Just the other day, a patient of mine asked: "Could you explain the role of the Plantar Fascia and elaborate on the general function of fascia?" Considering the depth of this query, I figured it could be an informative blog post topic. Addressing the function of the Plantar Fascia is somewhat straightforward, but delving into the broader role of fascia is slightly more intricate. Nonetheless, let's attempt to shed some light on this subject.
The function of the Plantar Fascia
For the first part, the Plantar Fascia acts as a shock absorber that supports the foot's arch. 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 is effective 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 foot bones 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 foot arch (medial longitudinal arch). It 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), restoring 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.
What does Fascia do in General
The second part of the question asked, “What is fascia's purpose?” The answer to this is a little more complicated. Here is the short version.
In its role as a Tensional Network
Fascia, when maintaining an optimal balance of tension, serves to distribute force evenly across the body. This allows us to accumulate and discharge energy, which is essential for propulsion. This elasticity of fascia is crucial for various activities, from walking, running, and jumping to simply maintaining balance.
As a Living Matrix
Fascia is a dynamic structure that envelopes, fortifies, and infiltrates every muscle, tendon, ligament, bone, joint, and cardiovascular and neurological construct in our bodies.
From a Neurological Perspective
Fascia in our bodies houses ten times more sensory nerve receptors than those that stimulate our muscles. This implies that the fascial system communicates ten times more frequently than the muscular system, making fascia a significant control and regulatory mechanism within our bodies.
Our fascial network is akin to a living record of our life experiences! Every physical trauma or force we encounter transmits mechanical forces throughout our bodies. The impact of these forces manifests as alterations in the structure, elasticity, and function of our fascial tissues. An adept soft-tissue specialist can "read" these changes and modify their treatments accordingly to address the unique restrictions each individual has developed.
DR. BRIAN ABELSON DC. - The Author
Dr. Abelson is committed to running an evidence-based practice (EBP) incorporating the most up-to-date research evidence. He combines his clinical expertise with each patient's specific values and needs to deliver effective, patient-centred personalized care.
As the Motion Specific Release (MSR) Treatment Systems developer, Dr. Abelson operates a clinical practice in Calgary, Alberta, under Kinetic Health. He has authored ten publications and continues offering online courses and his live programs to healthcare professionals seeking to expand their knowledge and skills in treating musculoskeletal conditions. By staying current with the latest research and offering innovative treatment options, Dr. Abelson is dedicated to helping his patients achieve optimal health and wellness.
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Myers, T. W. (2014). Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists. Churchill Livingstone.
Stecco, C., & Hammer, W. I. (2018). Fascial manipulation for musculoskeletal pain. Piccin Nuova Libraria.
Schleip, R., Findley, T. W., Chaitow, L., & Huijing, P. (2012). Fascia: The tensional network of the human body: The science and clinical applications in manual and movement therapy. Churchill Livingstone.
Langevin, H. M., & Huijing, P. A. (2009). Communicating about fascia: history, pitfalls, and recommendations. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, 2(4), 3.
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