If you’re suffering from plantar fascitis, there are some simple stretches you can do at home to begin to release tight connective tissue. These techniques can also be useful for foot pain that is a result of restrictions in the body’s fascia (connective tissue), as is common following an injury or a surgery. Check out the video below for two easy techniques you can try today.
Always discuss your condition with your doctor or primary health care provider. Stretches should be done easily and gently, without any forcing or pushing.
I was back in class recently, for the first time in awhile. Myofascial Techniques for Plantar Fascitis.
Working with myofascial release is endlessly interesting. It’s simultaneously both simple and complex. The fascia (connective tissue) weaves throughout the body, providing both structure and fluidity; motion and stability. Understanding the fascial system brings insight into a vast array of conditions and ailments, often linking seemingly unrelated body parts through this complex web of connective tissue.
For example, in treating plantar fascitis, (a thickening of the connective tissue on the soles of the feet that causes pain when walking), from a perspective of myofascial release we want to work not only on the plantar fascia itself, but the fascia on the ankles, legs, even the hips.
Lying on the treatment table in class, I breathed deeply as another student worked on my calf muscles. My calves are so sensitive. It’s not an area I enjoy having released. But my class partner was good, very good; and he easily and gently released the connective tissue, stretching the soleis muscle, the thin flat muscle that connects to the achilles tendon.
This was a technique called “deep mobilization”. It’s one of the deeper, more intense techniques of myofascial release (many forms of which are very gentle). This one was not so easy, not so gentle; but it was okay. I breathed. I could breathe through it.
Driving home that night through the Franklin Hills of Los Feliz, admiring the city lights, I felt a strange sense of lightness. Happiness. Ease. And I felt it distinctly connected to the muscles in my calves that had been released.
Emotional release through massage and myofascial work is extremely common. The body holds memories, emotion, stored in it’s cells (reference). When deep, chronic tension patterns are released, emotional holding patterns can be released as well.
Commonly, this comes in the form of painful memories surfacing. And yet that night, I experienced something different. It was as if a sense of the easiness, the lightness, the freedom of life had somehow been locked away. Protected? And releasing old muscle restrictions allowed me to tap in to a feeling I had not felt in some time. A feeling of ease. It’s all going to be okay.
Hiking, the day after class, I hit my usual trails up the steep hills of Griffith Park. I’m conscious of allowing my foot to pronate, rolling gently and easily inward. It feels easy. What’s more, it feels like there is more spring in my step. Like my foot automatically launches me forward.
I can feel the difference all the way up to the connections at my hips. There is less strain on the outer hip; more of a balance all the way across to my adductors & inner thighs.
I tend to have a “favorite” muscle. One at a time. That muscle, or muscle group that I’m fascinated with. Like I have a crush on it, it haunts my thoughts. I observe it in everyone I see, on the street, on my treatment table. Watching its behavior.
Right now, my muscle of the moment is the scalenes. Those muscles that run down the side of the neck, splitting in three, attaching to the first two ribs.
(Those first ribs are pretty high. Sometimes we tend to think of our ribs around our chest and sternum, but those first ribs are way up there).
And the scalenes attach to them. They attache to those first ribs.
Why is this so important?
Because when the scalenes tighten and shorten, they pull the head forward and rotate the shoulders internally. And this forms the classic “hunched over” posture that is so common in our modern world. A world that requires us, so often, to be at a desk; at a computer; driving in a car. All actions that tend to cause this hunched over shape, and the resulting tension in the muscles in the neck and back.
What’s interesting in treating people with shoulder and neck tension (read: everyone) is that sometimes, you can release the tense shoulder and neck muscles and it will feel really great. But it doesn’t necessarily lead to long term change.
In contrast, releasing the scalenes doesn’t feel so good. In fact, for the majority of people it’s downright uncomfortable. But to a person, when I release the scalenes, there is a noticeable and lasting difference in the neck and shoulder tension. When we release the long held tension that is pulling the head and neck forward and the shoulders in, all of those muscles on the back of the body can suddenly relax- sometimes, for the first time in years.
Massage Therapist Peggy Lamb, MA, LMT, describes the difference with this image: “Are you a bulldog or a great dane?”
The Bulldog’s head is pulled forward, between it’s shoulders, creating undue pressure on the rotator cuff muscles and eventually leading to chronic neck and shoulder tension and pain. The Great Dane, in contrast, has a long neck that is released and lengthened throughout the front muscles.
Now, as a dog lover, I happen to be a big fan of both bulldogs AND great danes. But for the purposes of this analogy… we want you, of course, to be a great dane.
But let’s go back for a moment to those interesting scalene muscles.
There is another nearly universal reaction whenever I treat the scalene muscles (besides general discomfort!)… and that reaction is surprise. “Why have I never felt them before? Why have I never felt that tension there?!”
One of the more fascinating aspects of practicing bodywork is observing which tension clients feel- and which areas of tension they do not feel. Ask a person on the street where they feel tension in their body, and chances are you’ll hear something about the neck, back, shoulders. These large muscles on the back body, as a general rule, tend to be where we are aware of tension in our bodies.
And yet those scalenes- those incredibly important muscles that are nearly always so very tight… have likely never been “felt” before. The client will say something to the effect of “I’ve never felt that and I can’t believe there’s so much tension!”
I believe there are many reasons for the phenomenon of why we feel the tension in some areas of our bodies, and are “out of touch” with others. One of the delicate balances of practicing bodywork is introducing clients to that “out of touch” tension… bringing them into contact with tension that they’ve never felt before… so that it can be released. The delicate balance comes into play because this is not necessarily a comfortable process. Reading the client’s entire system is essential, as is a deep and profound respect for the person’s well being on every level.
Another aspect of interest is the relationship between the scalenes and the breath. One of the primary actions of the scalene muscles is to elevate the first and second ribs to allow for breathing. When these muscles are chronically tight and constricted, the lungs will not expand to their optimal capacity, and restricted breathing results.
Considering the importance of the breath, those little scalene muscles become even more important!
A simple self myofascial stretch can bring a bit of easy release into the scalene area. Please proceed extremely gently with this exercise, and as always consult your health care provider if you have any questions or concerns.
Place your fingers just above the ridge formed by your collarbone. Using gentle pressure, begin to sink your fingers down into the soft tissue. Hold until you feel a release. Breathe, stretch, and repeat on the other side.
This stretch, while not necessarily going directly *into* the scalene muscles, will release the connective tissue that surrounds and moves through them. It’s an easy way to bring a bit of release to this area.
A qualified bodyworker or physical therapist can further release these incredibly important muscles.
Get to know your scalenes. Now that you’ve been introduced to them, start to notice them throughout your day. You may find that you can’t feel them, at first. Bringing sensory awareness to an area that has not been “felt” for some time is a process… but it’s one you can do, through awareness and practice. And once you “turn on” the feeling in these amazing muscles, you’ll have an awesome tool to help you with your ongoing wellness plan (not to mention, improved posture!)
Meet your scalenes… they’re glad to know you. I think you’ll like them, as well.