I’ve just come back from a weekend away in Somerset staying with my incredible 87-year-old Granny, Jophine. Although bright as a button and completely independently capable, Jophine is currently suffering with on and off plantar fasciitis. I hadn’t heard of this ailment before but apparently it’s a common malady amongst seniors, although it can affect younger people for a variety of reasons. At my Monday morning U3A (University of the Third Age) class for the over 60’s in Haywards Heath town hall, I shared my Granny’s ailment with them only to hear that two within the class also suffered with this and it caused them great pain. I was glad to share the exercises I learned from my Granny, with my U3A class… and now with you!
What is plantar fasciitis?
If like me you hadn’t heard of plantar fasciitis until now then have no fear! Simply put, the fascia is a band or sheet of connective tissue, primarily collagen, beneath the skin that attaches, stabilises, encloses, and separates muscles and other internal organs. The plantar fascia is the flat band of tissue (ligament) that connects your heel bone to your toes and supports the arch of your foot.
What causes it?
Plantar fasciitis is caused by straining the ligament that supports your arch. Repeated strain can cause tiny tears in the ligament. These can lead to pain and swelling. This is more likely to happen if:
- Your feet roll inward too much when you walk (excessive pronation)
- You have high arches or flat feet
- You walk, stand, or run for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces
- You wear shoes that don’t fit well or are worn out
- You have tight Achilles tendons or calf muscles
Most people with plantar fasciitis have pain when they take their first steps after they get out of bed or sit for a long time. You may have less stiffness and pain after you take a few steps or your foot may hurt more as the day goes on. It may hurt the most when you climb stairs or after you stand for a long time.
How can yoga help?
The fascia and ligaments are denser, less hydrated and have less circulation so they need longer, more sustained stretches allow change to take place.
As well as exercises that target the bottoms of the feet, any asanas that work the calf muscles are extremely important too. The tendons of the deep muscles of the calf wrap around and under the foot so extra tension or overuse of those muscles can put extra stress on the bottom of the foot and assist with treating plantar fasciitis. The calves also act as mini pumps up to the heart so anything that gets them working will aid circulation, warm up the body and get the heart rate up.
Here are four simple exercises to try:
- Write the alphabet with your feet
- Whether sitting or lying with one foot pressed down to the ground, lift the other leg and write the alphabet with the foot really waking up the ankle and warming the foot. Begin with capital letters, repeat the capital alphabet on the other foot, then swap to lower case letters. Make sure to do both sides and don’t rush the exercise. Imagine there is ink on your toes and you can write these letters in the most beautiful script writing you can! Keeping the ankles supple will help with mobility in the feet and work the fascia around the whole foot.
- Broken toe pose
- Doesn’t sound so comfortable and actually, it’s not if held for too long!
- Sit back on the heels with the toes tucked under. Rest the hands on the thighs and as time passes let more and more weight settle into the heels. It may be difficult at first but use the breath and work your way up to holding for 2.5 – 3 minutes.
- If this is too much another option is to stretch the toes one by one.
- Standing bends
- Come to standing with your arms in front pressed against the wall. Bring the feet behind you with one foot a foot apart from the other. The leg furthest away stays straight with the heel pressing down to the floor. Bend down into the front knee keeping the back leg straight and heel pressed down. Bend until you feel a stretch in the back leg. Repeat for 10 nice and slowly with the pace of the breath.
- Next, bring the back foot big toe to touch the heel of the front foot. Bend both knees pressing the heels into the floor. Repeat for 10.
- Repeat both exercises on the other side and try to repeat the whole exercise 3-4 times a day, 5 days a week.
- Lift and lower
- Stand behind the back of a chair. Inhale lift the heels; exhale lower the heels. Lengthen the breath and time your movements with the breath. Repeat for 10. If you are happy with your balance, try this without the chair and get a little core workout in there too! Then swap to lifting and lowering one foot at a time – this will also work the calf muscles getting your blood pumping up to your heart.
Time for you to go now and enjoy your happy feet! Let me know how you get on.