A client I'll call "Julie" called me to book some sessions to give her some diastasis recti exercises for core strengthening (a diastasis recti is a separation of the abdominal muscles). She'd had two C-sections, the last one 1 year earlier, and was still having tenderness plus didn't feel very strong in her core.
"Can you help me with that?" she asked.
"Absolutely!" I was excited. I love helping ladies heal from giving birth.
When I got to her house, Julie started telling me about her diastasis recti. She also mentioned that she'd been to Physical Therapy before for foot pain in the arch and heel (diagnosed as plantar fasciitis). Unfortunately, P.T. was unsuccessful and Julie figured at this point (3 years later) she was just going to have to live with it.
She had even recently splurged on a pair of expensive house shoes since she couldn't tolerate walking on the wood floor in her home without shoes. Aaaand, not only was her right foot hurting in the arch and heel (the one diagnosed with plantar fasciitis) but now her left foot was tender as well with pain in the ball of her foot. A more recent development.
During the evaluation, Julie definitely had a diastasis recti, though not large. She also had SI joint pain (aka the sacroiliac joint - where the spine attaches to the pelvis) and what looked like a longer leg on one side. Really she didn't have a longer leg, just a rotated pelvis which made it look like she had a longer leg in certain positions. SI joint pain with a rotated pelvis is one of the most common things I see in ladies with back pain, especially if they've ever had a baby.
Julie also had less mobility in her feet, toes, and ankles. And her plantar fascia (arch of the foot) was very tender.
First things first, we worked on aligning her pelvis to make sure we were working with her muscles in balance. Immediately after we did that, Julie looked at me and said, "I think my foot feels better!"
She got up to walk around and test it out. What had been a 3 out of 10 pain to start with, was now a 0 out of 10!
So if you’re wondering how realigning her pelvis fixed plantar fasciitis, read on…
In the spine, there is a spinal cord running down the middle, like the trunk of a tree. Coming off of the spinal cord are multiple nerve roots (like branches) that run to different places in the body and are responsible for movement and feeling. Like this....
In the low back, the branches that come from the spinal cord extend down into the legs and reach the bottom of the feet. In Julie's case, the nerve on the side where her pelvis was twisted had been pinched enough to cause pain in her foot that mimicked plantar fasciitis.
Truth Bomb: Your foot pain may not be because there's a problem with your foot.
Because those nerve branches that run from the spine down to your feet can send pain signals to any point on the path to give you a warning signal that something's going on upstream.
Which means if you're getting treatment for your foot - injections, taking pain medications, wearing orthotics, or surgery - even if it relieves the pain temporarily, it's going to come right back.
Why? Because none of those things fixed the real problem.
So Julie really didn’t have plantar fasciitis at all. Sort of. She still had pain and inflammation in the bottom of her foot. It still looked and acted like plantar fasciitis. But going after the pain in her foot (like she had done in P.T. previously) never fixed the source of the problem…which was way up in her pelvis/low back.
Now that’s not to say that this was a “one and done” cure. To be honest, I was surprised at how much improvement she had after just one session. Because when something has been inflamed for years, like the nerve running down to her foot, it’s not just a matter of taking off the pressure and all is well. There’s still healing that has to take place to regenerate that nerve…which takes time.
In Julie’s case, her pelvis was a bit unstable and we needed to work on strengthening the core muscles around her low back and pelvis to help it balance out and stay where it needed to be. Which is the reason she had called me in the first place…to help work on her core. Julie knew just what she needed…even though she didn’t know she knew what she needed. And neither did I until I did. Okay, moving on…
Thankfully for Julie, after a few more sessions, her foot pain (and diastasis recti) was no longer a problem and she was thrilled that after 3 years of dealing with the foot pain and tenderness that made it hard to even walk around her house comfortably, she was now able to walk barefoot if she wanted to.
As for her other foot (remember she had pain in both feet), once she was able to walk normally without limping on her right foot, her left foot pain went away too. So as it turned out, her left foot pain really was pain caused from a foot problem. Pretty cool huh?
So if you’ve been struggling with something that you’ve tried unsuccessfully to fix, hoped it would “just go away”, been to several doctors, tried pain meds, or maybe even physical therapy, and nothing seems to help - take heart! Maybe it’s because your “foot pain” (or whatever your struggle is) isn’t coming from your foot at all. Maybe your “foot pain” is your body’s way of telling you there’s something going on that may or may not even be close to your foot.
Think of pain like a flare gun. If someone’s shooting up a flare, hoping to be rescued, the rescuer doesn’t go to where the flare is in the sky. They go to where the flare came from to find the castaway.
Sometimes it just takes a bit of searching to figure out where it came from.
So if your foot, or back or knee, or shoulder or (insert problem here) is bothering you and you’re not sure what the problem is, don’t give up. You may just need to dig a little deeper.
And if you could use help figuring out what to do, I'd be happy to help point you in the right direction.
Here are some tips to get you started helping your feet feel better ...