Plantar Fascia Ligament: Its Role In Foot Health And Mobility
The average adult person takes between 5,000 and 10,000 steps each day. In order for this activity to be pain-free, it’s essential that all parts of the feet are in healthy working order. The plantar fascia ligament is one of the most important elements of the foot’s structure; when it is overused, strained, or injured through repetitive stress or a sudden blow, the daily activities of standing, walking and running can be disrupted with acute or chronic pain. This article provides a simple explanation of the plantar fascia ligament’s role in your health and mobility, and identifies factors that can put this important ligament at risk.
What Is The Plantar Fascia Ligament?
It’s often useful to start by breaking down the meaning of an anatomical phrase. Plantar means ‘foot’ and fascia means ‘band’. Thus, the plantar fascia ligament is a band of tissue located in the foot, spanning the arch from heel to ball along the sole. The bottom of the foot actually has two major ligaments: the long plantar ligament and short plantar ligament. The ligament generally referred to as the “plantar fascia ligament” is the long plantar. A healthy plantar fascia ligament is strong enough to support the arch and elastic enough to bear the impact of the spring of your walk. The ligament should be able to flex within a narrow range of motion; if conditions are present that increase this range of motion beyond what is normal, painful health problems can result.
How Does The Plantar Fascia Ligament Work?
It may be helpful to imagine the Plantar Fascia as a piece of elastic. When you take a step, the toes and ball of your foot impact the ground first. The elastic ligament stretches as the ball touches the ground, lengthening the arch of the foot. Take a slow, exaggerated step if you would like to feel this stretching action. Then settle your heel down. As you lift your other heel for a second step, you are striking a balance with your toes and ball. The arch is poised in mid-air and is being supported by the strong tissue of the plantar fascia ligament until the heel comes to earth. As you can see, the plantar fascia offers both stretch and support, as well as bearing some of the weight of your body.
Putting The Plantar Fascia Ligament Health At Risk
When overuse, heavy wear and tear, or injuries require the plantar fascia to function beyond what is normal, painful health problems can result. Risk factors for injuring your plantar fascia include the following:
- Wearing improper, ill-fitting footwear: Poorly fitting footwear is one of the most common causes of plantar fascia injuries. Shoes should always be chosen for their arch support, proper fit that keeps the foot from sliding around without pinching the toe box, and a thick cushioned sole— rather than fashion!
- Sudden weight gain: Extra weight, whether from pregnancy, illness, or other factors places a lot of extra stress on your feet. If you’ve gained weight, give your feet special consideration. If possible or when ideal, reduce the strain on your feet by losing weight.
- Excessive or very intense exercise: You can have too much of a good thing, when it comes to exercise. While all adults should make time for moderate physical activity, an extreme sports regimen or lots of high-impact exercise can lead to injury of the plantar fascia. Be sure you are balancing high-impact activities like running, jumping, and basketball with adequate periods of rest each day, icing, and stretching to keep your feet strong and flexible.
- Long hours on your feet: Spending long hours on your feet can place a lot of stress on your plantar fascia. If you have a job that involves lots of standing without rest breaks, this may be difficult to prevent (see below for some solutions to help protect your feet).
- Gait problems: An unusual gait that results from anatomical abnormalities or injuries can cause the foot to roll inward or outward too much with each step. The normal aging process can likewise result in reduced elasticity that affects your gait and puts too much strain on your plantar fascia.
How to Protect the Plantar Fascia Ligament
Given the central role this band of tissue plays in each step you take, it’s vitally important to do all you can to keep it healthy. With a good understanding of your own unique risk factors for injury and some basic knowledge of how to properly support your plantar fascia, you can help keep it healthy and strong:
- Wear supportive shoes. Choose shoes with a thick, cushioned sole, good arch support, and the right fit lengthwise and widthwise. You’ll want to shop for shoes at the end of the day, since feet swell slightly throughout the day while you walk and move. Buying shoes at the beginning of the day can result in an improper fit.
- Rest your feet. If your job requires a lot of standing or walking, make a dedicated effort to rest with your feet up for twenty minutes, twice during breaks in your workday. This will help your plantar fascia rest and rebound, without becoming overstrained.
- Ice your heels. When you do notice redness, swelling, or pain in your heels you can use ice to bring down pain and inflammation. Ice your feet while you rest, and at the end of the day for 10-15 minutes.
- Stretch. Stretching can help keep your plantar fascia limber, flexible, and resistant to injury. Stretching can also help break up scar tissue from micro-injuries and promote better blood circulation. Do plantar fascia ligament stretches each day whenever possible.
- Use orthotic inserts. If you notice heel pain, or have several risk factors for plantar fasciitis, you can wear shoe inserts specifically designed to treat Plantar Fasciitis. Heel Seats are clinically-proven to provide relief from heel pain while treating its underlying cause. Heel seats cushion painful heels while re-aligning a damaged, flattened arch to just the right level.
Plantar Fasciitis: The Number One Plantar Fascia Malady
Podiatrists cite Plantar Fasciitis as the most common cause of heel pain in adults. In this condition, the plantar fascia ligament flexes beyond a normal range of motion or is subject to stress from high impact activities. Repeated often enough, this stress and repetitive motion can lead to small tears in the tissue, deterioration of the fatty heel pad, and inflammation. Heel spurs often develop in conjunction with Plantar Fasciitis as the body creates hard calcium deposits in an effort to fortify the weakened plantar fascia ligament.
Fortunately, the majority of Plantar Fasciitis cases (about 90%) can be resolved without medications or surgery, using the conservative treatments mentioned above.
If your plantar fascia ligament has developed problems, it’s important to act quickly and consistently. Delaying conservative treatment can mean a long road to recovery, or more invasive medical treatments down the road. Given the central role your plantar fascia ligament plays in so many daily activities, make sure you give it the attention and support it requires!