If you suffer from persistent pain in your heel after a run or find yourself with sore feet first thing in the morning, you may have plantar fasciitis, i.e., inflammation of the plantar fascia.
While it’s a condition commonly associated with athletes, plantar fasciitis does not discriminate. This pain can affect anyone, young or old, cross-fitter or runner. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, plantar fasciitis accounts for millions of doctor visits in the United States every year, with 1 in 10 people estimated to experience a flare-up at some point in their life.
That’s a lot of feet.
So, what’s happening underneath the surface, and more importantly, how can you alleviate plantar pain? By practicing exercises for plantar fasciitis, of course.
Understanding the Plantar Fascia
Within the sole of your foot is the plantar fascia, a thick, fibrous band of tissue that connects the heel to the toes and protects the muscles and tendons inside.
Latin for foot sole and band, the plantar fascia can be thought of as a rubber band in the arch of your foot, absorbing shock after shock and providing much-needed support with every step.
Although your feet are designed to sustain occasional stressors, repetitive motions, such as running or walking and flexing beyond the normal range of motion, can increase tension and stress. This can cause wear and tear to the plantar fascia itself, leading to a condition you’ve become familiar with: plantar fasciitis.
So, what causes plantar fasciitis pain? From prolonged standing to excess weight, several factors can contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis. Even pregnancy and rheumatoid arthritis can cause plantar pain and flare-ups.
Other common causes include:
- Wearing unsupportive shoes
- Tight calf muscles
- The shape of your feet, e.g., flat feet and high arches
- A sudden increase in activity level
Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis Pain
When your feet hurt, one of the best ways to deal with the pain is by practicing stretches or exercises for plantar fasciitis to loosen up the stiffness and regain your range of motion. Below are examples of exercises for plantar fasciitis pain designed to do just this.
Plantar Fasciitis Exercise #1: The Sitting Toe Stretch
Whether it’s from the edge of your bed, desk chair or couch, the sitting toe stretch can be done anywhere you can sit comfortably. To start, simply bring your foot to the opposite knee as you sit and pull your toes inward toward your body. You should feel the stretch along the bottom of your foot. To avoid injury, be careful not to pull too hard and stop if you feel pain or discomfort while preforming the stretch.
Exercise #2: Calve Stretches
This exercise for plantar fasciitis pain targets the gastrocnemius muscle, i.e., the muscle located just under the skin at the back of the lower leg, forming the bulk of the calf muscle. Depending on the severity of your pain, begin this stretch gently, and as your pain diminishes, deepen this stretch using both legs slightly bent. This will loosen the muscle in the lower calf and relieve pain in the plantar fascia.
To preform this stretch, simply:
- Stand an arm’s length from a wall and place your right foot behind your left
- Bend your left leg forward while keeping your right knee straight and your right heel on the ground
- Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat three times
- After each set, reverse your position and repeat
Plantar Fasciitis Exercise #3: The Plantar Fascia Massage
The plantar fascia massage can be done with a small ball or a frozen water bottle. (The latter is useful in that ice helps reduce inflammation.) Whichever you choose, make sure you’re in a stabilized position when preforming this exercise, either by sitting in a chair or standing on one foot with your back against a wall.
To start, roll the ball or water bottle gently forward and backward under your foot. The stretch should begin below the ball of your foot and end just before your heel. Roll the item of your choice 10 times for each foot, completing two sets per foot.
Exercise #4: The Flexor Hallicus Longus (FHL) Stretch
The flexor hallicus longus (FHL) is a muscle located on the back of the fibula below the deep fascia of the calf. Often the FHL gets overlooked for relieving pain from plantar fasciitis, but it’s one of several muscles that can contribute to plantar fasciitis pain.
To preform this exercise, stretch your toes against a wall or stair while leaving your heel on the floor. Next, bend your knee slightly and gently push forward until you feel a comfortable stretch in the bottom of your foot and up along the back of your calf muscles.
Plantar Fasciitis Exercise #5: Seated Toe Towel Stretch
Have a few extra towels lying around? This stretch utilizes an everyday item in your home in a new way by helping you relieve your plantar fasciitis pain.
To start, grab a towel you wouldn’t mind having your feet on and sit upright in a chair with one foot resting on the towel and spread your toes. Next, curl your toes to scrunch, drawing the towel towards you 10 times, completing two sets per foot. When preforming this exercise, your whole foot should stay on the ground; only your toes should be doing the work for this stretch.
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