I’ve had my own personal bouts with plantar fasciitis over the years. I thought it would be interesting to look at my own experience with the condition and how we look at it from a yoga therapy perspective.
What exactly is plantar fasciitis? “Plantar” refers to the place in the foot, often just before heel, where the fascia becomes irritated or torn. Fascia is the fibers interwoven in and around muscles, and they actually connect throughout the body. In plantar fasciitis, the fascia on the bottom of the foot often becomes tight and then slightly tears. And you can take it from me, it can be very painful.
You might be thinking to solve this problem, one just needs to stretch the fascia in the foot, right? Sort of. Don’t forget that the fascia is already torn and/or irritated, so just yanking on it to stretch it might do more harm than good.
It’s important to know that the fascia on the bottom of the foot attaches to the fascia in the heel, which attaches through the calf and finally into the hamstring — in other words, all the way up the back of the leg.
In my case, I had a tight left hamstring. The tightness in my hamstring had a domino effect down to the fascia in my foot. So, just stretch the hamstrings, right?! Not quite. The reason my hamstring was tight is because it was also weak! It might be surprising, but a MUSCLE CAN BE BOTH TIGHT AND WEAK. If the muscle is weak, it can underperform, causing the muscle to ultimately tighten.
Everyone is different, but someone with a similar condition would want to try the following: First, warm the entire fascial train of the back of the leg by moving and breathing. I can’t overstate how important it is to warm the fascia and muscles before doing anything else. From there, strengthen the hamstring by holding specific yoga poses like bridge or half-locust (often one-legged). Then systematically use gentle, but long held yoga poses to stretch the hamstring, then the calf, and finally the fascia on the bottom of the foot.
(I should also note that the moving and breathing can help decrease the pain by calming the nervous system and “localizing” the pain by helping you notice exactly where the pain is coming from. And moving and breathing is what yoga is all about!)
It might be surprising, but a MUSCLE CAN BE BOTH TIGHT AND WEAK. If the muscle is weak, it can underperform, causing the muscle to ultimately tighten.
The key is to know if you have tight or weak muscles — or both. One way to find that out is by working with a yoga therapist who can muscle test you (move you around and apply some pressure to test your strength and range of motion). From there, you can address the root of the issue.
A yoga therapist can also tell you if you have flat feet, another culprit with plantar fasciitis, by looking at the position of your achilles tendons. In that case, some arch support might be in order. I put inserts in my slippers I wear around the house to help with that and I also work on alignment and strength in my feet in my yoga practice. Additionally, I massage my own feet before bed to keep the fascia hydrated. But neither of those will address the long term problem discussed above.
If you are suffering from plantar fasciitis or another painfully chronic issue, contact me and we can discuss if yoga therapy will help.
Joe Simek is a Certified Yoga Therapist, 500-Hour Level Yoga Teacher, and Co-owner of Dragonfly Yoga Studio. Joe has been practicing yoga for more than a decade, using the wisdom of the teachings to lose weight, get sober, and abandon the corporate grind. In 2012, he formalized his yoga education, completing Dragonfly’s 200 HR Yoga Teacher Training. Joe went on to study Yoga Therapy and Peaceful Weight Loss Through Yoga with Brandt Passalacqua of Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapy (where he is now a Teaching Assistant) and Advanced Vinyasa Yoga with Rolf Gates. In 2016, Joe co-founded The Fiaria Project, a non-profit organization that aids foster children. He is also the frontman of Destroy It Up, an indie rock music project inspired by yoga philosophy. Joe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Arizona State University.