If you’ve got plantar fascia problems you’ve probably been doing a lot to try and heal your feet. Maybe foot and calf stretches, ice and ice massages, maybe sleeping in special socks, and maybe taking anti-inflammatories. And you’ve probably cut back on your running or even taken time off. Progress probably seems really slow or maybe nonexistent.
There are two reasons why this path to healing is slow at best. First, most of these treatments have actually been shown to interfere with healing rather than promoting it. Doctors can be slow to pick up on new information in their field, particularly when it directly contradicts things they’ve been recommending for decades, and the internet is full of outdated information.
The other reason you’re only getting better slowly if at all is that healing is only part of what’s needed—and it’s the lesser part at that!
Plantar fascia problems are generally overuse injuries, meaning they develop over a long period as a result of running in a way that stresses the soles of your feet. So returning to running pain-free means you need to change the way you’re running.
Rest does little to help that. In fact being sedentary and in pain is likely to make your form worse when you do run, not better.
In my practice working one-to-one with runners I’ve consistently gotten those with plantar fascia problems back to running comfortably within a 1-2 month period and sometimes even faster. And let me emphasize it’s not because I’ve healed their feet—I’m not a medical professional. Instead I’ve helped runners take the critical step of changing how they run so they’re not stressing their feet any more.
Nearly every runner I’ve seen with PF pulls their pelvis backwards, so it’s behind their foot in midstance instead of over the foot where it should be. It’s a bit as if they were sitting in a chair.
Usually they’re doing this by rounding their back and keeping their hip joints too flexed.
The combination of having their overall body weight behind where it should be and having a flexed and thus rigid torso means that as the runner approaches toe-off and tries to move forward and up off the foot, their whole body is fighting the action.
This creates a kind of tug-of-war on the sole of the foot, with the bodyweight pushing the foot backwards as the heel lifts and the forefoot is firmly stuck to the ground.
If you do this on a slippery surface your whole foot will slide slightly backwards as you approach toe-off. And in fact if you run this way you might also find that when you walk in socks on a slippery wood floor your feet slip backwards as you step forwards. This is a movement pattern people have throughout their daily activities, not just in running.
This tug-of-war stresses the plantar fascia and perhaps even puts microtears in it, which your body tries to heal—hence the inflammation—and fails to complete because you continue to create the same stress every time you run. Hence the chronic inflammation.
The simple answer is that you need to move your weight forward so it’s over your foot at midstance. This means it’s farther forward throughout your whole gait cycle (midstance is just a particularly convenient and important reference point).
However this isn’t so easy as just moving your pelvis forward and straightening up a bit. If you try to do those things you’ll significantly increase your muscular tension and make yourself even more rigid and hard to move.
In running the two sides of your body are always doing opposite things. When this is allowed to happen really well and freely it becomes impossible to pull your weight back too far behind your feet, and your feet are able to work they way they’re supposed to.
Improving your core action tends to also help you extend your hip joints better—a critical step for reducing your foot stress. However you may also need extra focus on hip extension. I have a lot of ways to accomplish that in my practice, but you can start working on it on your own by simply doing some glute exercises that extend your hip joints regularly, especially pre-run. Even simple bridging is helpful as long as you don’t try to tighten your abs at the same time. Focus on squeezing your butt as you do it (but not when you run!)
And finally, people with plantar fasciitis/fasciosis often feel the urge to stretch their calves and feet all the time, keeping their heels down and avoiding the sensation of the heel lifting, the arch shortening, and the weight going onto the toes. It feels protective to the feet and the stretching feels kind of good.
However you may be realizing as you read this that this movement pattern is actually the heart of the problem. It means having your weight too far back on your feet with every step, and each stretch sensation you have is actually stress and possibly damage to your feet.
As you improve your core action and ability to let your hip joints extend as you move, your weight will come farther forward on your feet and bring with it the opposite sensation, of your ankle extending, your calf shortening, and your arch contracting. This is progress towards healthy foot movement. Embrace it.
That doesn’t mean overdo it or force it, of course! But when it appears let it happen, and let go of the idea that keeping your heel down and your toes lifted ever so slightly as you walk and run is good for you. It isn’t.
The three keys to relieving plantar fascia stress are:
Together they will get you well on your way towards forgetting you ever had plantar pain.
In addition to the resources I’ve linked to through this article, I have one more to give you. A couple of years ago I created a lesson specifically to help runners with plantar and achilles problems.
The lesson is called Free Your Feet, and here it is.
It will temporarily make you run a little slower but it will help you do all three key elements I’ve listed and can give you a lot of relief. Just go back and do Mobilizing Your Core to Run the following day to restore your speed.
Post your questions below and let me know how it goes for you!
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter filled with analysis, information, insights, and tips you can apply to your own running!
Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.