Apparently 1 in 10 people will develop some kind of plantar fasciitis in their lifetime! That's 10% of the whole population - CRAZY!
The human body evolved over thousands and thousands of years and so you would think it would have given us the best possible tools for us to walk around on. Humans evolved to become the best natural-born runners of any species on the planet and we all know we need, strong, mobile, active feet to help us run to our best ability.
Back in the days of hunter-gatherers, if you couldn't run, you either starved to death or got eaten. Pretty simple really. We were given big butts, thick achilles tendons, strong, mobile feet for a reason - to make us the best running machines! Evolution was even clever enough to allow humans the ability to naturally sweat to help auto-regulate our temperatures as we stalked our prey, to the point where we would actually run the prey to death.
Fast forward a few thousand years and a lot of us can't walk or run further than 100metres without breaking down. I'm sure evolution didn't suddenly stop working, so WE are obviously doing something wrong. On average, every year, 65-85% of runners get injured - knee pain, heel pain, back pain, torn hamstrings, tight calves, plantar fasciitis etc.
The funny thing is, these injuries only started getting worse once the modern-day running shoe was invented back in the 1970s. Shoe companies started putting all kinds of strange and new technology into their shoes and did an AMAZING job at marketing them to the population. Just look at Nike Air Jordans!!
Over time, shoes have become smaller, thicker, stiffer and are all about fashion, instead of their function. When you go to buy a pair of jeans, you don't get a size too small that stops you from being able to walk normally, do you?? Well, this is exactly what the majority of us are doing with our feet. We cram our toes into small toe boxes that go to a point at the end and then we wear these coffins for the majority of our day, putting all kinds of limitations on our feet. Add in a heel raise, stability control, arch support, cushions, carbon fibre plates - the list goes on and on about all this crazy new technology which does no benefits to us at all. The more technology that is put into a shoe, the more removed our natural feet our taken away from their primary jobs.
The main reason we wear shoes is for protection from the elements. Think about how we protect our eyes from the sun - we wear sunnies! We don't wear blindfolds. Basically, when you wear a shoe with any kind of cushioning or thick soles, you are putting blindfolds on your feet, not sunnies. Our feet are sensory kings and their main job is to send messages up to the brain about the terrain we are walking on, helping the brain work out what kind of posture we need, balance, proprioception and muscle tone for the given task.
Your plantar fascia should only contract at two stages of the walking cycle - as you toe-off and again when you put your foot back on the ground - The fascia stiffens up to help create a rigid structure to support the load as you walk.
Now, take out your running shoe, casual shoe or work shoe and place it on a flat surface. You will probably notice with the majority of shoes, the toe box at the front will be sitting up off the ground. This is known as the "toe spring". This was designed in shoes to "help" you walk along without getting stuck. Most shoes are very stiff and rigid and if they were flat on the ground, you would not be able to fully extend your toes to aid in your walking. So the toe spring basically allows you to continuously rock through the walking motion. BUT, this may seem to help with your walking, however because of this toe spring, your toes are constantly in a state of extension and at no point gets to relax in its natural state of being flat. With this toe extension, it will contract your plantar fascia. Try it for yourself - take your shoes and socks off, standing flat on the ground, just extend your toes and you will feel the bottom off your feet contract. Now try and hold that position for as long as possible - eventually, your toes and plantar will start to fatigue and you will need to rest them. Inside a shoe, they can't rest because the shoe is too rigid to push back to the floor.
Now, that's just the issue at the front of the shoe! Go along to the back and you will most likely find a heel raise of some kind - anywhere from a few mm's to 10cm!! So you are now walking around on ramps all day long! Add this to the constant toe extension, you are now putting even more pressure on the plantar fascia.
Give this one a go - standing barefoot, flat on the ground - extend your toes up and now lift your heels off the ground! I guarantee 99% of people will not be able to hold that for longer than 10 seconds. This is the position your feet are in all the time you are wearing these kinds of shoes. The plantar fascia is being pulled on from both directions so no wonder it gets all gnarly and inflamed. Did you also feel your calves and achilles tighten up as you were in this position?? With the heel raise, your calves and achilles are now in a constant shortened position and will never be able to work to their full range of motion. This is one of the main causes of heel spurs as the tissue either side of your heel (plantar fascia and calf/achilles) are super tight and pulling against each other. Something has to give and so the brain works out that it needs to develop these heel spurs to make you do something about it!
Spend years and years in shoes like this and no wonder it feels impossible to walk barefoot because you have basically conditioned your body and brain to be in this unnatural position. The moment you try to go barefoot, your brain sends all the PAIN signals to make you stop!!
Every human has the right and has the tools to be barefoot and actually enjoy being barefoot. Kids HATE wearing shoes and try getting them off the moment they are forced on. What's the first thing you do when you get home from a day of work - take off your shoes and go aaahhhhh, that's better!
Plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, and other foot pain are very debilitating but there is always a path back to pain-free feet. It can be a long journey but anyone can get there if they are willing to put the work in. You are basically trying to change years and years of poor conditioning and stiffening of your feet. Covering up the pain with orthotics, arch supports, splints, cushioned shoes are NEVER the answer. Yes, they may give you a short-term relief of pain but never a long-term fix. Cushioned shoes and orthotics can cause all kinds of other problems upstream in the knees, hips, and backs.
My biggest advice for anybody suffering from these types of pain is to seek out a therapist who actively promotes being barefoot, and looks after their body. More and more podiatrists are becoming more "barefoot" and moving away from prescribing orthotics.
For more information on how to help manage and prevent further pain, give these guys a follow on Facebook or Instagram and start reading up on it all. We have been given so much dribble over the years on what the best practice is to help with these injuries, but nothing helps better than actually trying to understand it for yourself. Keep your mind open for new ideas and practices as this might just send you on the right path to pain-free.
If you have any other questions or need help on certain exercises, please email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Magic Mick 👌