Our ankles and feet are important, as they are the first thing that hit the ground as we ambulate throughout the day. Taking care of our ankles and feet minimizes our risk of falling which could cause other injuries, and improves our overall quality of life. Due to the fact that the ankles and feet support our body weight throughout the day, any injuries to these joints could lead to other injuries or pain in the knees, hips, or back.
There are many foot and ankle injuries or conditions that we treat in physical therapy including but not limited to ankle sprains, tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, and rehabilitation after surgical procedures.
As physical therapists we are trained to assess gait and the causes of abnormalities or deviations and to correct them. Gait is a term used to describe our walking pattern. When our gait pattern is impaired, whether it is related to pain or developed as a result of an old injury, it can increase our risk of other injuries in the future. Physical therapists can help correct gait impairments to normalize an abnormal pattern and minimize these risks.
Of the previously mentioned foot and ankle conditions we see in physical therapy, plantar fasciitis is one of the more common and difficult to treat. Plantar fasciitis is an over-use related injury which impacts the plantar fascia, a thicker tissue that runs along the base of our feet known for supporting our arches. Plantar fasciitis can cause pain along the bottom of the foot and can reduce our tolerance for weight bearing activities and exercise.
Plantar fasciitis can occur in those who spend a lot of time on their feet while at work or at home or those who frequently run or jump. Physical Therapy is a great treatment option for those experiencing plantar fasciitis. Physical therapy can help treat this condition by developing an appropriate program based on the individual patients’ symptoms and deficits to reduce pain and restore the prior level of function improving the overall quality of life.
A few tips from a physical therapist for those with plantar fasciitis:
- To utilize shoe wear with suitable arch support and be sure to switch out shoes that are used frequently, about every 6 to 12 months (before they are worn out)
- To maintain a healthy body weight
- To use a thick mat to provide cushion/support if standing in one spot for a large amount of time during the day
- To maintain good calf muscle flexibility to allow your body to use other muscles correctly during activities of daily living or exercise activities.
Exercises that a physical therapist may prescribe for plantar fasciitis:
- Standing gastrocnemius stretch with knee straight:
- Standing soleus stretch with knee bent:
- Heel raises at the counter for calf strength and balance:
- Plantar fascia frozen water bottle massage:
Disclaimer: If you experience any pain or discomfort, discontinue the exercises and contact your health care provider.
Other treatment that could be offered by a physical therapist for plantar fasciitis:
- Soft tissue mobilization
- Scraping (Graston or ASTYM)
- Shockwave therapy
While the above treatments can be useful for reducing the symptoms of plantar fasciitis, seeing a physical therapist to be evaluated may be the best option. Based on the evaluation the therapist can prescribe the most appropriate exercises, manual techniques, or modalities to best treat the individuals’ condition.
Our ankles and feet are particularly important to our overall health by allowing us to stay mobile and active. Injuries to the ankles or feet can greatly impair our daily function, quality of life, and increase our risk of falling. Physical therapy is a great treatment option for injuries to or impairments of the ankles and feet.