The Plantar Fascia – What Does it Do?
Updated: Jun 30
Recently one my patients asked me, “What exactly is the function of the Plantar Fascia” and “What does fascia do in general”? I thought this would make a good blog post. The first part of question is a little easier to explain, but the second questions is a little more complex. So let’s give it a shot.
Function of the Plantar Fascia
For the first part, basically the Plantar Fascia acts as a shock absorber that supports the arch of the foot. It also acts as a propulsion mechanism to drive the body forward. One of the easiest ways to understand these functions is to compare the plantar fascia to a Windlass Mechanism. (Most people know the Windlass mechanism as being an effective device for lifting large loads.)
Plantar Fascia - Your Body’s Windlass Mechanism
Usually, when we think of a windlass mechanism, we think of a mechanical lifting device that consists of a horizontal cylinder turned by a crank or motor, around which a line or cable is wound.
In the foot, the plantar fascia simulates the cable in a windlass mechanism, with the bones of the foot forming the frame around which the fascia or cable is wrapped.
Here is how it works in your foot:
The plantar fascia loosens and tightens with each change in the weight-bearing forces of the foot.
As you push-off with the foot, the plantar fascia winds around the forward bones of the foot (heads of the metatarsals). This has the effect of reducing the distance between the heel bone (calcaneus) and the toes.
3. By doing so, the plantar fascia elevates the arch of the foot (medial longitudinal arch) and prevents the arch of the foot from collapsing, allowing for effective shock absorption, and powering the propulsion mechanism. The Windlass Mechanism packs the bones of the foot together to create a rigid lever for more effective propulsion during push-off.
Key Point - Shock Absorption!
The Windlass Mechanism (Plantar Fascia Mechanism) is an incredibly important shock absorption apparatus. With conditions such as Plantar Fasciitis, Dancers Tendonitis (medial foot pain), or Cuboid Syndrome (lateral foot pain), the restoration of a dysfunctional Windlass Mechanism is critical for a complete resolution of the condition. This means releasing restrictions in both the plantar fascia itself as well as the adjacent muscles and the joints of the foot and ankle.
Gait Cycle: Want to learn more about the different phases of the gait cycle? Read Dr. Abelson's blog "Designed to Run - The Human Gait Cycle".
What does Fascia do in General
The second part of the question asked “What is the purpose of fascia?” The answer to this is a little more complicated. Here is the short version.
As a Tensional Network - When fascial tension is in good balance, fascia acts to distribute force throughout the body, and allows us to store and release energy for propulsion. Good fascial elasticity is critical for everything from walking, running, and jumping, to simply balancing.
As a Living Matrix – Your fascia is a living matrix that surrounds, supports, and penetrates every muscle, tendon, ligament, bone, joint, cardiovascular, and neurological structure in the body.
Neurologically - The body’s fascia contains ten times the number of sensory nerve receptors as those that innervate your muscles. That means there is 10 times more communication occurring throughout the fascial system, than occurs in the muscular system. This makes the fascia into a major control and regulatory system within your body.
Historically - Our fascial network contains a written history of our life! Every injury or physical force that we experience transmits mechanical forces throughout the body. The effects of these forces are recorded as changes in the structure, elasticity, and function of your fascial tissues. A good soft-tissue practitioner is able to “read” these changes and can then adjust their treatments to address the specific restrictions that each individual has developed.
11 - Plantar Fasciitis Exercises
For a complete resolution of Plantar Fasciitis, it is important to use the RIGHT combination of exercises. There are four important areas that must be addressed when developing exercise routines for Plantar Fasciitis: stretching, myofascial release, strengthening, and balance.
What exercises should be prescribed will vary depending on the needs of the individual. Factors such as kinetic chain involvement, muscle imbalances, and previous injuries should be considered. Because of this please consider the information as a general guild line and not a recommendation for a specific case. Plantar Fasciitis Playlist.
DR. BRIAN ABELSON DC.
Dr. Abelson believes in running an Evidence Based Practice (EBP). EBP's strive to adhere to the best research evidence available, while combining their clinical expertise with the specific values of each patient.
Dr. Abelson is the developer of Motion Specific Release (MSR) Treatment Systems. His clinical practice in is located in Calgary, Alberta (Kinetic Health). He has recently authored his 10th publications which will be available later this year.
Want to learn more about Plantar Fasciitis? Check out Dr. Abelson's book - "RESOLVING PLANTAR FASCIITIS" where you can find practical advice about how to resolve this painful condition.
This book gives you specific tests that can help determine the root cause of your problem. Then, Dr, Abelson helps you to build an individualized exercise program specific to YOUR needs. If you suffer from Plantar Fasciitis, then you really do need to check out this book .