4 Plantar Fasciitis Stretches That Provide Heel Pain Relief
What is plantar fasciitis?
If you feel heel pain with your first few steps of the morning or after a long period of standing or walking, you may be experiencing plantar fasciitis.
The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that runs along the sole of the foot, connecting your heel to the front of your foot. It’s the structure that helps support the arch of the foot, explains Adefemi A. Betiku, a physical therapist, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and Pilates instructor in New Jersey.
But the plantar fascia can get tight and pull where it inserts at the heel bone. This causes inflammation, which leads to pain, often in the heel and Achilles tendon.
“Over time, if this keeps on happening, microtears in the plantar fascia can occur, and as it heals, each time the tissue becomes thicker and stiffer,” says Kristina Marie Quirolgico, MD, a physiatrist in primary sports care medicine at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
The resulting condition is known as plantar fasciitis.
While pain from plantar fasciitis can plague people for some time, plantar fasciitis stretches can help.
Risk factors for plantar fasciitis
Doctors treat nearly 2 million people with plantar fasciitis every year, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
If you have flat feet or high arches, you might be more prone to the condition. Spending most of the day on your feet—say, as a waiter or retail worker—also raises your risk, says Dr. Quirolgico.
Weight gain over a short period of time, like in pregnancy, also puts you at risk.
As do certain exercises. Dr. Quirolgico points to running too far or too fast without building up your mileage or speed and doing repetitive movements, like running on a hard surface and in unsupportive shoes, as possible causes.
Betiku says runners as a whole are more prone to plantar fasciitis, an overuse injury.
Contrary to popular belief, heel spurs don’t cause plantar fasciitis, Dr. Quirolgico. Instead, a tight plantar fascia can cause traction at the heel bone and lead to a spur.
Plantar fasciitis treatments
If you’re experiencing plantar fasciitis symptoms, like pain in your heel, it’s time to seek medical help.
While you should see a doctor whenever you experience pain, this is especially true if you experienced trauma that led to the pain. Your physician will make sure you’re dealing with plantar fasciitis and not something like a fracture.
A medical professional will provide a treatment plan to alleviate pain and get you back on your feet.
“The first lines of treatment include calf stretching, massage at the bottom of the foot or arch, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, and wearing gel cups for cushioning of the heel,” Dr. Quirolgico says.
You know the old children’s song: the leg bone is connected to the foot bone… Well, it’s right. Your plantar fasciitis is connected to the heel, which connects to the Achilles tendon, which connects to the lower leg. That’s why calf stretches can help release tension in the plantar fascia.
If plantar fasciitis stretches and massage don’t help alleviate the pain, your doctor may turn to a cortisone injection or extracorporeal shockwave therapy to help treat the issue.
There are options for night splints that can be worn to help with stretching, too, but some patients can’t tolerate them for too long, Dr. Quirolgico adds.
(Find out how acupuncture for plantar fasciitis may help heel pain.)
Plantar fasciitis stretches
Ready to stretch it out? These techniques, from Betiku and Dr. Quirolgico, will help alleviate pain and tightness in the plantar fascia.
Plantar Fascia Stretch
Sit up tall in a chair. Rest the affected foot on the thigh of your other leg, letting your lifted leg fall open to the side.
Gently pull back on the toes of your affected foot until you feel a slight stretch in the arch of the foot.
Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat several times a day.
You can also use your hand to massage the arch of your affected foot as you do the stretch.
(This is what pain on top of your foot means.)
Plantar Fascia Massage
Sit up tall in a chair. Place a frozen water bottle in front of you. Dr. Quirolgico emphasizes that you should place a towel over the bottle so the cold doesn’t harm your skin. You can use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball instead, but don’t use a golf ball—it may be too hard.
Place your affected foot on the water bottle. Gently roll your foot, massaging the arch to relieve tightness.
Continue for 30 seconds and perform several times a day.
(This is why you have pain on the ball of your foot.)
Stand up tall, facing a wall.
Step back with your affected foot, keeping this leg straight and knee unbent. Your feet should be parallel, toes pointing forward toward the wall.
Bend your front knee slightly. Keep your heels flat on the ground. (You should be able to put your back heel down. If not, step your feet closer together.)
Press your hips forward, keeping your back leg straight, until you feel a stretch in the calf of your back leg. Make sure you don’t arch your back.
If you do not feel a stretch, bend the front knee more. If you feel the stretch in your heel, straighten your front knee a little.
Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat several times a day, at least once in the morning and once in the evening.
(Add these calf stretches to your daily routine.)
Stand with your feet facing a wall. Step forward with your unaffected foot, bending the knee slightly.
Keep both feet parallel and pointing forward, toward the wall. Keep your heels flat on the ground.
Your feet should be slightly closer together in this stretch compared with the calf stretch.
Press your back heel into the ground as you bend your back knee. You’ll feel the stretch toward the bottom of your leg, in a muscle called the soleus, which runs closer to the Achilles tendon.
If you do not feel a stretch, bend your back knee more.
Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat several times a day.
Next, shop the best shoes for plantar fasciitis.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Plantar Fasciitis and Bone Spurs"
- Adefemi A. Betiku, DPT, CSCS, a physical therapist, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and Pilates instructor in New Jersey
- Kristina Marie Quirolgico, MD, physiatrist in primary sports care medicine at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City