Stretches and Strengthening Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis (Heel Pain)
Babafemi Adebajoon September 30, 2021.
Plantar fasciitis is an overuse injury that leads to micro-tears of the plantar fascia at its origin near the heel of the foot. The primary and most common cause of plantar fasciitis is the repetitive strain placed on the foot due to several reasons, including high impact sporting activities, improper biomechanics, and posture of the feet, wearing the wrong footwear, etc.
Table of Contents
- Exercise as a treatment for Plantar Fasciitis
- Best Exercises for Plantar Fascitis i. Mobility Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis ii. Stretching Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis iii. Strengthening Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis iv. Isotonic Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis v. Isometric Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis
- The Final Verdict on Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis
- Should You Consult a Medical Expert for Heel Pain?
Exercise as a Treatment for Plantar Fasciitis
It is essential not to ignore heel pain and other signs and symptoms of plantar fasciitis. Though plantar fasciitis is a common foot-related condition, avoiding treatment will lead to a delay in recovery while drastically affecting the normal functions of your daily life, causing further complications.
An essential aspect of achieving complete and proper recovery from plantar fasciitis involves exercises for the feet and lower limbs in the rehabilitation routine.
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Best Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis
Therapeutic exercises (in addition to other conservative treatments, like custom insoles) play a vital role in achieving a complete rehabilitation from plantar fasciitis. They improve the flexibility and power of the fascia, joints, and muscles while preventing any future recurrences of the condition.
Different categories of exercises are useful in this regard. They are categorized below with useful examples and a step-by-step procedure of carrying them out.
Mobility Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis
These help improve and maintain the joint range of motion and flexibility of the muscles.
Ankle Pump Exercise
This exercise is for ankle plantarflexion and dorsiflexion, which are basic mobility exercises essential for the movement and flexibility of joints and muscles of the foot. It also helps in loosening the plantar fascia and improving blood circulation. To perform this exercise correctly, follow the steps below:
- Sit straight on the bed with both legs together and knees straight.
- With your heel touching the bed, move your feet up (dorsiflexion) and down (plantarflexion) by pointing your toes towards you and then away during the movement.
- Perform 10 repetitions of the combined up and down movement 4 times a day and 7 times per week.
Toe raise, point, and curl
As the name suggests, this exercise has three stages and will help maintain flexibility, mobility, and also strengthen all the parts of the feet and toes. To perform this exercise:
- Sit straight in a chair, with your feet flat on the floor.
- With your toes on the floor, slowly raise the heels until only the balls of your feet remain on the ground.
- Hold the position for 5 seconds and then lower your heels.
- Next, raise the heels and curl the toes inward so that only the tips of the toes are touching the floor.
- Hold this position for 5 seconds.
- Again, raise the heels but this time fan out the toes so that only the tips of the big and second toes are in contact with the floor.
- Hold for 5 seconds before lowering.
- Repeat each stage up to 10 times to build flexibility and mobility.
Frozen bottled water ice massage
This helps in reducing pain and aids mobility by releasing the plantar fascia along with the intrinsic muscles of the feet. To perform this exercise correctly, follow the steps below:
- Sit comfortably on a chair
- Place a frozen water bottle under your foot.
- Roll the bottle under your foot by moving your knee back and forth.
- Put some bodyweight on the bottle to get a deep tissue massage effect.
- Perform for 5-7 mins on each foot 2 times a day and 5 times per week.
Stretching Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis
These help in improving and maintaining the length and the flexibility of muscles. Shortened muscles and myofascia don’t function optimally and can be a source of pain.
The plantar fascia and calf stretching exercise
This is a major example as it helps in relaxing and lengthening the plantar fascia and calf muscles. To perform this exercise correctly, follow the steps below:
- Sit straight on the bed with your knees straight.
- Place a towel around the first half of your feet (ball of the feet) below the toes.
- Pull the towel towards you.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds before relaxing. You should feel the stretch in your toes and calf muscles.
- Perform 3-5 repetitions 3 times a day and 7 times per week.
Big toe stretch
The big toe stretch is designed to ensure that the range of motion in the big toe is preserved. It also helps to relieve pain in the toes associated with the use of tight shoes. To do this exercise:
- Sit up straight in a chair, with the feet flat on the floor.
- Place the left foot on the right thigh allowing it to rest.
- Using your fingers, slowly pull the big toe in all directions. Keep the big toe in each position for at least 5 seconds.
- Repeat this 10 times before changing the other foot
Strengthening Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis
These are necessary to complete the rehabilitation and help by improving the strength and power of the muscles. Strengthening exercise alleviates pain, improving joint movement and muscle flexibility. Examples are the towel curl exercise and the calf raises
The Towel Curl Exercise
This is an essential strengthening exercise for the intrinsic muscles of the foot and arches. To perform this exercise correctly, follow the steps below:
- Place a towel flat on the floor.
- In a sitting position, place your feet on the towel.
- Curl your toes and try to scrunch up the towel.
- Exercise both the feet at the same time as this can be a challenging task.
- After completing 10 curls, try extending your toes to push the scrunched towel forwards. This way, the extensor muscles of the toes are worked as well.
- Perform 10 repetitions, both of curling in and out, 3 times a day and 5 times per week.
These are good for plantar fasciitis as they increase the strength of your calf muscles along with the muscles of your feet and ankle. It is extremely helpful in recovery from plantar fasciitis. To perform this exercise correctly,
- For beginners, sit on a chair, while stronger individuals can stand in a neutral position.
- Sitting or standing, raise your heel off the ground, taking the bodyweight on the balls of your feet.
- Feel the stretch in your calves, and hold for 1-2 seconds.
- Lower your heels back to the floor.
- Perform 10 repetitions 3 times a day and 5 times per week
Isotonic Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis
This is where the length of the muscle fibers changes and tension remains the same. These include eccentric stretching for plantar fasciitis, where the muscle lengthens, and concentric contraction, where the muscle shortens.
Isometric Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis
During this type of exercise, the length of the muscle remains the same but the tension changes.
Isometric plantar fascia stretch
- Stand with feet together and a towel folded just in front of your feet.
- Move your left foot forward with just your toes resting on the towel (keep the toes in a dorsiflexed position).
- Raise the heels of both feet off the ground.
- Slowly transfer the weight entirely to your left foot by lifting the right completely off the ground.
- Hold this position for about 30 seconds. You should begin to feel the stretch in your foot arch.
- Repeat up to ten times and then switch to the other foot.
The Final Verdict on Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis
All these exercises must be done post consultation with your physiotherapist. Exercises that increase your pain substantially, making your condition worse, like high-impact sport, should be avoided until pain is alleviated.
The good news is that plantar fasciitis can be cured entirely, and you can prevent reoccurrences by diligently following your healthcare practitioner's advice and treatments.
Should You Consult a Medical Expert for Heel Pain?
Do not self-diagnose and self-treat without any consultation with your healthcare practitioner, as it can make matters worse for you, which will further delay your recovery.
Instead, it is essential that you consult your physiotherapist for your heel pain. Once your physio comes to a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis following a detailed examination and assessment, he will draw out a treatment plan. You will need to follow this treatment plan, which will typically involve the use of modalities, patient education on do’s and don’ts with plantar fasciitis, and a home exercise program.