Fascia? I barely know ya!

Just last week, I was supervising a state test at my school. The expectations for teachers are that we are supposed to be active proctors: no sitting, no reading, no writing, no drawing, no electronic devices other than that needed to proctor the test, no helping students, no talking. I was supposed to slowly walk around the room, watching kids but not interacting with them, and not distracting myself with anything else. It was a lot of time to spend in the privacy of my own brain, and I have supervised 2 sessions a day, for 3 days last week and 3 days the week before. By the end of each day I was ready to scream, I had taken around 8,000 very slow steps and my feet hurt.

So, I was in the library with a group of kids, I had brought this thingy. IMG_1140

It needs a catchy name- it is basically two racquetballs in a sock, except instead of a sock I knit a cute little bag for it, because that is the kind of thing I do.

I casually tossed the thingy onto the floor, slipped my shoe off and rolled my foot around on it, really getting into the nooks and crannies of the muscles and fascia on the sole of my foot, between my toes, and flexing my feet up in the air. As I was engrossed in that, trying to look casual, my colleague came up unexpectedly. “What are you doing?”

“Um, my feet hurt.” I whispered.

“Oh, is that for Plantar fasciitis?” she whispered back. “I get that. I woke up in the middle of the night last night with just shooting pain in my heel.”

“oh no!” I whispered. Remember, no talking…

“Does that help with plantar fasciitis?”

“Yeah, when you flex your foot back, like…” I looked around, guilty. Remember, no talking. Instead, I rolled the balls over to her, raising my eyebrows, trying to say with my body language, wanna try?

She shuddered a little, then shook her head. I know, foot germs: gross. Also, removing your shoes in the library, also gross.

So, I’ll write about what I couldn’t explain there in the library while we were waiting for kids to finish testing.

What is fascia anyway?

Have you ever cooked chicken? When you prep it, there’s a layer of skin, then some fat, then there’s a shiny layer of tissue that covers the muscle, and narrows down to become tough connective tissue at the joints. (vegan friends: sorry, I know chicken is as gross as foot germs) (paleo friends: wipe your chin, you’re getting drool everywhere)

Fascia comes from the Latin word for bundles or bunches. One of fascia’s functions is to wrap or bundle our muscles and organs, and provide a smooth surface, so skin and muscles can slide around, and to attach the bundles of muscle wherever they need to be attached- sometimes bones, sometimes other soft tissue. In my anatomy coloring book, there is clear delineation between tendon and fascia and ligament, but remember back to that chicken leg, and you know that in bodies, the divisions aren’t so clear. The bundles come together and become tendon, which becomes bone- there’s not a clear line between them.

The fascia on the sole of the foot gives structure and springiness to the arch when you point your foot, aka plantar flexion, kind of like the rubber band on a slingshot. IMG_1139

That slingshot tension helps you push off when running or walking. A lot of us have our feet pointed almost all the time, though, so our slingshots are wearing out. Imagine a rubber band that is just chronically stretched- it loses a lot of its resilience; it isn’t as bouncy as you want it to be.

You know you have fasciitis if, when you have been sitting a long time, you get up and your heel hurts like crazy. It’s hard to walk until you get a few steps, then its better. Or first thing in the morning, your first steps to the bathroom are agony. While you rest, the muscles on the backs of your calves pull your toes into plantar flexion, since they are bigger and stronger than the muscles on the fronts of your calves. Your toes are basically pointed all night, so then when you wake up, you are walking around on that frayed rubber band on the soles of your feet, otherwise known as your plantar fascia.

Rolling on racquetballs can help stretch the tissues on the bottom of the feet in the other direction and relax some of that tension. It also helps flex the feet in the opposite direction, aka dorsi-flexion, which puts that slingshot into a resting position. Other options are to roll on a golf ball, or roll up a towel to flex your feet on and stretch your calves.

You can even roll out your feet when you don’t hurt- all of us could probably use a nice foot massage, even when we aren’t whispering in the library. What about you? Experience with fasciitis? With rolling out your feet? What’s a good name for the foot-ball-rollie-thingie? Aren’t you glad I didn’t illustrate this post with either pictures of raw chicken or my bare feet?


The Anatomy Coloring Book (haven’t colored the feet page yet- it’s fascinating, but slow-going) (Also, I don’t get money from amazon for affiliate links, just trying to give credit for good information in a book I like)

serious stuff about foot problems (maybe too serious?)

Exercise oriented info about fascia in general

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