Foot Pain

Foot pain. Sore foot. There are many causes. Let's talk about the ones we can do something about.

Your calves take quite a beating. This can cause them to shorten, which causes your foot to leave the ground early, impeding a proper stride, which then cause all SORTS of problems in feet, legs, knees, hips, back. Let's worry about feet here.

You'll notice pain in your arch and heel - likely plantar fasciitis. When your calf can't move through its' full range, your foot can't either, so that's some major stress on the underside of your foot, repeated with every step.

The problem can be in the calf itself - perhaps trigger points or adhesions within the muscles - or it can be your lower back or butt. If your sciatic nerve gets pinched by a bulging disk, or if it gets compressed by your piriformis muscle, the irritation can cause constant partial contraction of the muscle. We talk about dealing with lower-back problems on another page-or-five of this site.

If the problem is, rather, within the calf muscles, you can do two things: stretch them and get rid of trigger-points and adhesions.


You've seen people stretching problem calves by hanging their heels off a step or a curb and letting their weight sag the heels and pull the calves? NOT a good idea.

We humans are not that far from our simian-like origins. One result of that is a "monkey reflex". If you stand on something flat, your feet and the rest of your muscles and skeleton automatically do the right things to keep you in a relaxed state of balance. It's a least-effort thing - just enough unconscious effort from various muscles to keep you comfortably upright. BUT... if you stand on something not-flat, where your heels are not supported, you invoke the same reflex as in the monkey standing on a branch with his heels hanging out over open air. Your calves tighten to keep you on that branch. It's unconscious, and largely out of your control. So when you hang your heels off a step and try to sag into a calf stretch, you are defeating the purpose.

A better stretch is one where you lean forward against a wall, with one foot flat on the ground, and the other foot curled behind the ankle of the anchor foot. You want the angle that you lean to be about the maximum you can manage with your heel still supported on the ground (to not invoke that monkey reflex). You can start with your butt slightly in the air, and then as your calf relaxes, you can allow your hips and butt to sag slightly (while you lean your forehead and forearms against that wall), to increase the depth of the calf stretch.

You can also use that off foot to press down on the heel of the anchor foot, to increase the stretch and ensure that the anchor heel doesn't lift.

Then switch legs and stretch the other calf. Again, keep the heel on the floor. If it lifts, it means you are trying too hard, or that you have not allowed enough time for the various bits (especially the target calf) to relax into the stretch.

Vary the stretch by turning the anchor foot toward one side or the other, to increase the stretch on one or another of the muscles in the calf - usually the big gastrocnemius heads, and sometimes the soleus that lives in the center just under the gastrocs, but there are several other small muscles in there, too.

Fpr another stretch lay a short length of two-by-four (wood) or a large barbell plate, or some object that's stable and about 1-1/2 to 2 inches high (about 5cm). Stand with your forefeet on the raised platform (the two-by-four or whatever) and your heels on the floor.

Lean forward. Or, you can position just one foot like that and assume a lunge position with the other leg, and use that leg to control the degree of lean (and stretch) in the anchor leg.

Massage (mashing)

Some people prefer to use a pain-stick (like TheraCane, the brand we use... hey, another product to highlight with a link... remind us...) or other artificial massage aid, but we prefer a knee-cap.

Lie down, supine on a suitable surface (bed is fine, a couch/sofa, a mat on the floor, a spot on the lawn).

Bend one knee to place your foot flat on the floor/bed/lawn.

Lift the other leg and place it on top of the first, with calf of the second leg resting on the up-bent knee of the first leg. Now press down against the knee-cap of the anchor leg and move the top leg around so that you are mashing your calf very firmly against your other kneecap.

By having your anchor leg bent and positioned, you ensure that the knee-cap is solidly supported and you won't do it any harm by using it as a muscle-masher. If you do feel knee discomfort stop. Likely, you won't.

Where you will feel discomfort is in the /v/i/c/t/i/m/ ... er... target calf. Ideally, you should be able to press very firmly, and to roll that calf around and not feel anything worse than some firm pressure. But what is more likely to happen is that you will soon encounter spots that hurt when you press them. They will likely "squirt" away and try to elude your knee. Don't let 'em. MASH those suckers, and keep maneuvering this massage to keep a sore spot under pressure for 30 seconds or so.

The pain is likely very local, but very often you'll also feel sudden referred pain in strange-seeming locations around your body. Keep pressing. The pain will likely begin to decrease. If that happens within the first few seconds that you've been mashing a given spot in your calf, it's just because you've slipped off the trigger-point (that's what these are, trigger-points or adhesions within the muscle). You need to feel around with that punishing kneecap and nail the sucker again. Keep crowding it.

After 30 seconds of solid, painful pressure, the pain might (should?) begin to abate as the trigger-point loosens. Let the pressure off and just gently rub the area to encourage circulation - your calf hasn't had proper circulation in that tightly-constricted little spot for some time, and it needs to flush out lactic acid, CO2, etc. and let some fresh oxygenated blood in. After a minute or so, see if you can locate the same pain-spot. If you can, give it another 20 to 30 seconds of painful mashing. Either it will loosen some more, or it won't. If it does, well that's just dandy - you can move on. If it doesn't, well it probably didn't GET that way instantly, so it won't be fixed instantly either. You can come back to it another day.

Moving the calf against the kneecap, search around for another tender spot. Possibly you'll find only one or two. Possibly there'll be one every other inch. Deal with it. If it's more than just a couple, it can be exhausting work. There's significant effort involved, and the self-inflicted pain is very tiring all by itself.

Switch and do the other calf for a while.

Remember, if a calf has NO trigger-points and adhesions in the muscle, you can press VERY firmly and not hurt it. A calf is a very tough muscle. You are finding these pain spots only because they are abnormal. If you have lots of disposable cash, you can pay a registered massage therapist to do the work for you. We find that many of these are tiny, but tough little women with horribly sharp elbows who are only pretending not to enjoy the pain they'll inflict on you. Some are big strong guys with brutally strong hands who can inflict similar pain with their thumbs all day and don't even need to resort to elbows and body-weight.

Either way - paid massage therapist or self-inflicted calf-mashing - we predict that you will notice positive results just about immediately. If not the same day, then within a couple of sessions. Your calves will lengthen and strengthen, so your stride will improve. This will improve your posture and have a chain reaction all the way up your spine, maybe even to your head. You might notice your neck feeling better after a few days of this. In the other direction, you should notice that your feet feel MUCH better. By fixing the problem in the calf, you take the strain off the tendons going to the foot.

You should also notice that trigger points are getting harder to find, and/or that they are easier to kill when you do find them. That means your alignment and biomechanics are improving, and you are no longer part of our own problem.

Yay for you!

Oh! We should mention. When you do hunt down, and mash, a trigger point or muscular adhesion, be sure to ice the area afterward, and take an Ibuprofen or NSAID of some sort. You have just brutalized that muscle, and there'll be some reactive inflammation. That's to be expected.

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