You might not have paid much thought to your plantar fascia in the past — at least not until a sharp pain in your heel prompted you to do otherwise. But you wouldn’t be alone. Plantar fasciitis is a painful condition that affects over 50% of Americans, along with a comparable percentage of the world’s population. It is particularly a problem in mid-life, as we don’t recover from injuries like this as quickly as we did. If you are prone to plantar fasciitis, as many of us are, the best solution is to not get it in the first place, as recovery can take months.
The plantar fascia is the thin ligament that connects each of your heels to the front of your feet. It not only aids mobility; it also cushions your feet from impact. This natural shock absorber can be troublesome for many folks, no matter how old or active you are.
Plantar fasciitis is caused by damage or tears to the plantar fascia, which is usually created through the repetitive motion from step aerobics and running, pressure from weight gain, and strenuous exercise regimes. But it can even be brought on by a lot of walking in the wrong footwear. The result is pain, inflammation, and persistent discomfort.
Who Is Most at Risk?
Runners and avid exercisers tend to form the highest-risk category for developing the condition. It’s also common among anyone who carries excess weight, including pregnant women. The weight in question can strain the ligaments and cause inflammatory pain.
Why Stretching Helps
Having tense muscles in your calves or feet can aggravate the symptoms of plantar fasciitis. Personal trainers and athletic experts recommend easy stretches as part of your daily routine to relax these muscles and keep you free of heel pain.
If you suffer from particularly persistent pain, there’s no need to be discouraged. It’s still possible to relieve persistent fasciitis pain, at least in part, by using medically recommended stretches to soothe and work the ligaments that are ailing you.
Here are the 7 plantar fasciitis stretches you can turn to, to get yourself active and mobile again as soon as possible.
#1: Calf Stretch
- Stand a full arm’s length away from a wall.
- Position your right foot behind your left foot.
- Gently bend your left leg forwards.
- Hold your right knee straight and keep your right heel firmly on the ground.
- Hold this stretch position for 15-30 seconds before releasing it. Repeat three times before reversing the position and repeating it.
This movement addresses the gastrocnemius muscles in your calves. As your pain diminishes, you can improve the action of this stretch by doing it with both of your legs slightly bent. This will loosen the soleus muscles in your lower calves as well.
#2: Frozen Water Bottle Stretch
- Find a chair and sit on it, keeping your back as straight as possible.
- While seated, roll each of your feet back and forth over a frozen water bottle or a very cold can.
- Perform this stretch for one minute on each foot.
#3: Big Toe Stretch
- In the same seated position, cross one of your legs over the other.
- Take hold of your big toe and gently pull it towards you, holding it in place for 15-30 seconds.
- Repeat this three times and then repeat the same set of stretches for the other foot.
#4: Strap Stretch
- Use an exercise strap or fold a towel lengthwise to make a makeshift strap.
- While seated, place the strap or towel under the arches of both of your feet.
- Hold the ends of the towel with both of your hands and pull the tops of your feet towards you firmly but gently.
- Hold this position for 15-30 seconds and repeat three times.
#5: Marble Pickup Stretch
- Sit up straight in a chair with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground.
- Position around 10-20 marbles and an empty bowl near your feet.
- Curl your toes around each marble individually, then lift them and drop them into the bowl. Repeat with both feet.
#6: Toe Extension Stretch
- Sit flat on a mat or on the ground. Place one leg on a foam roller and both of your hands on the mat behind you.
- Push the foot of the elevated leg down and flex out your toes.
- Pull/curve your foot upwards and curl your toes as much as possible. Repeat 5-8 times and then repeat with the other foot.
#7: Extended Wide Squat Stretch
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips.
- Bend your knees and lower your hips towards the floor.
- Try to ensure that your heels touch the ground, but if they don’t, use a rolled-up towel or a yoga mat placed under your heels for added support.
- Hold your palms together against your chest and press your elbows against the insides of your knees.
- After five deep breaths, drop your hands to the floor and walk them away from your feet to stretch your lower back and hips further. Press your heels down, holding for another five breaths.
Professional yoga instructor Jenny Sugar recommends this stretch to flex and relieve tension in your hips, lower back, legs and heels.
Additional Fasciitis Support
Performing the stretches mentioned above daily can help reduce heel pain and work to prevent plantar fasciitis in the long run.
Other things you can do to prevent and address the condition include giving yourself adequate time to rest from running and impact sport. Experts like Deborah Lynn Irmas recommend taking two weeks off from impact exercise, performing stretches, and taking anti-inflammatory medication if needed.
Once you have rested properly and treated your pain, enter back into your running regime slowly. Try short distance runs to start with, stopping at regular intervals to stretch. Gradually lengthen the distance of your runs over time and don’t forget to stretch your calves frequently!
Finally, if you suffer from plantar fasciitis, you must invest in the right shoes for your foot shape. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons states that shoes with proper support and a good fit are essential for avoiding heel pain and other running-related conditions and injuries. Purchase new running and work shoes as often as needed to ensure that your feet, heels, and calves have the support they need to stay supple and free of pain. David has been using these ones from Mizuno that have good support, and are still lightweight.
While it’s not always possible to avoid plantar fasciitis all together, there are ways you can combat the effects and ensure you don’t have to spend too much time recovering. Stretching correctly and wearing the right footwear will go a long way in easing the heel pain that so many people suffer from.