The start of marathon season is swiftly approaching. And by now, you’re likely deep into your training if you’re planning to compete in a 26.2 mile race this fall. As you pack on more long-distance runs, it’s entirely possible that you may be experiencing some aches and pains at this point.
One of the most-common issues distance runners face is plantar fasciitis—in fact one in 10 people will develop plantar fasciitis at some point, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Among the groups most-likely to experience it are athletes, specifically runners and jumpers, due to the high-impact, weight-bearing, repetitive nature of both activities.
Typically, plantar fasciitis presents as a stabbing pain in the heel. It can also feel like soreness in the sole or tenderness (like you have a bruise on the bottom of your foot). Swelling is another symptom that often occurs in tandem with these sensations.
Aside from repetitive, high-impact movements, decreased strength and endurance in the muscles that help support the foot arches is another issue that can lead to plantar fasciitis. While you’re likely familiar with the inner arch (or medial longitudinal arch), which runs from the base of your big toe to your heel, you may be surprised to learn that there are two other arches in your feet as well. The lateral longitudinal arch runs from base of pinky toe to heel, and the transverse arch runs from the base of your big toe across to your pinky toe. Together they form a tripod, which is the most stable, grounded base of support from which you can move.
Between these three arches, we store 17 percent of our mechanical energy. So they’re like little springs that propel us forward, and without that spring, we lose the ability to have good, mobile, stable function of the foot when we’re doing things like walking, running, and jumping. We need a sense of give with the stability in our arches. And a lot of that depends on the condition of your plantar fascia.
What is plantar fascia?
Plantar fascia is the main ligament, or band of flat tissue, in our foot. And it connects the heel bone to the front of the foot kind of like a tension bridge. Its purpose and function is to provide support and shock absorption.
When it’s working optimally, our plantar fascia should engage and lift when we lift our big toe up. So, if you were to use your fingers to pick up your big toe, you should see the inner arch of your foot lift as the plantar fascia tightens. This is called the “Windlass Mechanism,” and is a consideration when working through plantar fasciitis and focusing on foot performance efficiency for runners.
As a result, one of the best things you can do to prevent or recover from plantar fasciitis is strengthen and increase the mobility in your feet by increasing the range of motion in your big toe. But that’s only the beginning.
Try our 6-week strength and mobility program specifically designed to help you address or avoid plantar fasciitis
If your ultimate goal is to not just prevent or recover from plantar fasciitis, but to take a bit of the load off of your soles all together, then you really want to work on strengthening the muscles and joints farther up the kinetic chain too. Research suggests that runners suffering from plantar fasciitis had different landing patterns through their entire lower extremity than those who didn’t. Therefore, strengthening and learning how to move your entire leg during running can help offload your plantar fascia.
To do this, you’re going to want to strengthen your core, glutes, and hips in order to become a lighter lander. It’s a concept called chain expansion and one of the guiding principles of physiyoga. It’s true that all of these muscle groups and joints move on their own. But they’re also all connected with each other and work in tandem like a vast spider web.
When one part of the web moves, the other parts respond. So, in the case of plantar fasciitis, strengthening the muscles around the knees, hips, core, spine, including the calves, glutes, hamstrings and abdominals, provides more support, stability, and power through the web, enabling us to distribute force more effectively and efficiently throughout the body so that one part is not overworking or underworking.
We can’t promise that pounding the pavement will ever feel like running on clouds—one can only dream—but the combination of increased mobility in your feet, and more lower-body and core strength, can help you go the distance this marathon season with more power and less pain.