Professional Dancer and Dance Educator, soma system® Event Coordinator
No matter what line of work we’re in, we demand a lot of our feet. They carry us from point A to B, support our weight, and let us perform some of our favorite activities. Many people are familiar with the pain of plantar fasciitis, where the tissue that connects the metatarsals to the heel is strained, and people with plantar fasciitis diagnoses likely keep a ball or other roller under their desk or by their bed at all times. But for those of us without regular foot pain, myofasical release isn’t needed there, right? Wrong.
For me personally, the single most revolutionary moment of using myofascial release regularly has been the effect that working on my feet has had on the rest of my body. From my calves through my hamstrings and lower back, spending a few minutes on my feet allows the rest of the back of the body to release. But why?
The back side of the body is composed of a fascial chain called the Superficial Back Line, which starts with the underside of the foot and ends (with some functional connections in between) with the frontal bone of the forehead. The calves, hamstrings, and spinal erectors all lie along this meridian—so if you have tightness in one area along the chain, you might experience its effects in another. You may know the tissues are tight because they’re sore or your range of motion is limited, or you may encounter it completely by accident, such as during self bodywork. This is the case with many people and their feet; by starting with the fascia in the feet, you are beginning to access the entire back line. (Learn more about the Superficial Back Line and other myofascial chains at Tom Myers’ website, www.anatomytrains.com. Plus, here’s a two-minute video showing cadaver dissection of a portion of the superficial back line. Skip it if you prefer not to view dissections.)
Still have doubts? If you’ve got tight hamstrings, try this simple test. Before working on your feet, do a standing forward bend and take note of how far you can reach. Perform the same bend after rolling each foot for a few minutes and be amazed at the difference in the results.
For the icing on the cake, the effects go beyond range of motion. The majority of postural problems involve tightness along the posterior side of the body. Take kyphosis/lordosis, for example, where there is a significant curve in the upper back, the pelvis is anteriorly titled, and the chin is forward. From the hamstrings, through the glutes and lower back to the thoracic spine, the tissues are tight and shortened. By releasing the Superficial Back Chain, the posterior surface can lengthen more comfortably leaving us standing taller and moving with greater ease. This is not only true for a kyphotic posture; other common postural problems such as lordosis, sway back, and military all involve tightness along the back of the body. In all of these cases, we’re one step closer to the ideal posture by releasing the tightness along the posterior chain.
Next time you roll out your feet, try to starting with just one foot and then pausing. Stand on both feet and feel how one leg feels longer, more grounded, and more open. That’s a myofascial meridian at work, and it starts from the ground up!