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 thickened fibrous aponeurosis that originates from the medial tubercle of the calcaneus (heel bone) inserts on the metatarsal heads (ball of the foot) and then forms the fibrous flexor sheaths on the plantar aspect of the toes. The plantar fascia is composed of the medial, central and lateral bands. 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 plantar fascia provides both static support and dynamic shock absorption. With overuse, the plantar fascia can lose some of its elasticity and can lead to inflammation and pain when ambulating.
How Does The Plantar Fascia Ligament Work?
The plantar fascia spans from the heel bone to the metatarsal heads and then forms the fibrous flexor sheaths on the plantar aspects of the toes. When your foot initially strikes the ground the plantar fascia aids in shock absorption. The foot changes function from shock absorption to rigid lever as the foot prepares for propulsion. Weightbearing extension of the toes creates increased tension through the plantar fascia which pulls the calcaneus closer to the metatarsal heads. The medial arch height is increased and places the bones of the midfoot into a more rigid position which is necessary for the propulsive phase of gait.
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 extra stress on your feet. This excessive tension on the plantar fascia can lead to plantar fasciitis over time.
- 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 exercises 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. Stretching the posterior muscle group both before and after exercise is essential to prevent injury to the plantar fascia.
- Long hours on your feet: Spending long hours on your feet can place extra stress on your plantar fascia. If you have a job that involves standing for long periods of time 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, proper arch support, and the correct length and width. 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 your feet 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 if needed.
- Stretch. Stretching can help keep your plantar fascia flexible and resistant to injury. Posterior muscle group stretching exercises such as the “wall calf stretch” should be performed before first steps in the morning, before bed and a couple of times throughout the day if you have plantar fasciitis. These stretching exercises can also help break up scar tissue from micro-injuries and promote better blood circulation. Perform 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 for Plantar Fasciitis. Heel Seats are clinically-proven to reduce heel pain while targeting its underlying cause. Heel Seats cushion painful heels while re-aligning a damaged, flattened arch to just the right level. In some cases, custom orthotics are needed for proper arch support which can be made by your podiatrist.
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!