- Foot pain affects over 60% of thru hikers
- Multiple issuses can cause Plantar Fasciitis
- Stretches and exercises can help
Considering foot problems are so prevalent on long distance hikes, let’s look at Plantar Fasciitis.
What Is The Plantar Fascia?
The Plantar Fascia is a thick band of tissue that acts like a spring on the bottom of the foot when we walk. Fascia is white in color which tells us that it does not have a great blood supply (it doesn’t really need to). However, that means when it suffers an injury it can take a long time for it recover.
Causes of Irritation
The fascia can become inflamed, or irritated for a number of reasons. Tight muscles in your lower leg, weak foot muscles, poor ankle mobility and footwear are the usual culprits.
One of the most common causes of Plantar Fasciitis is a tight calf muscle. Your calf muscles actually form the Achilles Tendon, which attaches to your heel bone. When the calf muscle is tight, it pulls up on the heel bone ever so slightly and that greatly impacts how the rest of your foot moves. The main site of pain will be on the inside edge of your heel near end of your arch.
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Shoes generally have a thicker heel and a thinning sole as it nears the toe box. Think of a traditional running shoe. The other style is a minimal rise shoe like Vans; the sole of the shoe is the same thickness from back to front. Altras are designed the same way, it’s just a really thick sole known as a maxi-minimalist.
A thicker heel means that your calf muscle is in a slightly shortened position, which in turn pulls up on the heel bone – see the earlier post. If you are barefoot often, or wear low-rise shoes like Chuck Taylors or Vans instead of the thicker heel shoe you will be less likely to have a problem transitioning to shoes like Altras.
If you have been wearing a traditional thick heeled shoe for years and suddenly decide to wear Altras on a thru-hike without allowing your body to adjust, you are more likely to experience discomfort/pain. Some people can transition smoothly to low-rise shoes, but you don’t want to find out if that’s you while you’re on the trail!
If you have tight calf muscles or deal with foot pain currently and REALLY want to hike in shoes like Altras, give yourself 3-6 months to adjust to a minimal rise shoe. It can seriously take that long to stretch out that chronically tight calf and Achilles Tendon!
Exercises and Stretches
To address weak foot muscles, try walking barefoot more often in a safe place like a backyard or beach. The video shows a quick exercise you can perform to help build one of the muscles that supports the arch. While standing, try to pull your arch up, hold and then relax. Work up to 3 sets of 8 reps, holding for 7 seconds.
Massage for the calf is really helpful; try using a trekking pole, lacrosse ball, your elbow, a smooth rock anything, really.
Find what hurts and work on that area or right around it. Search from just below the back of your knee to your ankle.
There is also the Bone Saw, which sounds pleasant, I know. You pretty much drive your shin into your calf, it’s a real deep tissue massage. Work into this one slowly!
Finally, stretch the calf muscles frequently with a traditional runners stretch. Aim for 3 sets of 20 seconds and repeat throughout the day.
A simple massage for each foot might look like this: rub for 20 seconds, twist for 20 seconds and stretch for 20 seconds. Try to do this each morning before you get out of your tent, it will reduce how much discomfort you feel first thing when you stand up.
You can reach me firstname.lastname@example.org with any injury issues, past or present that you feel will impact your hike. Training questions are also welcome – I am happy to help!