Much like the foundations of houses, our feet provide important structural support that is often taken for granted. Untreated foot problems like pes planus—commonly known as flat feet—can cause compounding stress responses like shin splints and additional problems in the knees, hips and back. Pes planus is a postural deformity involving the collapse or flattening of the medial longitudinal arch, which can be a result of either hereditary or acquired factors.
Flat feet with increased exposure to weight-bearing activities can lead to foot deformities and bone stress injuries. Massage therapy can effectively treat this “overpronation” condition, increasing circulation and loosening connective tissue. In a therapeutic massage program at OVCMT, students learn to assess and treat diverse foot issues, gaining hands-on training with applied techniques and acquiring the anatomical knowledge to guide clients for beneficial self-care.
Professionals with a massage therapy diploma understand that every body copes with its unique structural alignment in different ways. Some people are born with bony abnormalities in the foot or leg that may cause pes planus, while others may develop the condition due to poor posture or footwear, nerve lesions causing muscle weakness or paralysis, or a loss of active or passive support during dynamic weight-bearing activities. When arch stabilizers like the tibialis posterior muscle weaken, weight and downward force can gradually flatten the foot toward the ground.
The natural aging process also causes the foot ligaments to slacken and the joints to shift, which may eventually result in fallen arches. While some people with pes planus may suffer from pain and dysfunction, others are able to live with the condition completely pain-free and don’t feel a need for corrective treatment. Massage therapists may visibly observe pes planus in a client’s posture and stance with hypermobility of the medial arch. Other symptoms include pain in the plantar surface, lengthened and weakened intrinsic muscles of the foot, and shortened peroneal muscles.
Massage therapy for pes planus focuses on relieving pain in the feet and compensating structures, stretching shortened muscles of the leg, strengthening weakened muscles in the foot, mobilizing hypomobile joints, and improving circulation. Each group of muscles is tested and treated separately for compensation patterns.
In massage college, students learn to carefully mobilize hyopmobile joints of the foot and ankle and offer strengthening exercises for intrinsic muscles of the foot that are weak and have lengthened. Exercises can include fun tricks like picking up marbles with your toes. By making homecare fun, the likelihood patients will remember to do their homecare may improve, and also be adopted by other members of the household. Creating a home environment of wellness minded habits is a great life skill to develop within the family unit.
Restricted ranges like supination of the foot are encouraged to build flexibility of the ankle and regain normal biomechanics. Peronials like fibularis longus which attach on the bones on the bottom of the instep by the big toe may be kneaded, with petrissage and deep effleurage as well as trigger point work. This muscle will be short and regaining homeostasis is key to resuming normality in the foot. Deeper treatment may also be applied to tightened calf muscles, reducing excess tension and improving the overall biomechanics in gate. Muscles on the front of the leg such as Tibialis Anterior need to be strengthened with home care exercises like walking on the outsides of the feet, and can be stimulated with fast irregular strokes in treatment.
Pointed pressure on the lower legs is contraindicated for pregnant women and clients experiencing numbness due to an unrelated condition.