If you are going to run, jog or jump, or even just walk up those hills as you get older, you need to love your feet – especially your plantar fascia which forms the ARCH of your foot.
The plantar fascia is known as the ‘spring ligament’ for a reason. It is a strong ligament that runs from your heel to the metatarsal heads in the front of your foot. This powerful ligament helps absorb the shock that occurs when your foot contacts the ground – walking, running, jumping, jogging, dancing – whatever you are doing up on your toes, your plantar ligament is helping you to do it. It helps you ‘take-off’.
Plantar fasciitis is a relatively common condition in runners, walkers, and many others who spend considerable time on their feet, especially in jumping-type exercise and sports. Those of you who have hobbled out of bed in the morning, will recognise that plantar fasciitis is characterized by pain at the bottom of the foot in front of the heel. It’s typically worse with the first steps in the morning or after a long period off the feet, prolonged standing, or following hard exercise. The pain may then reduce with movement or warming up.
When I reached my menopause transition, I remember hobbling out of bed every morning because I couldn’t walk properly.
The soles of my feet were tight, painful and my heels often used to ache as well. Following years of teaching aerobics, I knew that the feeling I was experiencing in menopause, was the same as when I was in my 20’s. The old condition of plantar fasciitis. The difference was however, that in my early 50’s I hadn’t been running, jumping or doing high impact aerobics. I was too exhausted.
Hundreds of dollars later, having paid for orthotics, sports medicine advice and goodness knows how many anti-inflammatories and turmeric supplements, my feet weren’t all that better. It was only when I began to understand that the decline in oestrogen during menopause was the issue and the pain I was feeling, wasn’t completely due to plantar fasciitis, but instead, due to the plantar fascia (see in the diagram how broad this is underneath the foot) drying up through loss of oestrogen.
And, according to New York Podiatrist and ‘Foot Doctor’, Dr Emily Splitchal, when I heard her at a conference, I needed to strengthen my feet and my plantar ligament as I aged, not make it weaker. Dr Splitchal can be found on You Tube, and her presentation changed my focus towards looking after my feet. They call her the ‘The Barefoot Doctor’ for a reason.
In my 12 week Rebuild My Fitness programme, I talk about Dr Splitchal’s work in more depth. I like her work and her rationale for focusing on feet. This made so much sense to me when I heard her at numerous health and exercise science conferences I’ve been attending over the years. She made me realise that some of my aches and pains in my knees and hips, were coming from the soles of my feet. This completely opened up my mind to the possibilities of managing my feet better as I age. After-all, it’s fascinating that 26 small bones are able to carry our body weight throughout our life. And we don’t really focus much on our feet do we?
We often take our feet for granted, but as a new generation of modern women who know the power of staying active as we age, if we are going to continue to hike, walk, ski, jog or dance, then we must do some work on reducing the inflammation in our plantar ligament (and yes, also please see your Physiotherapist if you are having trouble). We have to strengthen our feet so that they are ready to do the work that we want them to do as we get older.
If you have a golf ball and/or a tennis ball in your home, then Dr Splitchal suggests to do some trigger-release work on your plantar ligament daily.
As we move through menopause, our plantar ligament dries up. Some of you will feel it tight and ‘knobbly’ if you run your thumb down the middle of the sole of your foot. Maybe you can feel some tough fibrous knots in there. I know I used to as well.
Dr Splitchal suggests that we all do some trigger release work, so the image below, shows you where to press your foot into a hard ball (I bought a proper orthotic ball which you can see in the image too – that’s my foot).
The goal with trigger-release work on the plantar ligament at the bottom of your feet, is just to press down gently on the spots that Dr Splitchal indicates on the diagram. Work around in that order. It’s just a 5-Minute Foot Release you can do in the morning and evening.
When you do, you will be stimulating the small muscles of the foot to receive signals again from the fascia. We lose this mechanism, not only due to all the activity that we do or we have done in the past, but also due to the hormonal changes in menopause and acquiring inflammation with age.
This is just one way you can help to prevent plantar fasciitis or treat it if you already have discomfort under the sole of your foot. But this isn’t to replace getting it checked out with your physio too.
Our menopause transition can cause numerous changes in our ability to stay mobile, and I cover all this in my 12 week programmes. But I also have cheaper options for you, so if your joints are sore, I have a video about my ‘Restore your Joyful Joints’ stand-alone module below.