First of all, if you’ve clicked on this blog post without reading our earlier post that gives a fantastic overview of plantar fasciitis, we highly recommend reading. In that article, we discuss what plantar fasciitis is, what it feels like, why it happens and the treatment options available for that condition.
If you have already read that, then this blog post is going to dive much deeper into the stretches and exercises available to treat and prevent plantar fasciitis.
Before we jump into the the plantar fasciitis exercises, we’ll give you a quick refresher on what plantar fasciitis actually is.
What is plantar fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain and occurs due to the inflammation of the plantar fascia.
The plantar fascia is a ligamentous band which runs between your heel on your forefoot. And when you have plantar fasciitis, it can be extremely painful. The pain is usually at it’s worst in the morning, however, this can vary from person to person.
You can learn more about the various causes of this painful heel condition here.
What stretches and exercises I should perform if I have plantar fasciitis, and how do I perform them?
There are many different exercises and stretches that can help ease your plantar fasciitis heel pain or help to prevent it from occurring. The following are some of our favourites.
Gastrocnemius calf stretch:
The gastrocnemius is the outermost calf muscle, and it’s important to stretch it as tightness in the calf muscles can contribute to plantar fasciitis. If the muscle is too tight, it can restrict the range of motion and flexibility of your ankle joint.
To stretch the gastrocnemius calf muscle, you can do so by standing up against a wall in the position pictured below. You then push against the wall to create a stretch in the back of your rear leg.
This should be held for 15 – 20 seconds and completed 3 times on each leg.
The soleus is the deeper muscle of the two calf muscles, which together make up what is called the ‘triceps surae’.
To stretch this muscle, you stand in a similar position as the gastrocnemius stretch, however your feet should be slightly closer, and you bend your back knee to place tension on the soleus muscle.
This should be held for 15 – 20 seconds and completed 3 times on each leg.
Plantar fascia stretch:
To stretch the plantar fascia itself, sit on a chair with one leg crossed over the other as is pictured below.
Pull your foot back towards your knee, whilst pulling your toes back to your shin as is pictured below.
This should be held for 15 – 20 seconds and completed 3 times on each foot.
Weak calf muscles are another contributing factor to plantar fasciitis, thus it is important to strengthen these muscles to take some stress off the plantar fascia itself.
Heel raises can be completed as pictured below, starting flat footed and lifting up onto the balls of your feet.
You should feel a squeeze in your calf muscles as you complete this exercise.
We recommend doing this in front of a bench or something else you can hold onto for stability.
Your podiatrist will give you a customised program for how many repetitions and sets you should be aiming for when completing this activity, but completing 10 repetitions 3 times is a good starting point.
Short foot exercise:
The short foot exercise, otherwise known as ‘doming’ involves drawing the first ray upwards and back whilst keeping the first metatarsophalangeal joint on the ground, and the heel in place.
This is a very difficult exercise and will require face to face coaching to understand how to complete it.
We recommend booking an appointment with us if you wish to complete this level of exercise for plantar fasciitis!
Having weak intrinsic muscles of the foot is another risk factor for developing plantar fasciitis, so strengthening these muscles will help to reduce pain, and the likelihood of developing this condition again.
The towel scrunch is a similar exercise to the one above, as it trains the intrinsic foot musculature, but is much more simple to complete.
Sit a towel on the ground in front of you, and whilst keeping your heels in one place, try to grip the towel and draw it back towards you using the balls of your feet and your toes.
You should be aiming to complete 15 repetitions of this exercise 3 times on each foot.
Frozen water bottle massage:
This exercise is fantastic as we are able to knock off some massage and some icing all at once!
Simply place a water bottle in the freezer and once it’s frozen, roll it back and forth under the middle of your foot.
If you apply enough force this will give your plantar fascia a massage whilst also getting the benefits of icing the tissue.
A great two for one deal if you’re limited on time! Complete this for 5-10 minutes each night.
How often should I perform these stretches/exercises?
You should complete these exercises daily!
The more stretching and strengthening we can get into your plantar fascia and surrounding structures, the faster your plantar fasciitis has a chance to resolve!
Can I use any of these exercises to prevent getting plantar fasciitis in the first place?
Weak calf muscle, tight calf muscles and weak intrinsic foot muscles are all risk factors for developing plantar fasciitis.
By completing these exercises that address these risk factors, we are reducing the likelihood of developing the condition in the first place.
What else can I do to prevent plantar fasciitis?
Other risk factors for developing plantar fasciitis involve your footwear selection, your exercise volume or loading, what type of surface you are exercising on, as well as your body weight.
Luckily all of these risk factors are modifiable, so we must address them in order to reduce the risk of plantar fasciitis.
Poor footwear is a well known risk factor for causing plantar fasciitis. To ensure that your footwear is providing you with adequate support, we recommend reading these two articles where we provide footwear advice on the features you should be looking for when searching for runners and everyday shoes.
Alternatively, you can always book an assessment with us, and we can provide you with advice.
Incorrect exercise loading is another factor that often leads to injuries such as plantar fasciitis.
All too often we see people ramp up their running or walking much too quickly – then all of a sudden, they have severe pain coming from their heels!
As a general rule, you should never increase your exercise load by more than 10% per week.
For example if you ran a total of 10km over the course of one week, you should not be running more than 11km the next week, otherwise you put yourself at risk for developing a range of injuries.
Choosing your running/walking surface:
Constantly running on hard surfaces can also lead to plantar fasciitis.
Spend some of your days running on grass such as a local footy oval, or head down to your local athletics track to soften the impact of running on your joints!
Another risk factor for developing plantar fasciitis is if you are carrying excess body weight.
When you think about it, if you are overweight, it means every step you take is putting more force through the structures in your foot than there should be.
By reducing your body weight, you are putting less stress on your plantar fascia, making it less likely for it to develop a pathology.
If you are struggling to lose weight, talk to your GP about it and they will help steer you in the right direction!
If you have heel pain, foot pain, or any lower limb discomfort
If your feet and/or lower limbs are giving you grief, then don’t hesitate to come see us here at Watsonia Podiatry. We’re experts in all things feet and we can help assess, diagnose and treat all sorts of foot conditions.
You can easily book in to see us by calling us on 03 9432 2689 or booking online here.