Heels hurt like hell? Try these moves for plantar fasciitis exercises before confining yourself to the couch.

By Kelsey Ogletree
February 27, 2020
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So you've picked up running or maybe you've started training for your first race this year—until an irritating, intense pain in your heel slows your sprint to a slog. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but you could have plantar fasciitis, one of the most common beginner runner's injuries. There are often ways (including plantar fasciitis exercises) to manage it at home, though. So you can get back to hitting the pavement again in no time. Here's what you need to know about plantar fasciitis and the best plantar fasciitis exercises to ease foot pain.

What Is Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is a very common condition that affects up to 15 percent of adults, says Stephen Roeske, D.P.M., a podiatrist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois. It occurs when your plantar fascia gets inflamed. This fascia is a thick band of connective tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot from your heel bone to your toes and supports your arch. In extreme cases, the inflammation can even lead to the degeneration of the plantar fascia and its attachment on the calcaneus, or heel bone, says Roeske.

The most common cause of plantar fasciitis is stress on the plantar fascia, which can be attributed to a number of things: wearing the wrong shoes, obesity, rolling your ankles inward while you walk, or simple overuse (think: running too far too fast or standing too long on a hard surface), according to the University of Michigan Health System. In any of these situations, "the plantar fascia [can become] strained, leading to small micro-tears in the fascia that can become inflamed and cause considerable pain," explains Roeske. (Related: Common Bone and Joint Problems for Active Women)

Plantar fasciitis doesn't discriminate, either. While it's more common in people between the ages of 40 and 60, "it's been known to occur in younger athletes who practice a sport that puts strain on that part of the foot, such as runners, ballet dancers, soccer, and tennis players," says Benjamin Domb, M.D., medical director and orthopedic surgeon at American Hip Institute & Orthopedic Specialists in Des Plaines, Illinois.

How to Treat Plantar Fasciitis at Home

"Plantar fasciitis is a very treatable condition, and the vast majority of patients will fully recover with no long-term pain or dysfunction," adds Roeske.

The first step: managing your plantar fasciitis at home with rest, coupled with specific stretches and exercises, says Dr. Domb. He also recommends icing the painful area and, in more severe conditions, employing heel cushions, night splints, and shoe orthotics. You can also use anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil or Aleve to ease the pain, notes Roeske.

Technically, plantar fasciitis can be "cured" after an adequate period of rest, as long as you employ stretching and plantar fasciitis exercises (like those below!) to help the fibrous tissue of the plantar fascia to heal. If you think your plantar fasciitis might be caused by your shoes, it's also key to swap out your old pair of running sneaks to prevent the condition from returning. (FYI: Here are the best running shoes for plantar fasciitis.)

But if you find that your condition isn't improving with plantar fasciitis exercises after about two weeks or the pain increases, be sure to see a doctor, such as a foot and ankle specialist, says Roeske. In some cases, plantar pain can be a sign of a more serious condition such as a stress fracture or a compressed nerve.

TL;DR while exercising might be the reason you ended up in this painful predicament in the first place, doing specific plantar fasciitis exercises (and following running tips that prevent foot pain) can actually help you get out of the pain cycle as well. Opt for these moves from the experts the next time you experience heel pain.

Best Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis

Gastrocnemius Muscle Stretch

A. Place your hands flat against a wall and position one foot in front of the other (with the affected foot back), keeping your toes pointing forward toward the wall.

B. Straighten your back leg and lean into the wall by bending your front knee while keeping both heels planted on the floor. Your weight should rest on your front leg, and you should feel a stretch in your heel and calf of your back leg.

Hold for 60 seconds and repeat three times. Perform this set three times daily.

Soleus Muscle Stretch

A. Place the affected foot slightly behind your healthy foot.

B. Bend both knees and sink down toward the ground while keeping both heels planted on the floor. You will feel a stretch in the back of your affected foot, just above the heel.

Hold for 60 seconds and repeat 3 times. Perform this set three times daily.

Achilles/Gastrocnemius Stretch

A. While standing upright, place the ball of your affected foot on a step so your heel hangs off the back slightly.

B. Carefully lower the heels down until you feel a stretch.

Repeat the motion of dipping and then elevating your heels for 30 seconds and do three sets.

(And while you're busy caring for your kickers, consider adding these podiatrist-recommended foot-care products to your routine as well.)

Plantar Fascia Stretch

A. While sitting down with your affected leg extended out in front of you, loop an elastic therapy band around the ball of your foot.

B. Use the band to pull your toes up toward your nose, keeping leg on the ground. You should feel a stretch on the bottom of your foot and back of your heel.

Hold for 60 seconds and repeat three times. Perform this stretch when you first wake up in the morning, before getting out of bed, to improve plantar fasciitis pain associated with the first few steps in the morning.

Towel Toe Curls

Towel Toe Curls

A. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Place a towel on the ground, and use your toes to grasp the center of the towel. Scrunch the towel with your toes and release, relaxing your feet (do not move the towel toward your body).

Repeat 10 times. Perform this set 3 times daily.

Plantar Fascia Massage

A. Firmly roll a small massage ball back and forth across the bottom of your arch and heel. You can also do this with a frozen water bottle, which will ice your arch simultaneously.

Perform for 5 minutes. Do this three times daily.

Toe Extensions

A. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, then place one foot ahead of the other.

B. Contract the calf muscles of only your back leg while lifting your heel on the same leg until your toes are maximally extended.

Repeat 15 times. Try five sets daily.

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