There is a new buzz word on the medical/ fitness front lately (and by lately I mean the last 5-10yrs)… You may have heard lots of people talking about it:  Plantar Fasciitis.  It’s everywhere. You can hardly pick up a fitness magazine or browse through a running website without reading the story of someone who is experiencing the symptoms. The truth is; I don’t think this problem is any worse now than it ever was – it’s just that people are able to self-educate and discuss their aches and pains on the internet these days. It’s not that the problem is more prevalent, it is just that it is more visible.

The term Plantar Fasciitis sounds like a sophisticated and confusing issue (read my annoyance about medical jargon here) – but it is actually pretty simple. Plantar means “the bottom surface of your foot” and Fascia is another word for connective tissue.  Any time you ever hear doctors using a word that ends in –itis, it indicates a body part that is inflamed and painful. So don’t get intimidated by Plantar Fasciitis, it really just means that the bottom of your foot hurts.

The trademark of Plantar Fasciitis is sharp stabbing pain in the bottom of your foot, especially during the first few steps of the day or after you have been sitting for a while. The most common area of fascia pain is right around the base of the heel, but it could also hurt along the arch or in the middle of the foot as well.

Let’s take a quick look at the anatomy involved:

The plantar fascia is a big web of tough fibers that span the length of your foot from the heel to ends of your toes. It is also called the Plantar Aponeurosis, or the Plantar Ligament.

The purpose of the Plantar Fascia is to support your foot. It has an elastic quality that allows it lengthen when you put weight on your foot and shorten back to original dimensions when at rest. Sort of like the surface of a trampoline. Without the Plantar Fascia, your arch would collapse and your foot would not be nearly as effective at absorbing shock. (The picture below is included not because I think you don’t understand the concept of a trampoline, but because it is hilarious.)

 There are 2 main reasons why people develop Plantar Fasciitis:

1.       Tug of war

Your Plantar Fascia is can be thought of as just an extension of your Achilles tendon. The Achilles is a big strong, impressively thick tendon that attaches to back of your heel. It is the connection between the muscles of your calf (Gastrocnemius and Soleus) and your foot. When your calf muscles tighten, they pull up on your Achilles, which lifts your heel off the ground.  If your calf muscles are too tight (and this is VERY common), it is almost as if they are playing tug of war with your Plantar Fascia by stretching it aggressively across the arch.

2.       Too much, too soon

Another factor that can contribute to fascia pain is when your foot is being forced to absorb too much shock.  It is very common for Fasciitis to develop in people who have suddenly increased or changed their activity level in the last few months. Another culprit can be recent weight gain. Our bodies are intended to adapt slowly to changes, if you suddenly decide that you are a marathon runner or if you gain a quick 10lbs you may have just upset your skeletal system’s delicate balance.

Really, both triggers of Plantar Fascia problems end up amounting to the same thing: the annoying aching pain that you are feeling is your warning sign that your fascia is starting to fail. The constant strain has begun to produce little rips and tears that will soon jeopardize its integrity.  Actually, the connective tissue in your body rips exactly the same way as the knees of your old jeans. First, the individual fibers are weakened by too much stress.  Then, one thread at a time begins to break.  As each string gives way, those around it have to bear more of the load. The damaged area spreads quickly unless something is done to stop it.

So how can you stop Plantar Fasciitis? Well, it is going to take me a few posts to explain all the options.  Not to leave you hanging by a thread (ha ha), but this is an important issue and I want to make sure that I explain things thoroughly. In the meantime, pay attention to your feet. It is a lot easier to prevent fasciitis than it is to recover from it.

Walk well!

Pictures from:

http://home.comcast.net/~wnor/soleoffoot.htm

http://www.saveyourjoints.com/mini-rebounder.php

http://www.gla.ac.uk/ibls/US/fab/tutorial/anatomy/sole2.html

http://www.ehow.com/how_5490184_patch-rippedtorn-jeans.html

http://sportsmedicine.about.com/b/2007/01/05/new-stretch-decreases-plantar-fasciitis-pain.htm

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