Plantar fasciitis can cause a lot of pain in your heel, and that can make it difficult for you to stand up and walk normally. There are several ways of relieving the pain, and normally your doctor will suggest that you take pain relief medications. But many people are now discovering that it may be more effective to choose massage therapy for plantar fasciitis instead or in conjunction with pain relief medications.
Brief History of Massage Therapy
Massage therapy is an ancient technique, and it’s only recently that mainstream science has started validating its efficacy. It’s so old that Chinese dating back to 1800 BC was found to contain details regarding the use of massage techniques for therapeutic purposes. In Egypt, massage modalities like Reflexology have been depicted in hieroglyphics as forms of hand and foot therapy.
In the West, massage therapy started with the Greeks. Hippocrates himself wrote about how massage therapy can relax or tone muscles. The Romans continued the tradition, and the revered physician Galen also developed a set of massage therapy techniques. He first worked with the gladiators before he became the court physician to the Emperors of his time.
On a side note, he also lamented the social stigma of the method because unscrupulous practitioners were using massage techniques as a cover for sexual activities. This prejudice became more prevalent after the fall of the Roam Empire, and for hundreds of years the “sinful” nature of the hand on body therapy was not considered proper.
That all changed when Pehr Heinrick Ling, a Swede who worked with gymnasts, developed the soft tissue technique in 1831. It would later become famous as Swedish Massage, and the techniques he developed would become the foundation for all modern massage therapeutic modalities.
How Massage Works
It’s been found in scientific studies that massage affects how certain genes respond and this directly reduces the inflammation in certain areas. This is very similar to how pain medication works.
- Other studies show that it can enhance blood flow to sore and stiff joints and muscles. The improved circulation warms up these sore spots to relieve the pain.
- In animal studies, it was also found that the massage triggers the release of natural painkillers called opioids in the brain. Studies of this nature also indicated that massage accelerates the flow of oxytocin, which is a hormone that relaxes the muscles and encourages feelings of contentment and peace.
- It can even change the way your brain senses pain. The quick sharp sensations of a proper massage can make your brain forget about your other pains, at least temporarily.
- Surveys have also confirmed that people are starting to realize the benefits of massage for therapeutic purposes. One survey found that 93% of Americans agree that a massage can be effective for pain relief, and 73% percent of those who received a massage would recommend it to others.
Why Massage Therapy is Better than Medications
For some people, it’s quite normal to just take some pills to make the pain go away. The most common medications used for pain are called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve). These are the famous NSAIDs, and what they do is reduce the levels of prostaglandins, which are substances in the body that increase the levels of inflammatory cytokines.
In other words, they essentially reduce the inflammation which then reduces the pain. This should be ideal for plantar fasciitis, which is a condition that involves the inflammation of the plantar fascia.
But studies have already indicated that massage therapy is effective, and there are other reasons too.
- You can do some of the massages yourself. This means you can get immediate relief, and you don’t even have to spend a cent.
- Pain medications come with a risk of side effects. The most common side effects include indigestion and increased blood pressure, as well as stomach ulcer. The stomach ulcers can then lead to gastrointestinal bleeding (internal bleeding in the digestive system), anemia, and gastrointestinal perforation (a hole occurs in the wall of the intestines or stomach).
Other side effects include persistent headaches and drowsiness during the day. If you have an existing cardiovascular condition, it’s also possible that you can suffer from heart failure, a heart attack, hypertension, and stroke. If you have IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), taking NSAIDs can make it worse.
To be fair, massages can also have some unfortunate side effects, but at least they’re not as serious. And they only happen with unskilled or inexperienced massage therapists. To be safe, you shouldn’t receive a massage if you have deep vein thrombosis or advanced osteoporosis. You also should avoid massages when you have eczema, skin infections, open wounds, broken bones, or burns.
So what kind of massages can you try to get rid of the pain? Here are some examples:
1. One easy method is the thumb massage, which you can apply on yourself. Cross your legs so your hand can access your affected heel. Then use your thumb and then press on several spots underneath the heel to identify the spot that feels the most painful.
Once you find that spot, you then press with your thumb hard while you very slowly and gradually make very small circles with your thumb. Use as much pressure as you can tolerate, and make your circles consistent by going in only one direction (such as clockwise). Do this until the pain under that spot subsides. That should be about 5 to 6 minutes of massage at the most for that spot.
Then you can move your thumb to find another area under your heel, and you do the same thing again. If the pain subsides only minimally, then you need to move just a little bit to the left or right of it to find the perfect spot.
You should only do this massage every other day instead of daily. Performing this massage every day can make you feel sore under your heel because of the frequent application of pressure.
2. The Thai massage approach is different, and it may suit you if the thumb massage is too painful for you. You can start by massaging the left and right sides of the heel bone, instead of underneath the heel, and you can use balm or oil. You can use your two thumbs together one over the other to press on the spots. Then you press on that side as if you’re erasing something you’ve written there, until the pain subsides.
3. You can also use your thumbs to massage the heel, and then gradually working up to the ball of your foot. You then apply firm pressure down the sole of your foot to the heel. You shouldn’t rush, and instead you need to apply smooth, firm strokes. You can do this technique a total of 10 to 15 times.
4. Instead of your thumbs, you can try to apply pressure using the heel of your hand. Just apply some deep and sustained pressure from the ball of your foot to your heel. This can really release the tension in the plantar fascia. It may be a bit uncomfortable at first, but it shouldn’t cause any pain.
5. One common technique you can try is to use a tennis ball to massage your affected foot. Just stand on the tennis ball gently yet firmly, while you roll your feet over it. You can also use a golf ball too, although for this you should be sitting down. You the roll the golf ball with your hands over the underside of your feet. To make this work better, you can use a frozen golf ball as the cold treatment can also help relieve the pain.
But if the pain is really serious and you’re not sure about the massage procedures, it may be best to see a massage therapist instead.
Finding a Massage Therapist
The best way to find a likely a therapist to provide you with a proper massage is to get recommendations from trusted friends and colleagues. Your doctor may even recommend one. You can also use the websites of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and the American Massage Therapy Association to find suitable massage experts.
If your state requires a license to practice, make sure the massage therapist has one. Not all states require professional massage therapists to have a license, but it’s better if they’re a member of the Associations listed above.
Pick a therapist with an extensive history, and see if you can talk to some of their patients to get feedback. But you should also learn some plantar fasciitis massage treatment techniques. Even just rubbing on the sore spots with oil or balm can do wonders, and you don’t need to be certified to do that!