Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only. This is not a substitute for a medical appointment. Please refer to your physician before starting any exercise program.
Kelsey Downing PT, DPT
In the United States, an estimated 2 million people deal with heel pain that causes discomfort and disruption in their way of life. The diagnosis; plantar fasciitis. Plantar Fasciitis is a condition that affects people of all ages and all walks of life. It is something that can go undetected for years, but one day comes up and can affect your daily life. The plantar fascia is a band of tissue that lies along the bottom of the foot, connecting the foot to the heel. This band provides arch support and absorbs shock when you walk, and can easily become inflamed or strained causing plantar fasciitis pain. Plantar fasciitis is more common in people who are overweight, or very active (especially those engaged in high impact activities). The good thing is there are ways to prevent this pain. By adding some easy stretching and strengthening exercises to your daily routine you can help or prevent your plantar fasciitis pain.
The Exercise Goal for Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar Fasciitis is pain and strain on the large fascial support on the bottom of the foot. When that fascia experiences a sudden increase in load or a change in the activity it can cause microtears in the fascia which where the pain and inflammation come from.
The main goal of exercising for Plantar Fascia is to help the foot be able to tolerance normal resistance and load that we need for everyday life. To be able to tolerate more load, we have to train it and push for those adaptations. This is similar to a muscle.
Whether the exercise is stretching or strengthening think of each activity as “am I helping my foot tolerate more load?”
The Best Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis
Eccentric Single-Leg Calf Raises
If there was one and only one exercise that we were allowed to give you, this would be it. This exercise helps load the Plantar Fascia, strengthens the foot and calf muscles, and adds in a dynamic stretch. To do it properly, start by standing on one foot at the edge of a step or an aerobic stepper. We like to put a rolled-up towel under the toe to further load the Plantar Fascia. Start by raising your heel up onto your toes and then SLOWLY lowering your heel down below the step. We recommended progressively adding resistance by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in your hand. Important to note, there will be some achiness from this but that’s what we want. That means you are loading it just right.
Sitting on the floor or firm surface with the legs extended, grasp the toes with one hand and bend the toes and ankle upwards as far as possible to stretch the arch and calf muscle. Hold this for 10 seconds and repeat for 2-3 minutes. An optional addition to this stretch is to perform a deep massage along the arch of your foot to help release the plantar fascia.
Stand close to a wall, placing both hands on the wall for support with the exercise. Move the involved foot backward away from the wall, with the uninvolved foot forward. You will bend into the front leg while keeping the back leg straight- pushing the heel down towards the ground. Keep pushing the heel down, feeling a stretch along the back of the calf of the involved leg. Hold for 45 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
For this exercise stand on a step, preferably with a railing to hold onto. Place the ball of the involved foot on the edge of the step allowing yourself to gently lower the heel down towards the ground. You should feel a pull along the backside of the calf. Hold this position for 60 seconds and repeat 2 times.
While stretching is an important part of treating plantar fascia pain it is also imperative to add gentle strengthening to assist with this pain. Towel curls are a wonderful gentle strength exercise for the plantar fascia. For this exercise place a small towel on the floor, then using the involved foot, start to curl the towel towards you, using only your toes. Then slowly relax the foot. Repeat this movement 10 times.
In the past few years, there has been a lot of research demonstrating the importance of hip strengthening in the rehabilitation of plantar fasciitis. Add a few hip strength exercises to help tame your pain.
Hip Abduction with a Band
Standing with your feet hip-width apart and a resistance band around the ankles, start to lift your left leg out to the side. When you lift your leg make sure your toes are pointing forward and you don’t lean too far to the right, avoiding compensation. Repeat 15-20 times and then complete on the other side. If you would like a little more support hold onto a chair. Or if you would like to increase the intensity try adding a resistance band to this exercise.
Hip Extension with a Band
Again standing with your feet hip-width apart a band around the ankles, start to kick your leg backward. As you lift your leg backward make sure your toes are pointing forward and that you’re not compensating with a forward lean. Repeat 15-20 times and then do the same on the opposite side. You can feel free to add a resistance band to this exercise as well.
Other Helpful Plantar Fasciitis Tips
Besides exercise, you can use other means of decreasing your plantar fascia pain. Here are a few things you should look into:
Orthotics for Plantar Fasciitis
Orthotics can add support to your arch, offsetting the tension and pressure on the plantar fascia. Your primary care doctor or podiatrist can prescribe you custom-fitted orthotics specifically to your feet to help distribute pressure to your feet more evenly. Or you can look into some over the counter orthotics to help with your pain. We like the Walk Hero orthotics insoles and at less than $20, it’s worth a try.
Athletic Tape for Plantar Fasciitis
If orthotics are not your thing try athletic tape for arch support. Athletic tape can be administered in a way to give ample support and relief to the arch, taking the stress off of the plantar fascia.
Make sure you choose shoes with a low to moderate heel, thick soles, good arch support, and extra cushioning. This will give your arch the support you need. It is also important to make sure you replace your shoes yearly to maintain the best arch support in your shoes.
Plantar Fasciitis is made worse with high impact, repetitive activity. Try changing it up with low-impact activities and sports, such as swimming or bicycling, instead of walking or jogging.
Plantar Fasciitis is a common pathology, affecting people all over the world and from all backgrounds. The good news is by changing a few things and adding some exercises you can help your plantar fascia pain and get closer to a pain-free life.
Lee, J. et al. “The effects of hip strengthening exercises in a patient with plantar fasciitis.” Medicine Journal (Baltimore) 26, 100-103 (2019).
“Plantar Fasciitis: Exercises to Relieve Pain.” University of Michigan Medicine. June 2019. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tr5853
“Plantar fasciitis exercises.” Washington University Physicians. May 2017. https://www.ortho.wustl.edu/content/Education/3691/Patient-Education/Educational-Materials/Plantar-Fasciitis-Exercises.aspx