Plantar Fasciitis Foot Pain Relief Using Integrated Positional Therapy

Five years ago I sprained my right ankle walking Scruff, the dog, the evening before my daughter’s wedding rehearsal dinner. With much icing and resting and elevating and Reiki over the next 36 hours, I was even able to walk down the aisle in my fancy, strappy, mother-of-the-bride sandals. But the full swelling never really went down and I continued to experience weakness in that ankle and developed a sharp tearing pain in my arch.

A year later, I sprained the other ankle, again walking Scruff, and wearing the same favorite, most comfortable pair of Crocs all weather plastic clogs. In both sprains, it was the shoe’s rounded sole design that allowed my foot to roll under when stepping on an uneven sidewalk, violently twisting my ankle along with it. Reluctantly, I recycled the Crocs that day.

I’m fairly certain that the initial weakness in my right ankle caused me to over-rely and weaken my left ankle, ultimately resulting in its own injury. As time passed, I noticed a greater variety of twinges, stiffness and swelling on both feet and ankles that seemed to come and go at will. Good walking days and bad ones. Feet hurt more, feet hurt less, but they never really felt good.

Having used acupuncturists as my primary care practitioners for the past 30 years, my acupuncturist and I worked with various treatments to alleviate the pain and reduce swelling, resulting in only isolated successes. As a 20-year yoga student, I asked my yoga teacher for exercises to help strengthen my feet and ankles, however, I admit that I did not do them earnestly. The pain seemed bigger than something exercises could help and I lost interest. Since some were poses we did fairly routinely in class once a week, perhaps I also thought that was enough.

But the pain in my feet continued to worsen and became a constant companion. The ripping pain in my right arch often prevented me from going places that involved even a little extra walking. However, there was no way I could resist the call of the warm, sunny beach in Truro with my 1-year-old granddaughter on it! As we were leaving the beach, I remember climbing barefoot up the very steep and very hot sand dune, wondering if my feet were going to make it. It was a big stretch, in more ways than one. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized the searing pain in my right arch had inexplicably vanished. Was it the heat of the sand? The vertical stretch on the dune?

At least it was gone, but far from forgotten. Before long, other pains, stiffness and swelling in both feet and ankles replaced the instep’s insistent voice, “Help! We need attention!” Only in my mid-fifties, I worried this was the start of feet problems for the rest of my life. Then in April 2016, I attended Marilyn Taylor’s monthly Wellness Roundtable holistic networking meeting in Northborough, MA, and heard two local practitioners speak about therapeutic stretching. Even with my sore feet, I wasn’t particularly interested in stretch therapy at the time, but both Pat Lebau’s presentation on Integrated Positional Therapy and Judy Malcolm’s follow-up with Fascial Stretch Therapy ignited wonder and fascination for me. How could something as simple as stretching relieve excruciating pain?

Two weeks later I found out. It was Sunday afternoon and sudden debilitating pain struck my right heel, preventing me from walking or even flexing my foot. While I had learned to live with foot and ankle pain for the past five years by walking gingerly, and no running or jumping, I couldn’t live with this pain, so I hobbled over to my desk to research my symptoms online.

Oh! So this is plantar fasciitis, which up until now had just been a condition with a name I couldn’t pronounce. Everything I read online told me to flex my toes up against a wall or flat surface to stretch out the plantar fascia along the bottom of my foot, which I dutifully performed without relief.

Pat Lebau from the Wellness Roundtable popped into my mind so I emailed her for some advice. As fortune would have it, she emailed right back and instructed me, above all, not to stretch my toes upward. Curl them under. This helps slacken the plantar fascial muscle, which is already overstretched and the cause of the pain in the first place. Very quickly the pain subsided to the point where I could at least walk on the foot. I scheduled a full Integrated Positional Therapy session with Pat for the next morning, and continued curling my toes under for instant, though temporary, relief from the pain.

During my IPT session, Pat first assessed the way I held my body and moved, asked lots of questions and then had me hop up on the massage table for the work. Very gently and completely painlessly she stretched and moved my body into precise positions to relieve pain. Even very minute repositioning of a muscle could mean the difference between feeling pain and no pain; it was that precise. Pat worked on my entire body during the session, holding each pain relief pose for a minute or two, while focusing most intensely on my feet, legs and hips. When I blissfully stepped off the table and onto the floor, my feet and legs were so light and pain free, I felt like I was floating.

While Pat sent me home with a protocol of five stretching exercises I should do at least once daily — just a seven-minute regimen — my feet, ankles and legs felt so good I hardly even gave the stretches another thought. All of the stretches were extremely simple, and even felt good, such as windshield washer feet: Lie on your stomach, feet up in the air and wave them side to side like windshield wipers. Your feet will instantly be relieved of pain and you even get a gentle internal organ massage on the front of your body. Or try sitting on your feet: Kneel on a rug or pad and gently lower your bottom towards your heels with the tops of your feet flat on the floor (plantar fascia slackening position). Place as much padding or pillows under your bottom so you can comfortably sit on your heels, making sure you are adjusted high enough so your knees or feet feel no pain. Sit and breathe for at least one minute.

Despite the gradual return of daily pain in both feet and ankles, I was reluctant to add yet another caretaking step to my day, and only occasionally made half-hearted attempts to do the stretches. Within a month, I was calling Pat for an emergency session to relieve serious pain issues again and resolved to do the exercises daily. Once again, her therapeutic touch relieved my pain and I promptly forgot all about the home stretching.

Not long after, Pat sponsored a local lecture and yoga class with Integrated Positional Therapy founder Lee Albert, NMT. Lee is a highly popular neuromuscular therapist and yoga instructor at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, MA, and for good reason. Having lived through pain personally and worked with it professionally for decades, Lee shares his wisdom about pain relief as readily as common sense. It’s easy to learn something new when it works on the spot. I learned so much during Lee’s presentation about pain, I couldn’t wait to get home and start doing my daily stretches.

And it worked. For the past six months my feet and ankles have been pain free. I hardly go a day without doing my stretches because I am so grateful for something that works so well to keep me walking and pain free — all without an office visit, filling out a form or even paying a dollar. Lee emphasizes doing the stretches at least once daily (preferably more), holding each pose at least 30 seconds to a minute (since a stretch is not very effective under 30 seconds), and breathing deeply down into the belly throughout each stretch. Deep belly breathing floods the internal organs with prana (life force) while carrying waste out of the body through exhalation. For a multi-tasker like me, giving myself something productive to do (deep breathe) during the whole impossibly long minute I’m standing there holding each stretch is an added bonus and motivation.

As an Aquarian, a sign supposedly vulnerable to weakness in the ankles, I once thought I might be resigned to an early unwelcome fate, but my IPT stretches confirm that my health is grounded firmly on my own two feet.