Body Mechanics Orthopedic Massage

Body Mechanics Orthopedic Massage
Manual experts for your body. Life is too short for limits.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Treating Plantar Fasciaitis

In this post we are going to talk about an orthopedic massage treatment for Plantars fascitis. Before we get down to the nitty gritty, however I want to discuss the pathology on the whole.

Plantar fasciitis has been previously classified as an inflammatory condition, hence the 'itis' at the end of the name. The literal translation of the medical language is foot part inflammation. Recent studies have concluded that its not really an inflammatory condition at all. Its is very important to understand however in treating this condition, that while it is not an inflammatory condition itself, there may be inflammation present especially post exercise or you may cause inflammation by working on it. Not being classified as an inflammatory condition does not exclude it from inflammation.

Clinically in my experience with sports massage, it has turned into a bit of a blanket term meaning pain in the bottom of the foot. The classic presentation is specifically pain in the AM after the tissue has contracted over night, however I have frequently had people come in with diagnosis from physicians where pain is during exercise or after only. If you are treating plantar fascia you also need to be aware of the risk of heel spurs and their contraindications.

People who have started training programs, had a recent weight gain, are pregnant, work standing all day, are logging a lot of miles, and who have inflammatory conditions are all at risk for Plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciittis is one of the most common foot complaints.  Technically what is happening is the plantar fascia is being over stretched or over taxed for a number of reasons and is tearing at the most delicate part of the connective tissue in the leg, the plantar fascia. Tears can be small and irritating or in the worst case scenario, a full rupture. You can find out more about plantar fascia in my brief description here.

For the purposes of this treatment we will be treating as if we have performed a full body treatment with the focus on the lower leg. In progressive treatments I would then do a full body with the focus on the leg above the knee as well, and then a full body with the focus on treating plantar fascia at the hip...etc. Plantar fascia is rarely a foot problem, however it has been my experience that patients get the most initial relief from treating the lower leg, so that is where we will start.

Start your client in prone and with general Swedish massage. When ever possible I try to mix in as much general treatment as possible so that the client can benefit from the systemic benefits of massage as well as the focused ones. As you work towards the legs be aware of what you are touching, feel for anything that seems tighter or ropy-ier than it should be. Use this extended Swedish time as a palpitation exploration and add it to your full assessment. You are always going to start on the side with less pain so you can have a comparison of that persons 'normal' to dysfunction. Between each larger technique, I always return to Swedish massage to assess and sooth the tissue.

Once you have reached the lower leg warm the tissue with Swedish work.  After the tissue has been warmed, then move to deeper work such as trigger point and deep tissue on the whole of the lower leg structures. At this point, move to passive active release moving laterally to medially via anatomical structures. Starting at the peroneus muscles, anchor into the tissue with a thumb/finger/elbow at the origin and move the structure through its range of motion. Work down the whole length of the muscle doing this passive active release. (in some cases I would do this for gastrox and solus as well but usually I progress to straight active release)

Now that the client knows the motion of the peroneals, I as them to take the motion over on their own. As they evert/invert I again work my way down the length of the muscle, stopping of course for any thing that causes too much pain or discomfort. All motions and pressure are to remain within clients comfort level. After working the peroneals, then move onto the gastrox and solus active releases in the same manner. Start at the proximal attachment and move distally towards the Achilles. You can access deep into the muscle bellies from the sides and from the center of the tissue. Here is a video to help understand the process. Its important to note that at some points of the ROM in the active release there may be discomfort. That is fine, the client is in control of the motion and ask them to move slowly and carefully expressing that you will not increase the pressure.

 Using active release as the massage allows greater muscle pumping properties to the tissue, helps approximate muscle length and through conscious movement helps the client be more aware of movement patterns. It also puts the client in control of work that could be quite sensitive otherwise.

After the active release has been performed, and the client can move through the range of motion pain free, I move on to stretching. Using a number of different kinds of stretches is very helpful in when treating plantar fasciitis because each muscle presents its own challenges. For both gastrox and solus I use a pnf version of stretching. I stretch them separately, by putting them into their lengthened position and having the client resist the stretch for the count of 10, and then repeat that cycle until the desired length is achieved. For both tibialis posterior and the peroneal muscles I do the same, although much more delicately. You of course to do this must know exactly what the action of the muscle is.

Bowing the achilles
S curve bowing of the achilles
After the active stretching I move on to stretching the tissue manually with fascia work and bowing. Sometimes because a client has a bone structure that prevents full ROM this is the most effective way across the board, however the calves on the whole are very strong muscles, my strength can never compare to theirs so using the clients own power is always safer and more effective generally as a means of tissue movement, which is why I perform both active release and fascia work. For this I manually pull the bulk of the muscles away from the bone, by anchoring the ankle and pulling the tissue towards or away from me in long steady movements. Sometimes it can be helpful to do this through a hot wet towel. In fascia work this would be a form of bowing. At the achilles I can bow laterally, medially or both in an s curve.

Once the calf work is completed I work around the heel, you can work around the heel with your fingertips encouraging the tissue towards the site of the pain. In school I learned then to do deep work on the plantar fascia at the site of pain, but have since abandoned that technique as too painful and too risky to the tissue. Clients would literally sweat on the table as you put the foot into flexion and dug away at the tissue. Instead I recommend this technique which is a variation of the work with the foot in flexion but far less painful.

Drop the foot off the table in prone so that the toes hang off . The heel will be just about level with the edge of the table. Stand so that you are facing the end of the table and the clients feet. Squat down or kneel so that you are  not using strength, but body mechanics and grasp the heel firmly with both hands and with medium pressure pull the foot into flexion and drag the tissue down. It is important to note I am not rubbing the surface of the skin but, letting the skin move me towards the toes.

After all of these steps are completed I would close with Swedish massage working my way back up the leg and moving onto the next side. Once that side is completed I would ask the client to turn over and work the anterior lower leg muscles in the same fashion, following the same protocol, of Swedish, active and stretching.  In my clinic we would also follow this up with a supportive taping for that plantar fascia.

For many people the initial treatment will bring considerable relief if the diagnosis is correct, however the condition is not 'fixed'. It is very important to continue maintenance, change behavior, and seek help in the form of strengthening. Any time the body lays down splinting or pulls tight in this manner its usually looking for extra support and you have to ask yourself 'why?'.  Giving your client a home care plan that works for them is also very important. Most people get stuck with plantar fascia issues because they are treating the plantar aspect rather than the problem, and only taking preventive measures, such as wearing a night sock. Full treatment constitutes a change in behavior, strengthening, manual therapy and a good home care program.

For more information on sports massage or orthopedic massage you can visit us at
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