When Foot Pain Isn’t Plantar Fasciitis

Pain on the bottom of your foot isn’t always plantar fasciitis.

The foot and ankle contains more than one hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The fascia that takes the blame for so much of the pain that develops on the bottom of the foot is just one in that group of one hundred plus.

Not knowing what other soft tissue could be hijacking your foot function can be a real problem. It can keep you from solving your foot pain issue, and can keep you from maximizing your movement potential.

It’s usually impossible to make “if x then y” absolute statements regarding fitness and health. However, if you have flat arches, a bunion, turf toe, or pain on the soles of your feet, it might be something other than your plantar fascia that’s causing your problems.

When The Foot Becomes Dysfunctional

Feet are so important that Strong Feet is the first Pillar of the Six Pillars of an unbreakable body.  They are the base upon which you stack the rest of your body. They are an important feedback tool for your brain to understand where you are in space, and how you should adjust the rest of your skeleton as you stand and move. And yet, they are so often stuffed into shoes and ignored.

And when foot pain does arise, it’s often presumed to be coming from the plantar fascia. But that’s just one of a number of things that could cause your foot pain. Here are a few examples of other things that can cause foot pain:

The pain in your foot could be coming from your calf muscles that don’t have enough usable length or strength in them.

The pain might be coming from a toe mobility issue that is making your foot alter how it interacts with the ground.

Or your foot pain could be arising from dysfunction in a muscle called the flexor hallucis brevis.

This image is looking at the bottom of the foot. The flexor hallucis brevis attaches on the base of the great toe and runs back to the cuboid bone and the cuneiform bone in your mid foot. The flexor hallucis brevis is responsible for two main jobs:

1. It flexes your great toe. Watch this video to see how the muscle moves the toe.

2. It  helps to maintain your medial longitudinal arch. So if you have flat feet, you most likely also have an issue with the flexor hallucis brevis.

Having an arch shape to your foot just means that the muscles that make up the arches of your feet are well-toned. If the muscles are weak and not well-toned, the foot is more likely to look ‘flat’ in the arch area.



What Does The Flexor Hallucis Brevis Do?

I see a lot of feet in my fitness coaching, and in eighteen years I’ve noticed that it’s very common for clients to have lost the ability to control the flexor hallucis brevis.

Remember that your muscles are what makes your joints move, which is what makes you move. If you lose the ability to use one muscle, you’ll alter the joint function which that muscle moves.

Losing how your big toe joint functions affects key parts about how your foot works, and thus, how you move. Here are a few examples:

1. Your big toe is the last part of your foot that is on the ground as you move through a gait cycle.

When the flexor hallicus brevis doesn’t work, it reduces your ability to push off the ground. Less push equals less power.

2. When a muscle is weak, it can change its length to be shorter or longer. At the same time, other muscles will get stronger in compensation for the weaker muscle. You have three muscles that connect to your big toe.

Altering of the length-tension relationship of any one of them will change how the big toe functions.

bare feet standing on a wooden dock

3. Your big toe was created to face forward as it also acts as a key point of stability for your body. If the big toe starts to face any direction but forward, the way you stabilize yourself will change.

This is common for folks who develop a bunion, which is an issue that arises, in part, from your foot muscles not appropriately functioning.

Changes in stabilization capability down at the foot will affect how you stabilize upstream in your body.

Your flexor hallucis brevis plays a role in arch support. When you lose function in that muscle and you can lose tone in your arch of your foot. This changes how your foot contacts with the ground and can change how load is dispersed from body through the foot to the ground

This can become a problem for the hard and soft tissue of your foot, as well as things far upstream – like your knees.


How To Get Rid Of Foot Pain

I’ve made you a video to teach you a simple drill to begin strengthening your flexor hallucis brevis. It also will help you build function and strength in a larger subset of muscles in your foot called the intrinsic muscles.

This movement is step one in improving your control of your flexor hallucis brevis and the other intrinsic muscles of your foot. If you cannot isolate the motions I am demonstrating, that’s a big clue of how much opportunity you have before you.



Get A Complete Foot Training Program

If you’re serious about healing your feet, getting rid of the pain, and building strong, durable, feet then you’ll want a complete foot training program. I’ve helped hundreds of people heal their feet with the drills and exercises I’ve put together into easy-to-follow program, Unbreakable Feet.


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