What if i told you that plantar fasciitis was not caused by flat feet, but flab feet? A 2014 survey by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) found that of 1,000 US adults ages 18 and older, 77% had experienced foot pain, but only a third of those would seek expert care by a podiatrist. That means that only ONE person of FOUR is foot pain free.

The plantar fascia is the thickened connective tissue on the bottom of the foot.

The plantar fascia is the thickened connective tissue on the bottom of the foot.

I suffered from plantar fasciitis when I was in college (apparently a lot of my painful experiences were during that time, but that’s a whole other blog in itself) and had custom orthotics made to help support and stabilize my arch, which did wonders at the time to resolve the problem. I was on my feet for long hours each day as a student athletic trainer but spent the rest of the time sitting, either on my bike, in class, or studying. Needless to say, it was not an ideal environment for total body health. After graduation, I started teaching yoga, and have since been happily barefoot for most of my day.

Orthotics are great to help get you out of pain – but you wouldn’t wear a cast on your broken forearm for the rest of your life just to prevent it from breaking again, would you? Casts and devices are excellent in the moment to help resolve pain, but you then must TRAIN and BUILD strength to help avoid the issue(s) in the future.

So back to plantar fasciitis – did you know that it’s one of the most common disorders of the foot? Many people think that is is caused by an overuse of the thickened connective tissue on the bottom of the foot, but what if it was caused by an underuse? Yep, it’s not your flat feet, but your FLAB feet that are the culprit.

Think about it – how much time do your feet spend in their comfy foot coffins (aka shoes)? I have very vivid memories of running through freshly cut grass barefoot in our backyard – even now, I love to be barefoot because my feet just feel better. My husband was very strongly in the shoe wearing camp for as long as I’ve known him, but as of late, he spends more time barefoot (be it in socks) than ever. And neither one of us is suffering from foot pain or plantar fasciitis. All of your body parts need the opportunity to hold their weight and the weight of your body against gravity – their health depends on it.

Your feet need to be naked! Because of all the extra features our shoes come with now, they effectively block and prevent the natural movement of the foot. Too much pronation? No problem, we’ll block it. Too much supination? No problem, we’ll block that too. Eventually, your foot is literally boxed into a coffin and the 26 bones and 33 joints in your foot no longer have to do anything. Not that they could aid in walking or movement if they wanted to because they’re completely restricted by our footwear.

If you’ve ever worn a cast or brace for an extended period of time, what did you notice when you took it off? The entire limb atrophies from lack of use and is considerably weaker than it’s counterpart. The same thing happens to your feet after a lifetime of shoe wear. The muscles in and around your feet weaken from lack of use. So who is there to pick up the slack? The plantar fascia.

As you walk, abnormal amounts of stress are then loaded into your lower limbs and feet because of the gradual weakening of the structures and the inflexibility of your shoes, which leads to irritation and degeneration of the soft tissue structures on the bottom of the foot.

So if icing, stretching and night splints (common treatments for plantar fascitiis) are not doing the trick, perhaps it’s time to ditch the shoes and go off roading! The best way to build strength of your feet is to use them as nature intended to – totally uncasted. Explore different terrains from soft grass, to hard packed dirt, gravel, or large river stones. The more variability of surface types, textures and densities you can get under foot, the better. Be sure not to go crazy right away – if your feet are very weak, smaller more frequent dosing of strength training is better than one big long session that will overtire you.

Take your barefoot time a step further by practicing it mindfully – pay attention to the temperature, texture and hardness of the material underfoot. Now, your foot strengthening program includes mindful meditation – a win win!

What’s your favorite place to go off roading with barefeet? Let me know if the comments below!


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