Plantar fasciitis Stretching exercises may seem inconsequential. But research shows that they are effective for managing pain and improving function in people with the condition, which causes thickening of the plantar fascia—a band located in the arch of the foot.1 In fact, plantar fasciitis exercises are a key element of any treatment plan for this painful foot condition.
The main cause of plantar fasciitis is micro traumas that lead to degeneration and tears of the plantar fascia, which result in tenderness, pain, and swelling around the heel of the foot. If the condition is not managed, it can affect your quality of life and make day-to-day activities uncomfortable and more difficult. Persistent, severe cases may require surgery.
Plantar fasciopathy affects approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population at some point during their lifetime and affects an estimated one to two million people per year in the United States.1-4 Despite the prevalence of this condition, there is ongoing debate on the cause, pathophysiology and the best treatment for plantar fasciitis/fasciosis. Historically, the prevailing thinking attributed plantar fasciopathy to a local inflammatory process but more recent data suggests a more degenerative process due to excessive cumulative strain, which adds to the debate regarding the most appropriate treatment.3,4 The most consistent causes of plantar fasciopathy in the literature include: increased BMI, abnormal biomechanical structure, decreased ankle dorsiflexion and occupations/recreational activities with daily prolonged weightbearing
Your physical therapist or physician may walk you through these common plantar fasciitis stretching exercises, or you can try them yourself at home. This routine is simple and often enough to alleviate the symptoms of plantar fasciitis in most people.
Taut muscles in your feet or calves aggravate plantar fasciitis. Soothe or prevent the pain with some of these easy stretches recommended by personal trainer and triathlete Deborah Lynn Irmas of Santa Monica, CA. Irmas is certified by the American Council on Exercise (ACE). She endured bouts of plantar fasciitis after overtraining with too many sprints. This stretching routine, which she practices and recommends to her clients, keeps her free of heel pain.
Overuse, strain, and inflammation on the plantar fascia ligament that connects the heel to the toes cause the foot injury that doctors refer to as plantar fasciitis. The tissue that the condition affects is under the arch of the foot but can cause a stabbing pain in the heel.
Plantar fasciitis usually resolves within 6 to 18 months without treatment. With 6 months of consistent, nonoperative treatment, people with plantar fasciitis will recover 97 percent of the time.
Plantar fasciitis Stretching exercises
Stretch Your Calves
- Stand an arm’s length from a wall.
- Place your right foot behind your left.
- Slowly and gently bend your left leg forward.
- Keep your right knee straight and your right heel on the ground.
- Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and release. Repeat three times.
- Reverse the position of your legs, and repeat.
This stretch targets the gastrocnemius muscle in your calf. As your plantar fascia begins to heal and the pain diminishes, you can deepen this stretch by performing it with both legs slightly bent, says Irmas. Done this way, the stretch loosens the soleus muscle in the lower calf. Irmas cautions that it’s important not to hold the stretches for too long.
Placing a round object under the foot and rolling back and forth can help loosen up the foot muscles. People can use a rolling pin, golf ball, or specialized foam roller for this. Sports stores and online stores sell foam foot rollers.
Use the following steps to stretch the foot:
- sit tall on a chair
- roll a round object under the arch of the foot
- roll for 2 minutes
- Sit with involved leg crossed over uninvolved leg. Grasp toes with one hand and bend the toes and ankle upwards as far as possible to stretch the arch and calf muscle. With the other hand, perform deep massage along the arch of your foot.
- Hold 10 seconds. Repeat for 2-3 minutes. Repeat 2-4 sessions per day.
Plantar Fascia Massage
Note: You should not experience pain during this exercise. Apply enough pressure to feel a gentle stretch, but not pain.
- Sit in a chair or stand with one foot resting on a small ball or frozen water bottle. A frozen water bottle is useful as the ice helps reduce inflammation.
- Gently roll the ball or water bottle forward and backward under your foot. Start at just below the ball of your foot and end just before your heel.
- Roll the ball or bottle back and forth slowly 10 times for each foot. Do two sets per foot.
- Do this exercise once daily.
Plantar Fascia Towel Stretch
This exercise is aimed at stretching the plantar fascia. To begin place a towel around the ball of the affected foot, keep your heel in contact with the ground and avoid bending your knee. Pull the towel toward you until you feel the stretch in the bottom of your foot and back of your calf muscle. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and repeat 3 times with a small rest period between stretches.
It is particularly useful to perform the stretch first thing in the morning or after a period of rest.
Tennis Ball Roll
While seated, grab a tennis ball, rolling pin, frozen water bottle, or other cylindrical object and put it under your foot. Gently roll the object underneath the arch of your foot.
Perform this exercise for three to five minutes. You can repeat it two times per day.
In a seated position, put a towel flat under your foot. Your goal will be to scrunch the towel up using only your toes. Once you have bunched the towel up, curl your toes the other way to straighten it back out.
Perform this exercise 10 times. You can repeat it one to two times per day.
Intrinsic muscles can be activated by doing “Toe Yoga”. Begin by standing barefoot, press the big toe into the ground while raising the lesser toes. Hold for 2-3 seconds then repeat 10 times. Then do the opposite. Press the small toes into the ground while raising the big toe. Do this daily. For some, it is difficult to do at first and then becomes much easier as the muscles become more activated. You should not see any movement in the ankles or knees when you do this. The only movement should be in the toes and arch.
One of the best stretches for plantar fasciitis is the gastrocnemius stretch. This stretch is very simple and can be done anywhere with a wall to support you.
Step 1: Stand facing the wall, place your hands on it, and stretch your affected leg back. Both of your feet should be planted on the ground facing the wall. Your unaffected leg should be bent at the knee.
Step 2: Lean toward the wall so that you feel a stretch in the calf muscle of your back leg.
Step 3: Hold this pose for 30 seconds and then relax. Repeat it six times a day.
To perform a stair stretch, find a stair step or curb.
- Keep the foot you want to stretch back and take one step up with the other foot.
- Lean into the stairs keeping the back foot flat.
- Feel the stretch in the back of the heel. Try to relax and allow your body to lean further into the step.
Stretching The Plantar Fascia
To relieve muscle tightness in the plantar fascia, try the following:
- sitting on a chair, cross the injured heel over the other leg
- hold the foot in your opposite hand
- pull the toes toward the shin to create tension in the arch of the foot
- place the other hand on the bottom of the foot to feel for tension in the plantar fascia
- use a towel to grasp and stretch the foot if it is difficult to hold otherwise
- hold for 10 seconds
- repeat two to three times
Note: This exercise should be done slowly and with controlled movements. Make sure to maintain your balance and hold on to a railing or other support if needed.
Stand with the balls of your feet at the edge of a bottom step.
With your heels hanging off the edge, slowly and gently lower your heels just below the edge of the step. You may feel a stretch in your calf muscle.
Slowly rise onto the balls of your feet.
Repeat this 10 times, then rest. Complete two sets of this exercise.
Do this exercise once daily.
Plantar Fascia Loading Exercise (High Load Exercise)
This exercise is aimed at strengthening the muscles in the foot. Place a folded up towel on the floor as is seen in the video. Place the toes of the affected foot against the folded edge of the towel in a flexed position. Try to have your toes flexed up as far as you can comfortably manage. Now begin to raise up onto your tip toes lifting your heel off the ground. Try to raise up onto the tip toes for a count of around 3 seconds, pause at the top for 2 seconds then slowly lower the heel back down to the ground for a count of 3 seconds.
Perform this exercise every second day.
Strengthening exercises should be built up gradually over a period of weeks, so to begin with do as many repetitions as you can manage. The aim is to do 3 sets of around 12 repetitions but remember it make take you several weeks before you are able to reach close to this target.
Picking Up Marbles
For something a little more challenging, try putting marbles on the ground next to a coffee mug. Using only your toes, grab the marbles, lift them off the ground, and drop them into the cup.
Continue until you have gathered all the marbles. You can repeat this exercise one to two times a day.
Short Foot Exercise
The “short foot” exercise is another method to activate and strengthen the IMs. Place the foot flat on the ground and pull the toes back towards the heel without curling the toes up or down. Essentially you are making the foot shorter by contracting the muscles that raise the arch and pull the forefoot closer to the heel. This exercise should be done from a seated position first and then once it becomes easy should be done weightbearing. This exercise can be done either barefoot or in shoes and can be done randomly throughout the day.