Stretches to Relieve Heel Pain


When someone asks you what your fitness goal is, it would be safe to assume that you’ve never said,

To make sure I don’t get plantar fasciitis.”

Given the amount of work that the foot-and-ankle complex does, it’s surprising how most of us don’t give it more attention.

It’s all about those improved race pace times, right? 

But if you’re not taking care of the 28 bones, 30 joints, and 100+ muscles in the foot that work in perfect harmony to ensure you can run, then you might be increasing your risk of injury. The result? Halting your progress and setting yourself back for at least a few months.

Undoubtedly, one of the most common injuries among runners – and fitness enthusiasts, in general – is plantar fasciitis.

A woman is stretching in the gym

What is Plantar Fasciitis?

Time for a quick lesson in Latin. “Plantar” is a Latin word that means “the sole of the foot or relating to the sole of the foot.”

Now, to put theory into practice, look at the bottom of your foot. Trace your finger from the heel to just under the toes. The length that you just traced is where you’ll find several plantar ligaments. 

These ligaments have a lot of responsibilities, including stabilizing your arch, absorbing the impact from exercise, and ensuring that you’re able to walk and run.

For runners, without the flexibility of the plantar ligament, you wouldn’t be able to propel yourself forward.

Time for your second lesson in Latin. Fasciitis is a combination of two Latin words:

  • Fascia: Connective tissue that surrounds muscle fibers
  • Itis: Inflammation

Put it all together and what do you get?

Good to know:

Plantar fasciitis refers to the inflammation of the ligament that runs from your heel to your toes. Most people refer to the pain in back of heel.

Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis

How do you know when you might have plantar fasciitis? Maybe it’s foot arch pain not plantar fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis symptoms can vary from person to person. The most common symptom is pain in heel of foot, which can be sharp or dull. You may feel this pain when you first get out of bed in the morning or after sitting for long periods of time. The pain may go away after you walk around for a bit, but it may come back later in the day.

Other symptoms of plantar fasciitis include:

  • Pain along the arch of your foot
  • Stiffness in your foot first thing in the morning
  • Difficulty walking or standing for long periods of time
  • Swelling in your foot[1]

What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?

 There are a number of things that can lead to plantar fasciitis, such as:

Overuse

This is the most common cause of plantar fasciitis. If you participate in activities that put a lot of stress on your feet, such as running or dancing, you may be at risk for plantar fasciitis.

For example, runners put a lot of high-impact stress on this part of the foot. Imagine your foot slamming on the pavement repeatedly for your typical hour-long run. Over a long period of time of striking the ground with too much force, you can cause microtears in the plantar ligament. 

As a result, you might cause tiny tears in the tissue, which leads to inflammation of the plantar fascia.

Scar Tissue

Continuing with the point above, sometimes, after the tears heal, these micro-injuries can leave behind scar tissue. This scar tissue can limit the flexibility of the plantar ligament, and as a result, you might notice a decline in performance.

Age

As you age, the plantar fascia becomes less flexible and more likely to tear. This can lead to plantar fasciitis.

Foot Structure

If you have high arches or flat feet, you may be more likely to develop plantar fasciitis.[1]

Good to Know:

Plantar fasciitis often develops slowly over time. At first, you might only experience slight heel pain when you run, but later, it becomes a stabbing pain even when you are at rest. The healing process usually lasts somewhere between six weeks and a year.

Heel Pain: 5 Helpful Tips to Prevent Plantar Fasciitis

So, what can you do to prevent plantar fasciitis? Here are five ways to lower your risk for this runner’s injury.

1. Increase Your Mileage and Intensity Slowly

If you’re just getting into running or are increasing your mileage, do so gradually.

Sudden increases in mileage or intensity can put too much stress on your plantar fascia, leading to plantar fasciitis.

A good rule of thumb is to increase your mileage by no more than about ten percent each week.

2. Schedule Time for Recovery

In addition to gradually increasing your mileage, make sure you schedule time for recovery.

Yes, this means taking days off from running, but you should also be cross-training with other low-impact activities such as swimming or biking.

Recovery days give your plantar fascia a chance to rest and heal.

3. Wear the Right Running Shoes

Make sure you’re wearing shoes that are supportive and fit well. This is especially important if you have high arches or flat feet, as these foot types are more susceptible to plantar fasciitis.

Look for shoes with good arch support and cushioning in the heel.

Old and damaged running shoes can increase your risk of developing plantar fasciitis along with running injuries in general.

Good to Know:

Did you know that you should only run between 300 and 500 miles with your average pair of running shoes?

Just like car tires, your running shoes need to be changed. You wouldn’t drive a car on the rim, right? Running in old and damaged running shoes is the equivalent of just that.

But how do you know when it’s time to switch up your shoes? Well, we can help with that. 

4. Stretch before you run.

Before you head out for a run, take the time to stretch your plantar fascia and Achilles tendon. These two areas are closely connected, and tightness in one can lead to plantar fasciitis.

A simple plantar fascia stretch involves crossing one leg over the other and pulling your toes back toward your shin.

For a more comprehensive stretching routine, consider foam rolling on top of stretching.

5. Work on coordination and foot stability.

If plantar fasciitis is a chronic problem for you, it may be due to weakness or poor coordination in your feet and ankles.

To help prevent plantar fasciitis, focus on exercises that improve foot stability and coordination such as single-leg balance drills and toe raises.

Plantar Fasciitis Treatment: Preventative Exercises

Speaking of exercises to prevent plantar fasciitis in the first place, here are some exercises that you can incorporate into your running workouts.

Inch Worms

Inch Worms accomplish two things at once: They stretch the foot-and-ankle complex while improving the flexibility of the same area along with your calves.

A woman stretching in the gym


How to Do the Exercise:

  • Start in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your legs straight, bend forward at the waist, and place your hands on the ground.
  • As you walk your hands forward, allow your heels to rise off the ground until you reach a push-up position.
  • Once in the push-up position, begin “walking” your hands back toward your feet, allowing your heels to touch the ground as you return to the starting position.
  • Do two sets of ten repetitions.

Modified Crossbody Twists

This version of Crossbody Twists focuses on improving the muscular control of your ankles and the soles of your feet.

A woman stretching in the gym

How to Do the Exercise:

  • Stand on one leg and cross your arms in front of your chest.
  • Turn your upper body to the left and then to the right.
  • Keep your ankle straight and flex the arch of your foot.
  • Do this exercise three times a day for one minute on each side.

What to Do if You Have Plantar Fasciitis

Are you currently suffering from plantar fasciitis? Looking for effective plantar fasciitis treatment tips. Here are five things you can do right now to alleviate the pain and get on the road to recovery.

1. Stop Running & Follow the RICE Method

The first thing should be obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people will simply take an ibuprofen and lace up their shoes.

Your foot needs rest to let the injury heal, so get off your feet!

If you keep adding more stress to the injury, you will only delay the healing process.

RICE stands for “Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.” Follow these steps to treat plantar fasciitis at home:

  • Rest: Take a few days off from running or other high-impact activities.
  • Ice: Apply ice to the affected area for 20 minutes several times per day.
  • Compression: Use an elastic bandage or compression sock to help reduce swelling.
  • Elevation: Keep your foot elevated above heart level as much as possible to reduce swelling.

If home treatment doesn’t seem to be helping, or if the pain is severe, you may need to see a doctor for further treatment options.

2. Roll Out the Tension in your Foot

Once the pain has decreased in your foot, you can start taking active measures to address the problem. Start small with a tennis ball.

Reduce the tension in your foot by rolling out the soles of your feet with a small ball for two or three minutes a day. Think of it like a tiny massage for your foot to promote blood flow and healing.

Start at the base of your heel and work your way toward your toes.

A woman is rolling her foot on a tennis ball


How to Do the Exercise:

  • Roll out the soles of your feet slowly with the ball.
  • Slowly and carefully increase the pressure on the sensitive areas for about 60 seconds.

3. Stretch the soles of your feet regularly.

Plantar fasciitis stretching and massaging can help to loosen the tissue and reduce pain. Try these plantar fascia treatment stretches:

Kneeling Plantar Fascia Stretch

  • Place your toes on the floor and slowly sit back on your heels.
  • Keep your upper body straight and upright.
  • Hold the stretch for about 60 seconds.

A woman is stretching in the gym

A woman is stretching in the gym

Lunging Wall Stretch

  • Place your hands against a wall.
  • Step one foot back, keeping that heel flat on the ground.
  • Lean forward into the wall until you feel a stretch in your calf and arch.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat with the other foot.

4. Strengthen Your Shins and Calves

One of the best ways to prevent plantar fasciitis is to keep your shins and calves strong. Here are three exercises that can help to strengthen these areas of the lower body.

Dorsiflexion Band Pulls

  • Pull a resistance band towards you using your toes.
  • Flex your foot, hold the position, and then straighten your foot again.
  • Do three sets of fifteen repetitions.

A woman is stretching in the gym with a resistance band

A close-up of a woman stretching her foot with a resistance band

Calf Raises  

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold on to something for balance.
  •  Keeping your knees straight, raise your heels, so you’re standing on your toes.
  • Hold for a second, then lower back down.
  • Do three sets of fifteen repetitions.

Heel Drops

  • Stand with the ball of one foot on an elevated surface and your heel hanging off.
  •  Keeping your knee straight, slowly lower your heel until it is below the level of the raised surface.
  • Hold for a second, then raise your heel back up.
  •  Do three sets of fifteen repetitions.

 

These exercises can help to prevent plantar fasciitis by strengthening the muscles and tendons in your feet and lower legs.

5. Consider Custom Orthotics

Great footwear is a first step, but what if you drop a lot of money on good shoes, but you’re still having issues with plantar fasciitis? It might be time to look deeper in your shoes and consider getting custom orthotics.

Orthotics are devices that are worn in the shoes and are designed to support the foot in a specific way that is customized to your unique foot shape. Studies show that custom orthotics can make a huge difference in alleviating symptoms while lowering your risk of developing plantar fasciitis in the first place.[2]

There are many different types of orthotics, but for plantar fasciitis, you want to look for something that provides arch support and cushioning.

Remember that custom orthotics are made to fit your feet specifically, so they might be a bit pricey, but they are definitely worth the investment if it means no more plantar fasciitis.

If you’re not sure where to start, talk to your doctor or a physical therapist about what type of orthotics would be best for you.

Wrap Up

Plantar fasciitis is a condition that affects the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot. The plantar fascia supports the arch of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes.

If you have plantar fasciitis, you may experience pain in your heel and along the arch of your foot. You may also feel stiffness in your feet first thing in the morning.

While plantar fasciitis can be a frustrating and painful injury, there are things you can do to prevent it.

Gradually increase your mileage, take recovery days, stretch before you run, and focus on exercises that improve foot stability and coordination. By following these tips, and the exercises we discussed above, you can help keep plantar fasciitis at bay.

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