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The plantar fascia is a ligament, or more specifically, a flat sheath of white, connective fibers. It connects the heel to the area of the foot behind the toes. It supports and stabilizes the foot’s arch, flexes the muscles of the foot, and allows people to curl their toes. The plantar fascia also endures tension as weight is put on the foot. Because it plays such an important role in walking, running, and even standing, it is important to keep the plantar fascia healthy and free from painful ailments, such as plantar fasciitis.
A person’s gait is partially controlled by the plantar fascia. It elongates as the foot makes contact with the ground, acting similar to a spring. Thus, a healthy plantar fascia lets a person conserve energy while walking or running, giving them a slight bounce to their gait. It also plays an important part in how the foot functions. For example, when the toes are flexed while walking, it becomes tense. As a result, the arch is elevated and supported.
Many people suffer from a painful ailment called plantar fasciitis. It commonly affects runners, people who are obese, and pregnant women. People who wear shoes with poor arch support are sometimes affected, as well. It is generally accompanied by a sharp pain in the foot or heel while walking. In addition, it is usually worse in the morning, until the plantar fascia limbers up and becomes more flexible.
There are some steps that can be taken to prevent plantar fasciitis and keep the ligament free from injury. For example, sustaining a healthy weight will reduce the stress placed on the plantar fascia. Wearing shoes with adequate arch support, a low heal, and shock absorbers will also help maintain the ligament. Changing athletic shoes after wearing them for approximately 500 miles (804.7 km) of use may also work to prevent plantar fasciitis and maintain healthy ligaments and tissues in the feet.
Doing exercises that focus on stretching the plantar fascia and improving its flexibility is a great way to prevent injury as well. Although the exercises are easy, they work best when they are completed daily. For example, while sitting on a chair, take a ball the size of a tennis ball and roll the ball along the bottom of each foot. The ball works by stretching the ligaments of the foot.
A good strengthening exercise for the ligament is called the marble pick-up exercise. Simply take some marbles and put them on the floor. Then, use the toes to pick up the marbles and place them in a cup, also on the floor. Along the same lines, a person can use her toes to scrunch up a towel or paper. The scrunching motion will strengthen the ligament.