If there’s one thing that the fields of medicine and alternative healing have in common, it’s that they both tend to lean towards the idea that all the different parts of the body are intertwined. With that, it’s a generally accepted notion that the body must function like a well-oiled clock, with all of its different cogs and parts operating together for optimum health.
So what happens when a part is subject to illness or injury? Are other parts bound to become involved? Take the case of a 45 year old woman whose condition was the subject of a long-term study published in 2017. As a chronic sufferer of plantar fasciitis, she soon developed very stiff calf muscles that affected her mobility and independence.
This begs the question – can plantar fasciitis cause leg pain? And if it does, what can we do to help address both problems for fast and efficient recovery and pain relief? Keep on reading to find out the answers to these questions and more with our comprehensive guide.
What is Plantar Fasciitis?
First things first – what exactly is plantar fasciitis? Basically, this condition is characterized by inflammation of the plantar fascia. This long ligament stretches from the heel to the toes in order to support the structures along the soles of your feet. When you overwork the plantar fascia or injure it through poor biomechanics, it swells up and becomes painful during use.
Theoretically, given that the plantar fascia is provided enough time to heal and rest, plantar fasciitis can heal itself. However, being that the structure is located along one of the most used parts of the body – the feet – it can take months before plantar fasciitis resolves on its own. In fact, most cases will first get much worse before they start to heal.
Often, individuals won’t immediately seek professional medical care for plantar fasciitis right off the bat. So the painful problem can creep upwards towards the calves and cause further discomfort. But how exactly does plantar fasciitis cause pain in a region that’s technically not even involved in the injury?
How Can PF Cause Leg Pain?
To better understand how plantar fasciitis causes leg pain, it’s ideal that we take a look back at our initial premise. That is – all the different parts of our body work together in order to maintain optimal health and functioning.
When the plantar fascia is injured, we’re often forced to compensate. In medical terms, compensation refers to alteration of body mechanics in order to reduce pain and discomfort. So, in order to minimize the pain generated by plantar fasciitis during movement, we change our normal gait to reduce the demand and pressure on the plantar fascia and the feet all together.
A bad gait can apply pressure on all the wrong parts of your body, and will likely demand much more work from other parts of your lower limbs in order to reduce the amount of work that your feet and plantar fascia will put in.
Most often, individuals with plantar fasciitis find that shifting a larger amount of weight towards the toes instead of the heels greatly reduces pain. That’s because plantar fasciitis pain is most pronounced around the area of the heel where the ligament originates. Although this reduces pain in the area of the foot for a while, it overworks the gastrocnemius – the muscle that makes up the bulk of the calf, responsible for the tiptoe posture.
For the first few weeks of compensation, you might not feel anything. But after months of compensatory movement and an improper gait, your body will start to reap the pain and discomfort caused by poor weight bearing and biomechanics.
How to Know If You Have a Bad Gait
If you have plantar fasciitis and you want to figure out whether you’re applying added pressure and pain on other parts of your body as a result of compensatory movements, it’s ideal that you asses your gait pattern for abnormalities. This will help you make the proper adjustments where necessary, and will reduce the chances of further complications as a result of your plantar fasciitis.
There are several techniques you can perform in order to get a better idea of where abnormalities exist with your current gait. It’s recommended that you try a combination of these different methods in order to come up with a definitive analysis.
1. Check Your Treads
The first and possibly easiest way to understand your gait would be to check the treads on your shoes. Generally, the treads around the area of the forefoot and the heel should have even wear. If there’s more wear around the front than the heel area or vice versa, it would imply that you tend to bear more weight on the area that has more wear. Worn out lateral or medial treads can signify a problem with pronation or supination and may further complicate the pain you experience as a result of PF.
2. Wet Footprint Method
Lay down a path of clean white paper on the floor enough to cover the distance of 3-4 of your strides. Make sure the path is wide enough to accommodate your typical gait without the need for you to bring your feet closer together. With either water or paint, coat the entire soles of your feet enough to create a solid footprint when you step. Walk over the paper for 2-3 strides as you normally would. Then, inspect the footprints you’ve left behind. Areas where the paint or water is thickest is likely where you place the most weight.
3. Mirror Inspection
It helps to see yourself in front of a mirror during movement to understand how your lower limbs work. One of the many techniques appropriate for calf pain relating to PF is the single leg heel rise. Lifting one leg slightly off the ground by bending the knee, raise your planted heel by executing the highest tiptoe you can. Difficulty repeating the movement could indicate a weakened calf muscle as a result of overuse.
You can also try to hop on one leg while in front of the mirror. If the toes on your hopping foot tend to turn outwards or inwards, away from the 12 o’clock position, it’s possible that you might have a tight calf that’s trying to compensate by giving adjusting your center of gravity during the hopping motion.
What Are the Best Ways to Fix Leg Pain Caused by Plantar Fasciitis?
1. Use the Right Shoes
The easiest and often most effective treatment for leg pain caused by plantar fasciitis is tossing out your current shoes in favor of something more ideal for your condition. By resolving PF pain, you can stop your body from attempting a compensatory gait cycle, thus bringing you back to your normal weight bearing and biomechanics.
There are lots of different shoes for plantar fasciitis, and even more inserts that are guaranteed to help manage the pain. Just be sure you’re considering the right factors when you make your purchase so you can avoid buying a pair that doesn’t really meet your needs.
2. Be Mindful of Your Gait
Of course, it’s easier said than done. But just trying to maintain mindfulness when it comes to your gait can help you alter any abnormalities. If you suspect that you’re limping too much or bearing too much weight on a specific area or laterality, take a break and try to recalibrate your gait. If it helps, you might also want to reduce your speed in order to properly execute the appropriate biomechanics.
3. Give Yourself Some Rest
One of the best ways to reduce pain in the calves would be to give them the rest they need. Take a day or two off from work and try not to engage in too many activities that require standing or walking. Once you give your legs the time to heal, they will be much less painful when you start using them again. By this time, you can try avoiding the abnormal gait that caused the pain in the first place.
4. Visit a Physiotherapist
In more severe cases, it’s ideal that you seek the attention of a licensed medical professional with the knowhow to help with your case. Once pain starts to worsen or if it extends for too long, it would be imperative to get a specialist’s advice in order to best address your pain.
So, can plantar fasciitis cause leg pain? The answer is yes, it can. In fact, it’s a lot more common than you think. So if you’re suffering from plantar fasciitis, make sure you don’t do anything that might cause the added pain in your calves.
Avoid an abnormal gait, give yourself the rest you need, and invest in the right pair of shoes for your comfort and mobility. They all might seem like simple steps, but they are monumental leaps towards better independence, and in the near future, complete healing from plantar fasciitis.