Plantar fasciitis - the importance of stretching
When you look at the cross-section of folks who have plantar fasciitis, what you'll come to recognize is that this particular demographic is a group of people who are active, middle-aged and just a tad overweight. So why is this particular group of folks prone to plantar fasciitis? There's actually a couple of reasons, but let's focus in on the calf as one of the primary contributing factors in the onset of plantar fasciitis.
If you've read any of my previous blog posts about plantar fasciitis, you'll come to see plantar fasciitis as an over-use syndrome. An over-use syndrome is simply a condition that results from repetitive activity that your body cannot heal from in a reasonable amount of time. What's a reasonable amount of time? In most cases, this time period will be the 24hr cycle we call our day. Stress/work is applied to the foot by day and we rest at night. If you can't repair by morning, you're prone to plantar fasciitis.
As we age we tend to lose tissue elasticity. Tissue elasticity is the ability of tissue to bear load, create action and heal in that 24 hr cycle. Teenagers have such high tissue elasticity and heal so quickly, you'll never see a teenager with plantar fasciitis. Old folks, even though they have low tissue elasticity, aren't active enough to generate the load needed to cause plantar fasciitis. But middle-aged folks are prime targets. They're active and losing tissue elasticity.
Calf stretches, whether performed hanging off the edge of a step, leaning against a wall or standing on a stretching block all accomplish the same thing. With serial stretches over the course of the day (six/day), the calf will become more limber and regain a bit of its' original tissue elasticity. Remember that it's the calf muscle that's stretching. The Achilles tendon and plantar fascia are tissues that are inelastic and cannot stretch. So focus on the calf.
Does calf stretching help heal plantar fasciitis? Yes, very much so. With a program of calf stretches and heel lifts, I see in my office that 7/10 folks respond to the degree that they no longer need care.
So get to stretching. Stretching is considered the single most important aspect of care in newly diagnosed cases of plantar fasciitis.
Jeffrey A. Oster, DPM