Foot stretches and exercises can help plantar fasciitis by relieving pain, improving muscle strength, and promoting flexibility in the foot muscles and ligaments.
Overuse, strain, and inflammation on the plantar fascia ligament that connects the heel to the toes cause the foot injury that doctors refer to as plantar fasciitis. The tissue that the condition affects is under the arch of the foot but can cause a stabbing pain in the heel.
In this article, we look at stretches and exercises for plantar fasciitis relief and recovery and other home remedies that could help.
Plantar fasciitis stretches
Plantar fasciitis may often be an overuse injury. Often, it occurs in runners or people who are overweight or obese. It may also cause tension in surrounding muscles, leading to pain beyond the heel.
A few simple stretches can reduce tension in the foot and calf. This offers both rapid pain relief and a steady improvement of symptoms over time.
People can perform these exercises two or three times every day. They should not be painful.
1. Stretching the calf
Muscle tightness in the feet and calves can make the pain of plantar fasciitis worse. Loosening the calf muscles can relieve the pain. Try the following stretch:
- lean your hands against a wall
- straighten the knee of the affected leg and bend the other knee in front
- keep both feet flat on the ground
- there should be a stretching sensation in the heel and calf of the extended leg
- hold for 10 seconds
- repeat two to three times
2. Rolling stretch
Placing a round object under the foot and rolling back and forth can help loosen up the foot muscles. People can use a rolling pin, golf ball, or specialized foam roller for this. Sports stores and online stores sell foam foot rollers.
Use the following steps to stretch the foot:
- sit tall on a chair
- roll a round object under the arch of the foot
- roll for 2 minutes
3. Stretching the plantar fascia
To relieve muscle tightness in the plantar fascia, try the following:
- sitting on a chair, cross the injured heel over the other leg
- hold the foot in your opposite hand
- pull the toes toward the shin to create tension in the arch of the foot
- place the other hand on the bottom of the foot to feel for tension in the plantar fascia
- use a towel to grasp and stretch the foot if it is difficult to hold otherwise
- hold for 10 seconds
- repeat two to three times
4. Foot flexes
Flexing the foot increases blood flow to the area and relieves tension in the calves, which can help with pain. This exercise uses an elastic stretch band, which people can buy from sports stores or online.
Use the following steps:
- sit on the floor with legs straight
- wrap the elastic band around your foot, holding the ends in your hands
- gently point the toes away from the body
- slowly return to starting position
- repeat 10 times
5. Towel curls
Curling a hand towel or facecloth with the toes can stretch the foot and calf muscles. Try doing these stretches before walking or doing any other morning tasks. Use the following steps:
- sit on a chair with both feet flat and a small towel in front of the feet
- grasp the center of the towel with your toes
- curl the towel towards you
- relax the foot and repeat five times
6. Marble pickups
Picking up a marble with the toes will flex and stretch the foot muscles. Use the following steps:
- sit on a chair with knees bent and feet flat on the floor
- place 20 marbles and a bowl at your feet
- pick up one marble at a time by curling your toes, and place the marble into the bowl
- repeat 20 times
Other home remedies
A number of other home remedies can help reduce the inflammation and pain of plantar fasciitis:
The RICE method
When the pain first appears, keeping off the injured foot can help. First aid for a foot injury can include the RICE method:
- Rest the painful area for a few days.
- Ice the area for 20 minutes at a time to relieve inflammation.
- Compress the area with a soft wrap to reduce swelling.
- Elevate the area by putting the foot on a few pillows.
Elevating the foot with a pillow can be especially helpful when a person is sleeping.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, help to reduce both pain and inflammation. People may wish to take this medication as directed on the package or recommended by a doctor.
Some people find that a few weeks of NSAID treatment improves their symptoms.
Shoe inserts offer additional support to the arch of the foot. Inserts will limit stress on the plantar fascia and may be especially helpful to people who spend much of the day on their feet. Soft, supportive arch inserts may work as well.
Always speak to a doctor who specializes in foot health, called a podiatrist, for more information.
Some people find that massage helps with symptoms. Focus on massaging the arch of the foot around the injured area.
If surrounding muscles have become tense because of the pain, massage those too. Some people find relief from massaging the arch of the foot with an ice bottle.
If stretches, exercises, and home remedies do not help, a doctor may recommend medical treatment. However, surgery is rarely needed.
A doctor may suggest the following:
- physical therapy
- cortisone injections
- extracorporeal shockwave therapy (EST)
- chiropractic or acupuncture therapy
Risk factors for plantar fasciitis
A thick mass of tissue called the plantar fascia connects the toes to the heel bone. Inflammation in this tissue, called plantar fasciitis, can cause intense pain in the heel.
The pain may get worse when getting out of bed or when standing after a long period of sitting.
Doctors do not fully understand why some people get this injury and others do not. Some evidence suggests that overuse causes the inflammation.
Risk factors for plantar fasciitis include:
- spending long periods of time standing
- walking or running for exercise
- having tight calf muscles
- overweight and obesity
- pes cavus, a condition that causes the arch of the foot to be hollow when standing
Plantar fasciitis will usually resolve by itself without treatment. People can speed up recovery and relieve pain with specific foot and calf stretches and exercises.
For some people, plantar fasciitis becomes a chronic condition. Symptoms may improve and then appear again, or the pain may remain consistent for a year or longer. A 2018 study suggests that people who have previously had the injury are more likely to have it again.
Because of the risk of chronic pain, people with plantar fasciitis should see a doctor about their symptoms. There are many different treatment options that may help.