Ball Rolling Relief for Plantar Fasciitis

*** If you just want the video & the techniques - scroll to the bottom. If you want some knowledge - read on! ***

I’ve been rolling the lower leg and foot with my students a lot lately to help them establish “roots” in the hectic time of year that is “the fall.” In almost every class there’s someone who asks or notes they’re suffering from plantar fasciitis and most of them find a degree of relief working with the balls. Some of them asked me to share the rolling techniques I would recommend - so here we are!

First Let’s Talk Strategy:
Are you in active pain? If the answer is “yes” then don’t go rolling right to the source of the pain - look at the tissues that neighbor the pain. Why? You are more than just a collection of parts. Your body is intimately interwoven across all of your joints. Pain in one area doesn’t mean that THAT is the area causing the pain. Look upstream and downstream and on either side of the banks of the river. Also, take some time to educate yourself on potential roots of the pain so that you can start testing strategies to fix the true cause. Talk to doctors, body workers, acupuncturists, physical therapists - collect information on potential causes of your symptoms. But to get you started, here’s some baseline information:

What is it?
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation or tear(s) of the plantar fascia. The MAYO clinic defines plantar fascia as, “a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes (plantar fascia).” They continue to describe the plantar fascia as the “shock absorbing bow string that supports the arch of your foot.”

What does it feel like?
Many people feel an acute pain close to their heel. The pain is often most intense early in the morning, when first waking. This pain can subside with movement as people move into their day. Some can feel the pain after exercise as well.

Why does it happen?
The jury is still out on this one. The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society says, “you’re more likely to develop a condition if you’re female, overweight or have a job that requires a lot of walking or standing on hard surfaces… or if you walk or run for exercise … or if you have tight calf muscles … or have very flat feet … or very high arches.” No lie - here’s the link. I’d like to know the jobs where you stand around on soft surfaces every day. Maybe if you work in a bouncy house gym for little kids?

Who are the “neighbors” of the plantar fascia?

  • Lower Leg: Did you know that 4 of the 7 muscles on the back of your leg are attached to the bottom of your foot? Today we’ll look at 3 of them and one that runs down the front of your shin.

    • The gastrocnemius is the big meaty muscle that runs down the back of your leg. It weaves into the calcaneal tendon and then attaches at the calcaneus (the heel). Essentially, this band of tissue comes down the back of the leg and attaches to the same bone as the plantar fascia!

    • The soleus is deeper into the body than the gastroc but takes the same path to attach to the calcaneus.

    • The peroneus longus runs down the pinky toe side of your calf and inserts at the medial cuneiform and base of the first metatarsal (right under the medial arch of your foot).  

    • In addition, your tibialis anterior (that meaty muscle that starts on the pinky toe side of your shin bone) actually crosses at the ankle and attaches to the medial cuneiform and the base of the first metatarsal in your foot. If you’re not an anatomy nerd - it’s like right in the middle of your arch on the big toe side. This muscle helps you dorsiflex the ankle (which we do when we stretch our calfs)!

  • The Rest of the Foot: Then let’s also consider the rest of our feet. 26 bones (the rest of your leg only has THREE), and over 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons. To say that your foot is a sophisticated little piece of work is an understatement. As the foot is the first thing that hits the ground when you walk, run, hike, dance like nobody's watching - it is THE initial shock absorbing mechanism for the human body. It is meant to move in complex and sophisticated ways to digest the multiple variances in the surface of the earth as you move from point A to point B. From an early age you likely started stuffing your feet into shoes, walking on flat surfaces and preventing the foot from doing it’s job of shock absorption. Walking barefoot and rolling out the feet is actually super important for many things beyond plantar fascitis. If the arches of our feet aren’t “responsive” (if they’re stiff and don’t move and curve over complex surfaces) - this rigidity gets transferred up the kinetic chain of the leg and puts strenuous torque on your knee joint, hip and low back. So for the love of Pete - roll your feet!

Check out the video for a demo or just grab your balls (ha ha) and start rolling the areas below

The Rolling Techniques We Can Try:

  1. Shin

  2. Peroneus (side of the calf)

  3. Calfs

  4. Ankle / Achilles

  5. Medial & Lateral Arches of the Foot

  6. Ball & Transverse Arch of the Foot

  7. Toes

  8. Heel (if pain is not active!!!)

As you roll scroll a ball or balls up and down / side to side. If you have a single ball - try twisting it into the skin a bit. Try rocking side to side or moving nearby joints.

While these techniques may not fix the root causes of your pain. They can start to wake up, realign, rehydrate and reinforce the tissues of the lower leg so that they are more in harmony with what they are designed to do.

If you have other techniques / feedback or comments - I’d love to hear them!!!