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Treating Plantar Fasciitis with Pilates and PT

BY: Stephanie Ruopp .

Do you experience mild to severe pain in your heel or in the arch of your foot?

Is it worse when you place weight on it?

A lot of people are quick to assume that this condition is a bone spur. But a bone spur is not usually the source of pain in the heel.

Chances are much better that it’s plantar fasciitis. 

Scary as the name sounds, treating plantar fasciitis is typically pretty simple. This fact does not, however, negate how painful it can be.

What Is Plantar Fasciitis?

The thick, tight tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes is called the plantar fascia. It constitutes the arch of the foot. 

When a person has plantar fasciitis, that connective tissue is inflamed -resulting in pain in the arch of the foot or, far more commonly, at the bottom of the heel. The pain can be dull or sharp and can create some serious discomfort. 

The more stress that is placed on the inflamed plantar fascia, the higher the likelihood that microtears will develop in the tissue. This makes even the simplest activities such as walking very painful.

What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?

There are any number of factors that can lead to plantar fasciitis. These include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Change in activity – particularly excessive exercising/training
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Standing for long amounts of time
  • Faulty footwear
  • Tight calf muscles or Achilles tendon
  • Either very high arches or flat feet

When dealing with plantar fasciitis, it would be ill-advised to push past the pain. It’s a good idea to avoid activities such as running, dancing, jumping or even walking barefoot – as these will all aggravate plantar fasciitis.

Pilates, on the other hand, can be incredibly helpful in treating plantar fasciitis. As usual, it comes down to working with skilled instructors.

Treating Plantar Fasciitis with Pilates

An experienced Pilates instructor is well aware of the movements that are counter-indicated in treating plantar fasciitis.

For instance, he or she would know to avoid exercises that strengthen the calf muscles. That’s because, as mentioned above, a common cause for plantar fasciitis is tight calf muscles and/or Achilles tendon. 

This tightness in the feet or calves can make the pain of plantar fasciitis worse. Strengthening the calves would only contribute to this tightening. But loosening the calf muscles can relieve the pain. 

An instructor would therefore focus on exercises that flex the foot and increase blood flow to the area. This relieves tension in the calves. He or she may recommend a static calf stretch placing the heel in the well of a Spine Corrector. 

In addition, someone with training in Pilates knows the mechanics of taking the focus off one part of the body while strengthening another.

For example, when working on a Trapeze Table with a plantar fasciitis client, he or she would have the wherewithal to utilize Y-loops to take effort away from the lower legs and bring it into the hips instead.

Poor Lower Extremity Alignment

One possible cause for plantar fasciitis that’s missing on the above list is poor lower extremity alignment. This is also a condition helped by Pilates.

It might seem to make sense to just eliminate footwork for clients struggling with plantar fasciitis. But proper footwork is essential for working on leg alignment and strength. 

An experienced Pilates instructor will utilize tools and techniques to address lower extremity alignment with the fewest side effects. 

There are a number of exercises that require lifting the toes while keeping the ball of the foot down. In doing these, clients can actually see what it means to bring the ankle into a centered position. 

And a stable and aligned ankle joint serves as the foundation for all of the other joints up the leg. Where there is stability, there is far less strain and pulling.

Treating Plantar Fasciitis with Physical Therapy

Another option for treating plantar fasciitis is with physical therapy. Especially physical therapy based in Pilates. This can be an especially helpful route if it’s difficult to pinpoint the underlying cause(s) of the condition. 

A physical therapist has knowledge of a number of modalities that can help improve mobility and decrease pain for clients with plantar fasciitis. 

He or she is trained to assess the situation and identify any biomechanical faults in order to determine the best course of action. 

Once armed with a comprehensive understanding of the individual’s situation, a physical therapist then offers specific instructions on what actions to take, as well as the reasons for taking those actions. 

He or she may, for example, have the client do something as simple as pick up marbles with the toes so that they actively work to flex and stretch the foot muscles.

Another component of a treatment plan may include something like using kinesiology tape to support the foot’s natural arch and increase circulation,  while providing neural stimulation to the foot and ankle. 

Ideally, the physical therapist would instruct the client on proper methods of kinesiology taping in such a situation.

These are, of course, just two of many MANY options a physical therapist can extract from their toolbox.

Understanding Your Pain

Treating plantar fasciitis is like so many other conditions in that having an understanding of the underlying causes can help tremendously toward healing. 

So if you’re struggling with pain in the arch of your foot or heel, contact us today. And start finding pain relief through Pilates and physical therapy. 

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