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.
Bottom Line – Fascia is Incredibly Important
Your Plantar Fascia is an incredible shock absorption propulsion mechanism, but like all other fascia in your body, it is so much more!
If you would like to learn more about the Plantar Fascia, about your body’s incredible kinetic chain, or how to resolve Plantar Fasciitis, then please read Dr. Abelson’s book about “Resolving Plantar Fasciitis”.
Cheers Dr. Brian Abelson DC.
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.
Dr. Abelson is the owner of Kinetic Health, a partner in BKAT Motion Specific Release, and a partner in Rowan Tree Books.