This write up is a reader-friendly summary of a delightfully scientific read over on podiatrytoday.com.
1.Prevents Arch Collapse:
It does this in TWO main ways:
- This, you may have known or heard. It’s been know in the scientific community for over 70 years. The plantar fascia pulls the ball of the foot closer to the heel. With enough tension in this system arch-collapse is prevented.
- It also assists the intrinsic muscles of the foot in their action of stabilizing the arch. The plantar fascia (non-contractile) assists the muscles (contractile) by sharing the load of work. This is especially noticeable during the propulsion phase of gait, when we’re “pushing” the ground behind us in order to move our bodies forward. Also, by keeping a baseline degree of structural support when passive (action of the plantar fascia tension), it keeps the intrinsic muscles at an optimal length to contract strongly when engaged. [when muscles are kept in a lengthened state their ability to contract is diminished].
2. Attempts to limit Pronation:
Pronation in and of itself is not problematic. It’s a natural action / movement of the foot during certain actions (or portions of actions…such as the landing phase of walking), however when it becomes a static position or when it happens in excess, it can result in substantial discomfort and increased risk of injury or pain. Stable and structurally sound plantar fascia limits pronation of your foot.
3. Improves the integrity of ankle action during walking (and presumably running):
The plantar fascia assists the muscles that both slow down our foot upon heel-strike and during take-off of the foot during walking. When the plantar fascia is in-tact and adequately functioning, it helps stabilize the ankle during both the early and late stage of stance.
4. Takes strain off other intrinsic tendons and ligaments of the foot:
The plantar fascia is a great friend to have because it’s great at sharing. When healthy, it absorbs and distributes a significant portion of the strain that passes through the foot. This has been demonstrated by measuring the strain placed through intrinsic tendons and ligaments when the plantar fascia has been removed or cut! We can extrapolate this information to hypothesize that healthy plantar fascia reduces the risk of both acute and overuse injury in many of the connective tissues within the foot.
5. Reduces compression forces in the top of the foot:
By drawing the ball of the foot and heel closer together on the plantar side of the foot, the pressure within each of the joints throughout the foot is even. Without adequate tension within the plantar fascia, you can think of the sole of the foot getting “longer” or spreading apart. When the underside of the foot spreads open like this, the dorsal (back of the foot) aspect of many joints in the foot becomes compressed, which increases your risk of stress fractures and other related conditions.
6. Improves your ability to “purchase” (get a grip of the floor/ground):
Having attachments at the base of all five digits/toes/phalanges, a taut plantar fascia passively (without effort) pulls the toes into better contact with the ground/floor. Without this passive “digital purchase”, our balance can suffer, our gait may be inefficient and potentially injurious, and our likelihood of certain dysfunctions and deformities increases (for example, hammertoe a floating toe).
7. Takes Impact forces and distributes them away from the metatarsal heads:
We mentioned the function of force-distribution earlier as it relates to the ability of the intrinsic foot muscles to contract. Here we note that when our plantar fascia is in good shape, an improved “purchase” on the floor coupled with intrinsic muscular support distributes force away from metatarsal heads especially during the take-off or propulsion phase of gait, thereby reducing the risk of injury to the metatarsal heads and plantar plate.
8. Improving the efficiency of running:
Humans, believe it or not, are remarkably well equipped for running. Some have even presented some considerably strong arguments (and evidence) to support the idea that our bodies have indeed been shaped the way they have for the purpose of running (long distances). Without getting into that discussion too much, healthy plantar fascia contributes to this notion by improving the energy efficiency of running. It does this by storing elastic energy (much like the Achilles’ tendon) which contributes positively to propulsion during running. This recoil of the non-contractile tissue reduces the active, contractile work that the intrinsic muscles of the foot must do to run!
Don’t be too quick to blame!
So if you’ve ever had an injury to the plantar fascia (plantar fasciitis or fasciosis are common ones), you may have considered having something done about it surgically. Knowing the above information, please reconsider the idea of removing or cutting the plantar fascia! It’s simply not worth it, and it won’t fix the underlying issue! Thankfully more surgeons and medical doctors are realizing the ill-effects of such a drastic procedure and it is becoming less common.
Now that you know what HEALTHY plantar fascia does, I’m putting together a tutorial on how to improve your own plantar fascia health! HERE.
[By the way, yes that is a sewing needle in the x-ray at the top…a fellow presented with foot pain that mimicked plantar fasciits! He never realized he stepped on a needle!]
Read more articles like this, in our “Therapeutics” archives over here.