Feel Good Friday: Care For Your Feet

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 and feet 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 wimg_0548as 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.

img_5434I 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.

img_5439There 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.

img_5441Now 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!

Feel Good Friday: Half Kneeling Front Foot Elevated Quad Stretch

For this week’s Feel Good Friday I wanted to share  one of my favorite stretches that I personally use often post run. This is a great stretch for anyone from athletes to someone that may spend a lot of time sitting, where certain muscles can become lengthened and under active while other muscles can become tight or constricted and over active.

This stretch is one that I have tinkered with. In years past I had performed this stretch with the rear foot elevated. Now however since I have become a runner and my hip flexors or psoas can get tight I like to elevate the front foot on a cardio step. I find that when I rock forward not only do I feel the stretch in the quadriceps I am actively stretching but I can also feel it in one or both of my hip flexors and sometimes my groin as well. It can just depend upon how tight I am

While there are many differing studies of just how much if any benefit stretching has I still find time to stretch post run or strength training. So if you are rushed this is a great stretch to hit a couple different areas and muscles at once. For this reason I find this version to be a great bang for your buck stretch.

I also am a big fan since you can control the degree of stretch of both your psoas or hip flexors by how far you rock forward, as well the degree of stretch of your quads. Again based on how far toward your glutes you pull your foot.

One last thing before we wrap up this week’s Feel Good Friday. I would not suggest doing this stretch if you have knee issues. For one, kneeling on your knees can be uncomfortable to some even with a mat or pad underneath. Also the quad stretch can put a lot of shear on the knee of the quad being stretched.


TENS Unit Use For Recovery and Pain Managment

Most people will experience some type of ache or pain during training. Whether that be with weights, running, etc, it just sometimes happens. There are many ways to treat these pains. There is the traditional R.I.C.E, or rest, ice, elevation, compression, elevation. There are also anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen but can have side effects. There are also natural anti-inflammatories such as turmeric, fish oil, etc.

There is one a little less referenced and written about modality that I like to use and that is employing the use of a TENS unit. This is a pretty simple recovery tool that is available to many. I have used three different units over the years and they are easily purchased online from place like Amazon.  Multiple days of running in a row can sometimes bother my knee a bit. It is a leftover reminder of my softball and base ball days. (yes base ball two words in 1864 which is the rules we played by. Long story).

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It is commonly used to treat both chronic and acute pain. The unit has pads that are hooked up usually to a battery operated hand held unit and placed at the site of the pain. There are certain placements based on the body part. The unit then sends electric current from the unit to the pads. There are different settings you can use. I tend to use the pulse burst setting. I also tend to set the intensity high but you can control that yourself from the TENS unit.

The TENS unit has a couple ways in which it can help with pain, whether acute or chronic. The first way is by exciting sensory nerves. By doing this it will help activate certain natural pain relief mechanisms of your body. This can promote the release of endorphins.

Another way it can also help is by bringing increased blood flow to the area. Certain areas of the body, for example a knee joint, do not have a lot of blood flow as certain muscles may have, the TENS unit can help to increase blood circulation there and help promote healing. It can also increase range of motion as studies have shown this treatment can help to increase range of motion by decreasing joint stiffness.

A third way in which may help is that the electronic pulses can intercept the message of pain the nerves are sending to the brain, thereby reducing pain.

This type of treatment is not for everyone. Not everyone enjoys the feeling. In certain areas you require a prescription for one. Also many websites say women who are pregnant should not use, nor those with pacemakers. Each website will have similar guides and suggestions.

I am currently using the Pro V from IQ Technologies. I have also used another one made by HealthMate Forever, and have been happy with both. I do also feel the results and benefits right after each treatment. This is just one way help to speed and increase my recovery, in conjunction with ice, anti-inflammatories etc. You might want to give it a try and see how it helps you deal with any injuries or aches and pains.