Since last April it seems my family is being cursed with ankle and foot injuries. First it was my wife and her broken ankle and then this summer my foot/ankle was injured and finally the last couple weeks my oldest daughter had been fighting off an ankle injury from soccer. Fortunately for my family and I we do not believe in curses. The next step then is to treat the ankle from the ground up.
One of the strength coaches, whom I follow, said and I paraphrase, “When there is an injury do not just look at the area injured. Look above and below the injury when trying to discern the cause of the injury.”
So when treating or pre-habbing (hopefully we avoid rehab) I look to the bottom of the foot first. We start at the bottom of the foot because that is where the back fascial line begins. First let us take a quick look at what is fascia. I do not want to get too scientific but a quick introduction to fascia will help as you read the rest of the article and see how you can benefit from the exercises.
The fascia is basically a connective tissue made up from bundled up collagen fibers. The fascia envelops a muscle and can affect how our muscles are functioning and thus can affect our posture. If there is tension in one area such as in our example the base of the foot and the start of the back fascial line begins, then it could have implications further up the line. There have even been links to headaches being caused by lower extremity issues all the way down into the foot.
The back fascial line travels up from the plantar fascia (the bottom of the foot), then up the calves through the Achilles tendon and gastrocnemius, where it then passes through the biceps femoris (hamstrings), then the sacrotuberous ligament on your “sit bones”, through the lumbar spine, and then finally ends its trip at the base of the skull then stopping at the top of the head to your eyebrows.
It is no wonder with how many areas of your body the back line fascia travels that it can cause a multitude of injuries. From plantar fasciitis, to Achilles tendonitis, tight or injured hamstrings, low back pain, neck pain, and even vison and breathing issues, among some others, how important it is to take care of the fascia in your feet.
Now that we have gone over what fascia is and how any injury or issue with it can cause injuries or problems let us now look at a couple simple things you can do at home to treat yourself. We are still thinking prehab before rehab. Believe me the latter will be longer and much more frustrating.
As a runner I know my feet can take a pounding even when I focus on landing softly and not heel striking. While I was dealing with my own ankle injury I would spend between 10-20 minutes per day post run doing an ice bath. I would suggest watching TV, reading a book, or having your phone close as a distraction. The first five minutes can be pretty tough but I felt it really made a difference and once I started using the ice bath I feel my recovery increased.
Another form of self-treatment and care is self-myofascial release or SMFR. http://www.on-your-marc.com/dynamic-stretching-foam-rolling/ I am sure many of you have used or at least seen someone using a foam roll. I like to perform SMFR on my feet prior to running as a way to wake the feet up and get them ready to run. The foot has a few large nerves, but as with the palms it has many more small nerves that are very sensitive, performing SMFR can help to wake them up.
I start off performing foot SMFR first using a tennis ball because at first it can be uncomfortable especially if you have never done it before. Then eventually we will move on to using a lacrosse ball which is much denser. After that we graduate to using a golf ball. The golf ball is much denser and being of a smaller diameter you can really pinpoint certain spots on your feet a lot more precisely. You can spend between 1-2 minutes per foot preferably before your other leg stretches.
There is also a great stretch you can do that would benefit anyone but runners can really get a lot from this. Sit carefully back on your glutes and tuck your toes under and you slowly and I repeat slowly, lean back and add some of your upper body weight back and more centered over your feet. You will try to hold this static stretch for at least 10 seconds. Eventually you can build up your time to 30 seconds and even up to 60 seconds. Some studies show no increased benefit from holding stretches over 30 seconds, so the length of your hold can be to your personal preference but should never hurt. I would also be careful doing this stretch if you have knee issues as the increased torque from having them bent under you can be painful.
Now that your feet are stretched out and ready to go yet another way you can help out those feet that are such hard workers and may be bearing the brunt of over 2x your bodyweight is to wear compressions socks. They can increase muscle firing and help reduce ground reaction forces that are so tough on everyone and not just runners.
I hope I gave you some tools in your arsenal to help keep not just your feet healthy but possible other body parts further up your back fascial line. As always happy and healthy running!