Heels hurt like hell? Try these plantar fasciitis stretches before confining yourself to the couch.
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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. Luckily, there are often ways to manage it at home 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 stretches to ease foot pain.

Plantar Fasciitis, Explained

Plantar fasciitis is a very common condition that affects up to 15 percent of adults, and it occurs when your plantar fascia gets inflamed, says Stephen Roeske, D.P.M., a podiatry specialist in Illinois. 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 to 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, 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.

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. You should try icing the painful area and, in more severe conditions, employing heel cushions, night splints, and shoe orthotics, he recommends. 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 stretches (such as 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 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 stretches 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 stretches can help you get out of the pain cycle. Opt for these moves from the experts the next time you experience heel pain.

Best Plantar Fasciitis Stretches

How it works: Do the following exercises daily for the recommended reps and duration. Some exercises should be done multiple times per day.

You'll need: An elastic therapy band and a towel

Gastrocnemius Muscle Stretch

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

B. Straighten back leg and lean into the wall by bending front knee while keeping both heels planted on the floor. Bodyweight should rest on front leg, and a stretch should be felt in heel and calf of back leg.

Hold for 60 seconds and repeat three times. Do this three times daily.

Soleus Muscle Stretch

A. Place the affected foot slightly behind healthy foot.

B. Bend both knees and sink down toward the ground while keeping both heels planted on the floor. Stretch will be felt in the back of affected foot, just above the heel.

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

Achilles/Gastrocnemius Stretch

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

B. Carefully lower heels down until a stretch is felt.

C. Repeat the motion of dipping and then elevating heels for 30 seconds

Do three sets.

Plantar Fascia Stretch

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

B. Use the band to pull toes up toward nose, keeping leg on the ground. A stretch should be felt on the bottom of foot and back of heel. Do this stretch first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed, to improve plantar fasciitis pain associated with the first few steps in the morning.

Hold for 60 seconds and repeat three times.

Towel Toe Curls

Towel Toe Curls

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

Repeat 10 times. Do this 3 times daily.

Plantar Fascia Massage

A. Firmly roll a small massage ball back and forth across the bottom of affected arch and heel. This can also be done with a frozen water bottle, which will simultaneously ice the arch.

Perform for 5 minutes. Do this three times daily.

Toe Extensions

A. Stand with feet shoulders-width apart, then place one foot ahead of the other (with the affected foot behind).

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

Repeat 15 times. Try five sets daily.