In the last article we began to debate the pros and cons of barefoot running, and what frequently comes up is a very important consideration and this simple, and quite frankly, general rule of thumb – it depends on the what and why.
The movement has gained a strong following through some scientists’ beliefs that barefoot running can actually improve health in the feet, knees and hips while reducing the rate of common injuries like plantar fasciitis. I have no doubt that this is true for many; however, there are always risk factors, proper adaptations and progressions to consider, and asking the right questions – what activities do I engage in? will this improve my overall performance and health? When and where would barefoot running be implemented and when, what periodized progressions.
In my own personal athletic sphere; I find training in the gym when lifting kettlebells and performing yoga – barefoot is key to my success. I have not yet ventured to the realms of the trails or pounding of the pavement yet, but I will. Now, how about work? My ultimate goal is to become a Vancouver Police Officer and I can say that without a doubt, barefoot options will not happen here, for 3 key factors (1) public safety hazard, huge risk factors (2) your boots are your protection, if a perp is on the ground, you don’t dive in “hands first,” and your feet are the closest piece of your body to someone on the ground – safety first. (3) long shifts and uncontrolled terrain, you never know where the day or night will take you. My point is that if you are considering barefoot options; you need to consider all spheres of your life and implement as such, with proper implementation.
The Mechanics of the Foot:
Running barefoot allows the mechanics of the foot to operate as it is designed, without restriction and it also connects the runner to the terrain, mother earth. Running barefoot forces the runner to use the foot pads on the balls of the feet when striking the ground rather than touching down with the heel, which can increase the shock absorbed by your legs and feet. A common injury seen in runners and endurance athletes is plantar fascitis.
Plantar fasciitis occurs when the thick band of tissue running across the bottom of the foot, becomes inflamed. Your foot is the foundation, the roots to everything else that sits above. Made up of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, our feet and hands house the majority of our bone structure.
The plantar fascia is a relatively inflexible, strong, fibrous band on the bottom of the foot that supports the arch of your foot. Beginning at the heel bone, the plantar fascia extends the length of your foot to connect with your toes at the ball of the foot and is an integral part of the superficial back line, one of our many fascia meridians.
Insert anatomy 101 here: The Superficial Back Line :
Plantar Fascia > Gastronemius > Hamstrings > Sacrotuberous ligament > Thoracolumbarfascia > Erector Spinae > Nuchal Ligament > scalp fascia ( to “occipital ridge and beyond” well… to the brow bone anyways)
When we walk, weight is distributed across your feet. Any imbalances in the mechanics of the foot and distribution of weight can potentially cause compensation that can lead to injury. When we look at a dissection of this line we can see that the plantar fascia is continuous, covering and transvering around and to the heel and the Achilles tendon upwards through the calves, hamstring, deep fascia of the sacrum and lumbar, even interacting with the sciatic nerve. This begs the question – is what some call “plantar facitis” really the issue, if you experience back pain – that could be the point of origin of breakdown, or perhaps a very poor score on your ASLR (active straight leg raise) – perhaps it’s your hamstrings that are the “bain of the pain” and not your feet. My point, is there are many things to consider here.
Many proponents of barefoot running and it cannot be jumped into quickly. Let’s look at the shoes for a moment – they allow the foot muscles to relax and exist underdeveloped. And they cushion from impact. Additionally, the bones in the foot and lower body are not accustomed to the stress of barefoot running. When you are starting out, note this.
The Superficial Back Line & The Hamstrings:
I find that clients and runners, who exhibit plantar fascia inflammation, also have had calf strains and tight hamstrings, or too much tone in the muscle tissue itself. As humanoids are initial response to pain is to fix and treat the pain referral point – but, remember, it’s all connected and the pain isn’t always the source of the breakdown. Moving on up the leg, try a simple multi-segmental flexion drill and trigger point to release to see if this improves the mechanics of the foot, superficial line and ASLR.
During multi-segmental flexion (toe touch) the primary line that we are asking to be lengthened is the Superficial Back Line and we know that this basically stems from the plantar fascia at the bottom of the foot all the way up to the scalp. This teaches sensory awareness, as well as teaches relaxation of the tension in the back and superficial line and how to shift the body weight from heels to the toes in a smooth and consistent fashion.
Step One: Soft Tssue Rolling - use a tennis ball (or better yet a foot roller) and roll on the bottoms of the feet (the plantar fascia) for approximately 60sec per foot
Step Two: Toe Touch Progression (I like to start the client off with heels elevated slightly on the half foam first; which is more passive, then work up to toes elevated on the foam and a towel in between the knees for proper tracking of the knee and trunk engagement). Arms extended over head, again NO hyperextension and ensuring the client does not hyperextend the lower back upon returning from flexed position.
If the client has lower back pain or any back related injury (herniated discs, back surgery etc); then flexion you want to stay away from and extension patterning should also be considered with ANY flexion patterning – it’s all about creating balance.
Dysfunction in motor control tends to be one of the most common causes for altered neuromuscular stabilization of the pelvis and hips and this transfers to our feet. Considering, the psoas and hip flexor group interact with flexion (point of origin of the psoas is lower lumbar, hence it will pull on the back and compress at the hip in flexion of the toe touch progression, you can modify this by performing another movement pattern – the supine ASLR passive and active leg lowering progression.
Step one: use the foot roller or tennis ball to roll the plantar fascia.
Step Two: ASLR Passive Leg Progression and then moving to the second progression (using a hurdle or door frame). For more information on these progressions you can find a great breakdown in Gray Cook’s book “Athletic Body in Balance” or more for you clinical coaches, Gray’s book “Movemet” looks at more the SMFA approach.
In any case, always retest and see if there is an immediate improvement in visceral pain of the plantar fascia and improved range of motion in the superficial back line. Some instantly feel release and can be able to touch their toes.
Next week we take a peek at the Barefoot Training and the neuromuscular adaptations and benefits of rooting through your feet in strength and conditioning.
Dissection of the Lines “Anatomy Trains” – http://www.anatomytrains.com/uploads/rich_media/ATDiss-1.pdf
Gray Cook (links to his books and articles ) – http://graycook.com/