Plantar Fasciitis Injury Prevention Training Plan
As a child I spent hours reading and rereading all of the popular fairy tales. One of them, The Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Andersen, has always reminded me of a very common running injury; plantar fasciitis. Just to refresh your memory, The Princess and the Pea is a story about a young women who seeks shelter in a prince’s castle on a stormy night. The prince’s mother decides to test the young women’s claim that she is a princess by placing a pea in her bed, covered by 20 mattresses and featherbeds. The women suffers a sleepless night because of the discomfort from the pea, proving she was indeed a princess.
The reason that folktale reminds me of plantar fasciitis is because the source of this irritating injury is very small in size but the effects can be huge and long lasting. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the thick fibrous band that travels from your heel to your toes along the bottom of your foot. Your plantar fascia originates on your calcaneus or heel bone. The inflammation is caused by the repetitive stresses, or more accurately, the reaction of your muscles, foot structure and plantar fascia to the repetitive stresses of distance running. The pain from plantar fasciitis is typically felt on the bottom of your foot, just in front of your heel bone and is usually worse upon getting out of bed in the morning.
While the size of the affected area is relatively small, the pain caused by this injury can range from mildly annoying to a debilitating level. It can be a mild, short term problem or a long term, chronic injury that throws a big monkey wrench into your training program and running goals.
Developing a plan to help prevent this pesky injury begins with understanding the cause. You probably already know that the root cause is your foot’s reaction to the repetitive foot strikes of distance running. But why does your foot react with injury and inflammation? Why do some runners have chronic problems with plantar fasciitis while others never encounter this particular running injury? I think the answer lies with the strength and conditioning of the muscles that act on your foot.
Ultimately, plantar fasciitis is caused by your plantar fascia absorbing excessive stress. It is either stretched further or faster than it is able to handle. One of the primary causes of that over stretching is over pronation or a rolling inwards and flattening out of the arch of your foot. If you could find a way to control over pronation you would eliminate a major cause of plantar fasciitis. Well, I have good news. You can control over pronation by strengthening the muscles that play that very role. Two major muscles that provide significant arch supports and control excessive pronation are your tibialis posterior and tibialis anterior muscles. You can strengthen these muscles by plantar flexing your ankle (calf raises) and by inverting your foot (rolling your foot inward or lateral foot walks).
Those two major muscles aren’t the only ones involved in plantar fasciitis. Your other ankle flexor muscles and the muscles that flex your toes also play an important role. Another often ignored muscle is your peroneus longus, which everts your foot as well as flexing your ankle. You can strengthen this muscle by performing medial foot walks.
Even some muscles that have nothing to do with ankle strength, such as your hip abductors, can contribute to the incidence of plantar fasciitis. If your hip abductor muscles are weak their ability to control impact on your legs is compromised and more stress is transmitted to your foot.
Excessive pronation isn’t the only cause of plantar fasciitis. Your ability to dorsi flex your ankle (raise the front of your foot up) also plays a role. A study performed at Virginia Commonwealth University recruited 50 volunteers with uni-lateral plantar fasciitis. The researchers concluded that “The risk of plantar fasciitis increases as the range of ankle dorsi flexion decreases.” Ankle dorsiflexion is an important part of your running stride because it allows your body to pass efficiently over your foot. If your ankle does not dorsiflex sufficiently your foot compensates by “unlocking” its mid tarsal joint. The resulting increased foot motion causes excessive pronation and can result in plantar fasciitis problems. How do you increase your range of ankle dorsi flexion? By strengthening your ankle dorsiflexor muscles with strength training and increasing the flexibility of your calf muscles with dynamic and static stretching.
This strength training plan will focus on increasing the strength of the muscles involved in controlling pronation but also includes exercises to improve the strength of your hip abductors, ankle plantar flexor and dorsi flexor muscles. I have also included a workout that may be new to you – 100 meter barefoot strides. In my opinion, barefoot running is one of the best ways to strengthen your feet and lower legs, which will help prevent plantar fasciitis. The barefoot running will allow your foot to move and react in free and natural ways, rather than being confined by the cast like affect of many over engineered running shoes. The barefoot running also improves the flexiblity of your feet and lower legs. A good pace to do these barefoot strides are on the soft, artificial turf infield of your local track. If you are not comfortable doing completely barefoot strides, you can do them with running socks or by wearing any of the new, “minimalist” shoes that mimic barefoot running. While not quite as effective as true barefoot running, it is a good and safe alternative.
Included in this plantar fasciitis prevention plan is a 4 week build up schedule and a rotating weekly maintenance schedule. The four week build up begins at a basic level. If you are new to these type of exercises I would strongly suggest beginning with week one of the build up to avoid possible injury. If you already have experience with lower leg strength training and have a significant base of strength you may be able to start with a later week in the build up schedule. The maintenance schedule can be used as a stand alone plan to help you avoid plantar fasciitis or it can be integrated into your overall strength training plan.
*This training plan is adapted from “Bear Naked Strength Training for Distance Runners” by Rick Morris
This plantar fasciitis prevention training plan is presented to you in PDF format. You can view the pages using your scroll bar or the PDF viewer controls at the bottom of each page.
Plantar Fasciitis Prevention
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