Have you ever tried to start running regularly, only to be stopped by sharp stabbing pain in your shins? Every step can feel like shards of glass breaking into your soft tissue, or maybe you feel like your bones are about to break. If you’ve experienced what I’m talking about then you know how frustratingly painful shin splints are.
You don’t have to suffer through shin splints in order to become (or stay) a runner.
A lot of you know about the knee pain that stopped me from running for 8 years and hiking for 6, but it actually started with shin splints.
I was 16, had stopped doing gymnastics and took up running. I loved the freedom and strength I felt during and after a nice long run. Pretty soon after I started running regularly I experienced that stabbing pain in my shins. Being stubborn and someone with a high pain tolerance, I just kept running. Eventually the shin splints went away; but I ended up with horrific knee pain a year later. This new pain was something I couldn’t ignore. Sharp stabbing pain literally brought me to my knees, and there was no way to run through that.
I now know these two things were connected, and had I taken care of the shin splints like I’m about to show you how – I never would have experienced such debilitating knee pain and I could have kept running and hiking all those years.
What are shin splints?
Medically speaking, shin splints (or medial tibial stress syndrome) is considered an overuse issue specifically from running and often from running on hard surfaces like pavement.
They tell us you’re at risk if:
you’re a runner or just beginning a running program
you change the duration, length or frequency of your running
you’re in the military
have high or flat arches
Then there’s a laundry list of ways to “manage” the pain, such as:
have your running gait analyzed
buy shoes with more support/cushion
try inserts with shock absorption
lessen the impact of your activities by adding things like swimming and biking and
do more strength training…
But NONE of the above address the actual CAUSE of shin splints.
Besides, if you love running and you just wanna be out there pounding pavement or miles of dirt…you don’t want to hear things like “try swimming instead.” Right?
I’m here to tell you, you can run to your heart’s content SO LONG AS you address the CAUSE of your shin splints. And – it’s fairly EASY once you “get” it.
If you live in a human body, I hope you raised your hand. No matter who you are, what you do for work or sports or even if you sit on the couch all day playing video games – I guarantee your calf fascia needs some love!
If you haven’t heard of or already tried “the ONE Stretch”, then definitely check that out too by clicking here. It’s by far the most effective and fastest way to stretch your ENTIRE lower leg compartment all at once, not just your calf or gastrocnemius tissue.
I’m giving you this technique today because I’ve received a ton of emails requesting alternatives to The ONE Stretch, since some of you have had a hard time getting into the right position and/or figuring out how to do it properly. This is a fine alternative, just keep in mind it will take a little more effort over a sustained period of time to get the same results as someone else using The ONE Stretch.
Having said that, this technique is actually BETTER for releasing adhesions in the calf. The ONE Stretch is better at stretching all that tissue and create space, but it’s more difficult to break adhesions up this way.
So today’s technique would actually be better for those of you who have knee pain, recently rolled an ankle or have a history of rolled ankles (which is due to balled up fascia in the lower calf compartment within the Achilles area) or if you just know there are adhesions in there and you want them gone (like me! I always have some good ones going on).
Why release your calf fascia?
Releasing your calf fascia can help with ALL kinds of issues, including but not limited to:
Plantar fasciitis (click here for more info on PF)
Tight calf/plantar fascia due to same side gluteus medius not firing
How to release your calf fascia using a foam roller:
While I love foam rollers, for the record (in case you’re new around here) I am NOT a fan of using them to ROLL over soft tissue – EVER. The most common areas I see people still rolling are their IT Bands and calves. The reason I’m not a fan of rolling is it essentially tries to elongate tissue in only one (well, two opposing) directions (in a straight line). You’re essentially smashing your connective and muscle tissue towards the bone and then compressing it to that bone while trying to roll it out like pizza dough.
This is incredibly ineffective (it takes a LOT more force to release fascia than rolling will ever provide) and I don’t want you wasting your time!
I want you to get the absolute most out of your self care routine, and that means targeting your fascia directly for release through compression (pinning) and movement (stretching and releasing adhesions).
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s how to release your calf fascia using a foam roller:
Choose your weapon of choice (aka foam roller). You could use a soft one like me in the video, or a much harder one. It doesn’t really matter, just remember that the harder the roller the more intense it will be.
PLEASE DON’T USE A KNOBBY ROLLER FOR THIS!
The goal here is to use the weight of your leg, and if possible some additional compression by lifting up off the ground, to compress your calf fascia to the roller. Then, you’re going to use foot movement to release the fascia.
Your gastrocnemius muscles are responsible for the action of plantar flexion (pointing your toes), so even just pointing and flexing will allow the tissues to expand and contract while compressed, which creates an all around awesome stretch for the entire connective tissue system within your lower leg compartment, and – if done correctly, it can release the adhesions stuck there.
How to get the most out of this technique:
Use as much body weight as you can – by lifting up off the ground and/or placing your other foot on the leg you’re releasing
Start HIGH just below the knee and work your way down into the Achilles.
If this is your FIRST time trying this, go verrrrrry slowly! Your job is to hunt out those fascial adhesions, and fast movement hides them. Slow movement reveals them.
Try not to rock your hips or legs side to side. Remember, you’re NOT trying to roll on the roller you’re trying to PIN or compress a piece of fascia and use your foot movement to release it.
Speaking of, move your foot in pointing and flexing movements first. Then try circles. S L O W L Y.
Spend about 30 seconds on each spot. If you’re doing it correctly that’s ALL you need! If you’re still figuring this out, going a little longer is ok.
You might find 4-6 spots moving from high to low.
Definitely get into your low calf and Achilles region! You’re likely to find a nice ball of knotted up fascia there and this technique is a great way to break it up.
If you get SORE the next day, back off how long you’re on the roller.
After you’re done with one leg, get up and WALK AROUND! Notice the difference. Then go after the second leg.
Do this as often as you think you need to. This will be different for everyone.
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Modern humans tend to love very lopsided lives when it comes to sports, daily habits, how we sit for work and how we hold babies, purses, backpacks etc.
Many people are walking around with a pelvic or hip instability issue without even knowing it. This is because the human body is amazing at compensating. It will compensate and compensate, sometimes for years without any pain at all…until one day it can’t take any more, and that’s when we get a pain signal.
The list of possible injuries or pain patterns that can happen due to a hip instability pattern are so numerous we’d be here all day if I went into them all, but the big surprise is plantar fasciitis.
If you’ve tried all the typical routes or methods of eliminating plantar fasciitis and your pain persists, it could be due to an underlying hip or pelvic instability issue. (Click here to learn about the most common causes of plantar fasciitis).
The short story on this complex issue:
Due to one or more imbalances in the fascia of the legs, your pelvis can experience a tilt, shift or rotation (or some combination thereof). This means it could be rotated forward on one or both sides, tilted to the left or right or otherwise shifted out of alignment.
When this happens, it is my belief that your brain detects potential danger to the central nervous system and spine (which requires a neutral pelvis to be at optimal health), and recruits one or more muscles of the low back or hip to contract neurologically to bring you back into balance.
Often, it’s the gluteus medius that is recruited this way and when it is – that muscle is no longer able to be recruited for its normal duties.
What does the gluteus medius do?
Gluteus medius and minimus abduct the thigh when the leg is straight and during gait (walking or running) these two muscles function to support the body on one leg to prevent the pelvis from dropping to the opposite side.
With the hip flexed, gluteus medius and minimus internally rotate the thigh. With the hip extended, they externally rotate the thigh, or more accurately they act to prevent internal rotation. Without this action the knee migrates inward, creating stress on the structures of the hip, knee and foot.
As you can tell, gluteus medius (and minimus) are critical for hip stability in ALL kinds of everyday actions. If one or both of these muscles is no longer able to do its job, it has to be done by other muscles.
How glute inhibition or hip instability leads to plantar fasciitis:
This is part 2 of our 5 part series on understanding Plantar fasciitis. Click here for Part I and learn exactly what plantar fasciitis IS and what is causing it.
What’s in a name?
Have you ever noticed that we’re obsessed with naming things? We’ve given every pain in the body a title that includes something like itis, syndrome, disorder or disease on the end. We name viruses and flu strains, and there a lot of people who name their tumors when they get cancer.
In some ways, I get this: when we name something, it feels familiar and less scary. The unfamiliar or unknown feels scary.
However, I believe we’re doing ourselves a massive disservice with all this naming (at least when it comes to pain in the body).
Naming something does practically nothing to help us understand what’s happening or how to reverse it. What it does instead is allow us to take ownership of it. We say things like “I have sciatica.” “I have cancer.” “I have plantar fasciitis.”
“To have”: to hold, possess, accept; to get, receive or take.
Do you really want to hold, posses, accept, receive or take a named pain? Or do you want to find its root cause and eliminate it?
Instead of naming pain, let your body talk to you:
When you know how to interpret your body’s signals, not only will pain stop feeling scary but you’ll very likely quit wanting to name it. Instead, you’ll let your body talk to you. Every “negative” (painful) sensation is your body’s way of trying to communicate to and work with you, so you can both feel unstoppable and live a long healthy life. Your body isn’t trying to annoy or betray you, it’s asking for HELP.
When you look up ‘plantar fasciitis’ online it is almost always described as pain that shows up in the heel where the Achilles tendon meets the plantar fascia.
However, not everyone that experiences plantar fasciitis has pain there.
A LOT of you are experiencing pain in the ARCHES of your foot, maybe even under the ball or big toe.
Some of you may have BOTH at once – pain in the heel AND pain in arches.
Some of you have pain in BOTH feet; and some of you in only one.
Maybe you have pain in the arches on ONE foot and pain in the heel on the other…
Every one of these scenarios suggests a different root cause, possibly multiple and compounding causes!
This is one reason why I’m not fond of naming pain (be it plantar fasciitis, sciatica, ITBS etc), because when we do this, all the important factors – where the pain is, what it feels like, how it might jump around or move depending on activities etc – get lost and we focus on “having” and owning whatever name we’ve been assigned, instead of listening to our body and trying to interpret what it’s telling us.
Only by getting curious about what your body is telling you (feedback via sensation, immobility issues or pain through certain ranges of motion etc) will we start to unravel the puzzle and discover the root cause.
Pain doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it happens out there, in the ever-changing dynamics of life and how you are engaging your body in the world.
To reverse pain quickly and efficiently, we have to look at it out there as well, in the ever-changing dynamics of life and how you are engaging your body in the world. This is why, when I work with people one on one, I have them walk, lunge, jump, step up or down or go run outside in the parking lot – whatever movements get their body talking to them (and me).
Muscle attachments tell us a LOT:
When you start to tune in to your body and listen, you’ll notice where the pain is, what it feels like, whether it radiates or is sharp and stabbing, and whether or not it moves around throughout the day.
The most obvious and easy to understand “clue” your body gives is WHERE the pain is.
As you can see from this picture, clues appear when we note that the Achilles tendon attaches near the site of pain.
If you have classic plantar fasciitis in the heel only, chances are high your Achilles tendon is tight – and if your Achilles tendon is knotted up or restricted, chances are so is your gastrocnemius and/or soleus fascia.
If you have outside heel pain, in your case maybe it’s the peroneus muscles that run along the outside or lateral part of the calf compartment and THROUGH the lateral heel and ANKLE that are restricted.
Some of you have pain on the INSIDE of your heel, and when we look at that anatomy we see the medial soleus and gastroc muscles, the toe flexor muscles and tibialis posterior.
All of these muscles are the ones CLOSEST to or directly upstream of the foot, and MIGHT be contributing to your plantar fasciitis but it’s important to remember that it could also be something further upstream, or perhaps these muscles being restricted are a symptom of something else (a bigger overall issue such as a hip instability patter – which we’ll talk about in Part 5 of this series).
This is ALL valuable information because WHERE your pain is points to exactly WHERE you need to go to get relief.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to become an anatomy nerd to get yourself out of pain!
That’s where I come in.
I’ve learned most of the plantar fasciitis patterns by now, and I want to take what I’ve learned to help you get – and stay – out of pain.
If you’re in pain right now and want relief in as little as one week, then I want to help you walk away from PF for good!
Break Up With Your PF™ - Say Goodbye to Plantar Fasciitis For Good!
This is a simple technique that will help your WHOLE body.
I’m pretty sure ALL of us could use this one!
If you have plantar fasciitis, heel pain, ankle mobility issues, big toe articulation problems or Achilles tendonitis then this is definitely a technique you’ll want to add to your mobility toolbox. Just make sure you’re taking care of the root issue first! For plantar fasciitis, heel pain and Achilles tendonitis – click here for my main technique that addresses these issues at the source.
As usual with Mobility Mastery techniques, this is NOT intended to be a massage for your feet! (Though your reward for doing the technique is massage-like 🙂 )
We are attempting to PIN and RELEASE the restricted fascia and any fascial adhesions on the bottom of the foot.
There are a BUNCH of tiny muscles down there.
The fascia that wraps each of those muscles along with the plantar fascia itself can get stuck to each other. All of that fascia can get dehydrated, brittle, inelastic and because of these things pain and all the “itis’s” can happen – plantar fasciitis, heel pain, tendonitis on the tops of the feet, big toe articulation problems, ankle mobility restriction, Achilles tendonitis…etc.
This can happen due to a variety of factors: if you’re a woman who wears high heels, it’s almost inevitable you will have one or more of the above issues eventually; if you work on your feet all day, especially if you’re not moving much but standing in place; if your body type, lifestyle, sports, habits etc have created fascial restrictions UPSTREAM, you may have PAIN here and you’ll need to find out if the plantar fascia is actually tight and restricted, or simply getting irritated and pulled on – or BOTH.
How to get the most out of this technique:
Make sure if you have pain on the bottoms of your feet or any of the issues listed above that you FIRST look for the root cause and go after THAT first – then come to this technique as a way to “comfort” what is hurting.
PLEASE USE A LACROSSE BALL! For the best possible result, a lacrosse ball is the single best tool. All other balls will NOT give you the same result.
If you don’t have a lacrosse ball and you’re desperate to try this immediately – use what you have and then get your booty to a sporting goods store ASAP! They only cost $6 (give or take). And then do it right 😉
Make sure the entire weight of your leg is resting on that ball before doing the technique.
Make sure your heel doesn’t drop down too much, nor your toes. Try to keep the weight of your leg directly over that spot you’re targeting.
Start near the ball of your foot and work your way towards the heel.
If you feel or hear “crunching” noises while opening your toes, you’re doing it RIGHT! That’s the feel and sound of your plantar fascia releasing.
If this SUCKS – you’re probably doing it right, and you can be sure your plantar fascia is restricted and needs help to relax.
If this doesn’t suck at all and you have pain in your feet – perhaps you didn’t find the right spot, OR – your plantar fascia may not be restricted at all, but is in pain because of something else that is. It could be your calf, your hamstring, glute or even upper body fascia. You’ll need to look for the root cause.
Try 3-4 spots with the technique, and then…
DON’T FORGET YOUR REWARD! After releasing all that fascia, roll your foot around on the ball for as long as you want. This usually feels AMAZING afterward. If you prefer a different kind of ball, a frozen waterbottle or rolling pin for this part – go for it. This is simply meant to be a FEEL GOOD endorphin releasing reward for your WHOLE body!
Speaking of your whole body – if you DON’T have pain in your feet, but you have pain ANYWHERE ELSE in your body and you are ON your feet all day – give this a try!
In fact, if you’re on your feet all day I HIGHLY recommend buying yourself a lacrosse ball to keep at work and doing this one daily, or several times a day. Your entire body will thank you!
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This area of the body warrants a close look at the anatomy, while the technique itself is very simple.
This one small area, when fascially restricted, can wreak havoc on the entire foot, ankle, heel, plantar fascia and quite possibly a lot of things upstream as well, such as knees, the groin, the SI area and possibly even your neck and head (headaches CAN sometimes be related to this line of fascia being too tight/restricted).
We’re not going to look at the entire body or ALL the ways this one area can impact the body.
Today I want to focus on 3 main things: plantar fasciitis and/or heel pain that is showing up directly in line with the flexor digitorum longus and tibialis posterior tendons, and how this area plays a part in rolling ankles.
You’ll need a lacrosse ball for this one. I do NOT recommend using any other ball, nor do I recommend a theracane (I’ve seen some people use this). The first is too big, and the second too pointed and you’ll likely bruise (something I’m always trying to avoid).
This one small area packs a punch, fascially speaking:
There’s a lot going on in this one small area: the medial head of the gastrocnemius along with the soleus (meidal) and their fascia can get stuck to each other and to the flexor digitorum longus fascia. The flexor digitorum longus, when over-tight (or stuck to other muscles via their connecting fascia), can over-invert the foot, making the ankle susceptible to being rolled.
Also potentially leading to over-inversion of the foot is tibialis posterior, and via its tendon can contribute to ankle pain or heel pain between the ankle and calcaneus.
While we won’t necessarily be getting it directly, this technique can help free up the tibialis posterior, particularly the posterior tibialis TENDON which has a big impact on heel and ankle health.
If you have flat feet, fallen arches or your foot drops (arch collapses) while walking, this is one area to look at (it may not be the culprit) along with everything in the lateral line – ankle and foot fascia, tibialis anterior, perroneals, IT Band fascia etc.
The relationship these two (the medial and lateral lines of fascia) have with one another can determine SO much of what happens in our bodies, because everything in the foot and ankle determines our stride and what happens upstream. If your ankle doesn’t articulate well or creates an unhealthy gait pattern, that pattern transfers up to the knees, hips and shoulders.
As usual around here, I’m less concerned with naming all the muscles involved than talking about the restricted fascia between and around all these muscles.
Fascia also wraps our bones, and I believe this is one area of the body where the fascia of these muscles is particularly clogged or stuck to the bone (in this case the tibia).
The technique I demonstrate in the video isn’t nearly as effective as the in person version that I use on clients, but it’s an acceptable self-help solution (or I wouldn’t be giving it to you).
Do you have lateral knee pain, restless leg syndrome, plantar fasciitis, low back pain or get hamstring cramps after sitting too long?
This post is for YOU!
What do all of these things have in common? The HAMSTRING fascia.
When our hamstring fascia gets too restricted laterally (that biceps femoris fascia can often get stuck to the IT Band fascia), it can pull on the patella (kneecap), causing lateral knee pain.
If you have lateral knee pain, my recommendation is to use this technique in conjunction with my calf release for knee pain. You’ll want to find the lateral tightness more-so than the belly of the hamstrings. Note in the video where I place the ball. You’ll want to copy that!
If your entire hamstrings are really tight, this can pull on all the calf tissue causing “restless leg syndrome” (which I believe is just that fascia feeling cramped and getting tugged on).
If you have restless leg syndrome, this is my #1 go-to technique for you:
If you have tight calves (and if you’re active you probably have tight calves) then your body will thank you for doing this stretch.
First let me say that while this is a SUPER powerful stretch, it’s not a FULL solution for any of the following. With that said, it’s the best possible one-off solution I can give you right now, and if you do this daily for a week I would be shocked if you don’t feel significantly better for any or all of these:
This ONE technique can address ALL kinds of issues:
Plantar fasciitis, or pain on the bottoms of the feet
Achilles tendinitis, pain or tightness
Scar tissue build-up from past sprained or broken ankles (which can lead to ankle immobility and compensation patterns up your entire chain)
Limited range of motion in the ankles
Tendonitis on the tops of the feet (usually originating in the shins, so if this is you then focus on pinning your tibialis anterior or shin muscle more than calf)