Have you ever thought about the work your feet do every day? Those two small appendages at the bottom of your leg not only support a body which is comparatively massive in size but are also responsible for transporting that body approximately 2,000 miles per year. Your feet are the foundation of your physical form–literally the base on which you are built–but most people treat their feet as though they could unzip and detach them at the end of the day. We mindlessly abuse our feet until we are injured or in pain. Only then do we pay them their due respect.
Sadly, the prevalence of foot and ankle problems has skyrocketed over the past three decades. Millions of Americans suffer from foot and ankle injuries every year, and many people are experiencing these disorders at a much younger age than a generation ago. I’m sure many of you reading this are part of those statistics.
One of the most common foot maladies people suffer from is plantar fasciitis. This condition arises when undue stress is placed on the ligament in your foot that supports your arch–the “plantar fascia”. When that ligament is overworked it leads to the classic symptoms of heel and arch pain which worsens when you get up to walk after periods of rest.
Understand that this isn’t the kind of pain you experience after being on your feet all day at work or walking around Disneyland with your kids. The pain from plantar fasciitis is often intense and debilitating. It is also surprisingly common. Two million Americans suffer from plantar fasciitis every year and 10 percent of the population will experience it in their lifetime. It has become recognized as one of the most chronic and, often times, most difficult foot problems to treat.
Perhaps this is because few podiatrists take an integrative approach to foot problems like plantar fasciitis. Like most people, doctors typically think of the foot as somehow separate from the rest of the body–they focus on treating only the foot and don’t look at the other physiological systems or diet and lifestyle factors that go into creating these problems in the first place.
But your foot is connected to the rest of your body. If you want to heal a chronic foot problem, you need to treat your whole body. I have had immense success treating plantar fasciitis and other difficult-to-heal foot and ankle ailments in my practice using this kind of integrated approach. Understanding the concepts in this article is critically important if you are to heal your feet and put an end to the pain and debilitation of plantar fasciitis.
Inflammation: The Pathway to Foot Health and Illness
When your plantar fascia is stressed–whether you are beating it up with improper exercise, have a congenitally short ligament (which causes a “cavus deformity” or extremely high arch), or your calf muscle complex is too tight and thus pulling it in the opposite direction–the cells in the ligament become more metabolically active and cellular damage occurs.
When this happens, the immune system is recruited to help detoxify the cells and repair the injured and damaged ones. It does this via a cascading pathway known as primary inflammation. When this pathway is operating efficiently and it is able to properly handle the extent of the injury, you will have no symptoms or they will be minor. You may experience some slight pain and swelling in the area that has been affected. This will diminish rapidly (within a few days) as your injured ligament is repaired.
When the stress you have placed on your foot is greater than this pathway can manage, your immune system employs a different set of chemical responses and a different pathway is activated. That pathway is chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is designed to protect your tissues when they are under extreme stress in the hopes of preventing permanent damage to your system. The problem with chronic inflammation is that when it is left unchecked it actually creates further damage and produces profound pain, swelling, heat, and other symptoms. This is usually when people wake up to their feet–when they are hobbling into my office.
The impact that inflammation has on the body is one of the most profound discoveries in modern medicine. Chronic inflammation can contribute to a host of chronic illnesses from heart disease, to diabetes, and more. It is also the driving force in plantar fasciitis.
But what’s most extraordinary about inflammation is that it can either heal your body or make you chronically ill. It just depends on which pathway is activated. In the case of foot disorders, primary inflammation is a powerful healer. So, my job as a holistic podiatrist is to stimulate the pathway to healing (primary inflammation) and block the pathway to plantar fasciitis and other forms of foot pain (chronic inflammation). We need to utilize the body’s inherent ability to detoxify and repair the cells that have been injured, while at the same time eliminating the possibility for further injury.
Understanding inflammation this way is a fundamental shift away from the way most conventional podiatrists understand and treat plantar fasciitis. The most common treatment for the condition is cortisone, a powerful steroid that blocks inflammation. The problem with cortisone is that it blocks ALL inflammation. Sure, it relieves the immediate symptoms of the problem. But it ultimately inhibits the body’s inherent mechanisms for healing itself.
This is further complicated by the fact that cortisone is “fibrolytic,” which means it can weaken fibrous tissue. All connective tissue–tendons, ligaments and joint tissue–is fibrous tissue. Your plantar fascia is fibrous tissue. So it’s not a great idea to take medications that weaken this tissue when you are looking to heal and strengthen your ligaments.
Put simply, cortisone cannot be relied on as an effective treatment. However, there are ways you can properly support the pathway to healing and overcome plantar fasciitis. Here’s how you do it.
Treating Your Feet from the Ground Up: Diet/Lifestyle Changes to Heal Plantar Fascitiis
There are two factors we need to consider when treating plantar fasciitis. The first are the “functional influences” on the foot–that is, the mechanics of how you use your foot and how…