We’ve all heard the children’s song. You know, the one about the anklebone being connected to the leg bone? Contained within those rhymes is a pervasive truth about the human body: everything is truly connected.
The human body is a system of bones, joints, connective tissues, and muscles stacked on top of each other. When there is a tightness, imbalance, or inhibition of the muscles or tissues at one joint, the joints and muscles above or below must compensate to perform the role of the dysfunctional piece of anatomy.
For example, a tight hip is usually the result of a knee that isn’t doing its job. The knee is built for stability. When the muscles surrounding the knee become too tight or weak to carry out their role, the hip goes from being a joint built to allow motion, to one that is forced to prevent it and the muscles of the hip stiffen. This is just one of the ways that tightness of the hip muscles occurs.
Problems often start from the ground up and because of that, you should really care about your feet.
The muscles of your feet and the muscles of your upper body actually have a lot in common. All of the structures of your entire body are encircled by connective tissue called fascia. An easy way to think about fascia is to imagine it as saran wrap that holds all the parts of your body together and in place. There are three major types of fascia, but we’ll be focusing on the layer that most intimately affects muscular function: deep fascia.
Deep fascia is tough and it surrounds all of your muscles. There are five major fascial lines, but the one we’ll be discussing is called the superficial back line. It originates at the base of your foot and goes all the way up the back of your body, over the top of your head, and ends at the line of your eyebrows. If any one portion of this massive layer of connective tissue is inflamed, tight, or dysfunctional, it can set off a series of reactions across the entire body.
Remember how problems run from the ground up? Well, if the plantar fascia on the bottom of your feet gets tight or inflamed, your ankle becomes stiff. When your ankle becomes stiff, your knee begins to allow more motion than it was designed to allow. When your knee allows more motion than it should, your hip stiffens and allows less. When your hips lock up, your lower back begins to move too much. I could continue on and on, but know this: this wave of dysfunction continues all the way up the body.
When irritated plantar fascia goes unchecked, plantar fasciitis can develop, and outside of the slew of other dysfunctions running up the body, significant heel pain will occur. Two of the most common causes of irritated plantar fascia are pronation (or inward rolling) at the arch of your foot, and repeated impact. The first of these happens when someone isn’t wearing the proper supportive footwear for his or her foot, and the other happens every time your foot strikes the ground while you run.
Well we’re here to tell you that you shouldn’t worry about any of this, because we have one quick and simple tip that will relieve inflammation and tightness of your plantar fascia, increase your flexibility, and reduce your risk of developing plantar fasciitis and heel pain. A happy side effect to all of this will be the potential maintenance or restoration of proper function at the other major joints of your body.
So here is what you’re going to do. Take a tennis ball, and place it under the arch of your foot. Apply enough weight to the ball to feel pressure, but not enough to feel significant pain. Gently roll the ball across the entire of the base of your foot. Go from where your toes begin, to your heel, and be sure to spend some extra time under your arch. Repeat on the other foot. This massaging will convince the fascia on the bottom of your feet to relax.
To really see the magic of this, test your flexibility before you roll your foot on the ball. Standing with your feet together, bend over and take note of how close to the ground you can get. After rolling your foot, try that test again. Your range of motion should increase drastically!
In addition to a relaxation of the localized fascia on the base of your foot, that relaxation will occur up the fascia of the superficial back line, all the way to the top of your head.
By simply taking a few minutes to roll your feet before and after your run, your ride, or your workout, you will reap a bevy of benefits. Stretching will now have a far more profound effect than before. In order for a muscle to be successfully lengthened by stretching, the fascia surrounding that muscle must relax enough to allow that action to take place. The efficiency of your stride will improve as a result of a bolstering of mechanisms that occur when your foot contacts the ground. Your ankle range of motion will increase, which will result in less strain on the knee joint.
Your hamstring flexibility will increase, and as a result the risk of low back pain will diminish.
However, we’re talking about feet here, and yours will feel fantastic. By simply using a tennis ball to massage your plantar fascia before and after your workouts, your chances of heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, and general foot pain will drastically reduce. Give it a try! You’ll be amazed at the hidden magic of a tennis ball.