by Amanda Wolfe, student class of Nov 2017
Our feet are one of the most important parts of our body. Feet allow us to stand, reach higher, walk, run, and stay mobile throughout our busy daily lives. Foot health is important, but often overlooked or pushed off by many people. Healthy feet are taken for granted, and unhealthy or painful feet are often unaddressed or unrelieved. Massage can be the key to many different foot conditions. Let’s take a closer look into some of the most common, painful feet problems that are easily relieved by massage therapy if addressed soon enough!
One of the most common, and most painful conditions of the feet is called plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is simply described as inflammation and pain in the connective tissue on the bottom of your foot that runs from your heel to your toes. This connective tissue is called the plantar fascia, which is how the condition gets it a name. PF can be caused by a wide range of things: athletic activities, especially running, being overweight, and (repetitively) wearing shoes that lack necessary support for your arches and foot structure.
Plantar fasciitis is extremely unpleasant, and the most common symptom is a sharp, distinct pain in your foot or heel when you first get out of bed in the morning. For most people, the pain goes away after you walk around or stretch out their feet. However, in some cases, the pain is more debilitating and lasts longer. The pain can also return after prolonged standing, sitting, or inactivity.
Plantar fasciitis is often managed through over the counter pain killers, stretching, and good general foot care such as owning supportive shoes. Some people go as far as to wear night splits or see physical therapists. For some, simple stretches and shoe inserts are enough, but for others the pain is relentless. Thankfully, massage therapy can quickly treat and relieve this condition! Through passive stretching, massaging tender areas, soft-tissue release techniques, and working all the muscles of the foot and lower leg, PF can be addressed very quickly, with amazing results after only one massage. Depending on the severity of the pain and the depth of the injury, some clients need several weekly sessions to see lasting long-term relief, but the first treatment typically brings at least some immediate relief.
Once the relief from treatments begins to last and the pain is not returning daily, the therapist can cut back on appointment frequency to whatever it takes to maintain results. Some clients may need a treatment every three weeks to maintain results, while other can go months in between. The necessary frequency depends on how active the client is, how much time they invest into self-care, and how good their foot structure is.
Bone spurs are another common foot problem. They do not always cause problems, and often people never know they have them. However, they can also be quite painful depending on their location and size. Bone spurs occur when a bone develops a calcium deposit (a bony outgrowth) coming off of it. These are often developed in areas that suffer long term inflammation and can occur in many different body parts. Bone spurs in the feet, also known as “heel spurs,” can often be associated with plantar fasciitis due to its long term inflammation in a small area. Although they are often found together, heel spurs and plantar fasciitis do not always go hand in hand.
Heel spurs can be very painful, but they are not hard to treat if you catch them early on. Many people address the pain accompanied by these bony protrusions, rather than actually getting rid of them. Ice, rest, and over the counter pain killers usually help with the pain, but don’t always deal with the issue. Massage can be a great way to help with these painful problems, especially if you find them right away. Many people try rolling their feet over golf balls or a round dowel, and while this can be helpful in breaking down new bone spurs, massage can do even more. A trained therapist will be able to pinpoint where your bone spurs is developing, give good pressure and use multiple techniques to try and breakdown the new growth. Not only will a therapist address the point of pain, but she should also be trained to work around the entire area, including the foot, ankle, and calves. Your therapist should perform some different soft tissue techniques, as well as stretching your plantar fascia and Achilles’ tendons well. This is especially important if the heel spur is a result of PF.
Some bone spurs are old and fully developed already, and they can be tricky and sometimes require surgery to remove. However, if you notice you are feeling pain in a concentrated spot don’t hesitate to see a doctor. If you address it right away with rest, massage treatments, ice, and good self-care you can usually get rid of it before it becomes too developed to get rid of naturally. If you have PF or have a tendency to develop bone spurs, or you are very active and on your feet then it would also be a good idea to be proactive and see a massage therapist every few weeks and have them spend some time on your feet. A good therapist should be able to pick up on problems in the early stages, sometimes even before you notice it becoming painful! So whether you have a developed bone spur, or you just know you are at risk for getting them, ask your therapist for some special attention on your feet.
The last foot condition we will look at today is the infamous “hammer toe.” Hammer’s toes are when any or all of the four smaller toes become curled up and bent upward at the small joints. The most common cause of this condition is wearing shoes that lack the appropriate room for your toes to be fully extended and comfortable. Hammer’s toes develop slowly over time, and the sooner they are addressed the better. If left too long, the joints can become stiff and stuck and can require surgery to fix. If the problem is caught early on, or at least before severe damage is done to the joints then massage and self-care can fix the problem.
When a client with hammer toes comes in, the therapist should be focusing primarily on the extensor digitorium longus muscle. This tight extensor muscle is the reason the toes get drawn up into further extension, creating the hammer toes. The tendons attaching to this muscle become so tight in some people that they become easily visible and very prominent. A therapist should focus on massaging and carefully stretching this muscle to try and lengthen it back to its original healthy length. This will, in turn, greatly reduce the hammer toes caused by the strong pull of the muscle.
While massage therapy is helpful with hammer toes, a therapist can only do so much if the client does not have good self-care. People with hammer toes need to get rid of any shoes that are too tight, especially in the toe area. They need to have roomy shoes, stretch their feet and toes regularly, and take the necessary steps to make sure the joints do not become too stiff or fuse together. The sooner hammer toes are treated, the better the recovery will be. The longer the condition goes untreated the longer recovery will take, and the more limited treatment options become. If the problem is caught early enough then it will only take some time, patience, and work to restore your toes back to normal.
With the help of a knowledgeable doctor/podiatrist, a good massage therapist, and disciplined self-care many types of foot pain can be managed and healed. If you have any type of foot pain immediately contact your podiatrist, as well as a knowledgeable and experienced massage therapist. Do not put off treatment, as the sooner you address the problems the better you will recover!
With any foot injury or condition remember this: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you are on your feet a lot, participate in athletic activities, have a family history of foot problems, or have poor foot structure then take some preventative measures. Stretch your feet, ankles, and calves regularly, spend time on self-care, wear good shoes, take the time to rest, and of course, see an experienced massage therapist for regular foot and lower leg massages!