, rested as much as possible, found every which way to dance on one foot. After a couple months I went to a physical therapist, a specialist in foot treatment. Did he treat the bottom of my foot where the pain was? No. I couldn’t believe how dense I had been in my self-care. My treatment day is full of releasing body structures that are pain-free and tight AND are responsible for creating pain in a related region. Can I repeat that? Pain-free and tight. With all I knew, why had I limited my investigation to the plantar fascia?
Well, I stopped being hard on myself and just soaked up his beautiful and extremely painful wisdom. He unzipped this black pouch and took out a plastic tool that looked like a meat tenderizer. And then he began to apply that demon implement to my inner shin in deep sweeping strokes, breaking up some very rigid connective tissue. Remember “pain-free and tight”? I had no idea that this shin tightness had been present and was causing the foot pain. It took about five minutes of extremely heavy breathing on my part but when I stood up, the foot pain was much better.
My inner leg? It turned black and blue over the next couple days and, when it recovered, I followed up with my own digging. Not on the sole of the foot, but in the posterior tibialis which (duh) sends all it’s tendons to the bottom of the foot. The plantar fascia is just a cover up for an extremely rich tendinous region down there. All of those tendons originate from muscles in the lower leg. My recovery did not end with just the release of course. The principles of loose, long and strong are the foundation of a full healing journey. I learned not only to consistently loosen up the tight tissue, but also how to stretch it accurately and strengthen it too.
Over this last decade I have treated many of your feet, rarely finding it necessary to dig into the sole. I also don’t need to use any demon tools. My thumbs are good enough…and so are yours. Sometimes we need help figuring out exactly where to apply that pressure, how to lengthen with specificity and how to strengthen. If you need help, please contact me. A single session can get you going in the right direction.
And there are general principles that apply across the board to all of our feet. To that end, I created the upcoming three hour workshop at It’s All Yoga, Feet First . Maybe your foot hurts right now, maybe you’re AOK but this pesky foot thing periodically crops up, maybe you are just curious about how to prevent this challenging and universal problem. Come get educated and inspired on Sunday afternoon November 13. Those tootsies will love you for it.