Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia that causes heel pain. The plantar fascia is a ligament that connects the base of the heel bone to the base of the toes and whose function is to help support the arch of the foot.
Plantar fasciitis is mainly caused by an excessive load on your feet. During walking, the plantar fascia can be subjected to significant tension, and when this tension is excessive, tearing of the fascia may occur.
Plantar fasciitis is usually felt as sharp pain and tenderness in the bottom of the heel that tends to be worse after periods of rest, such as in the morning or after getting up from a seated position. Pain usually improves with stretching or walking, but it worsens after long periods of standing or after exercise.
What triggers Plantar Fasciitis?
Physical activities that overload the plantar fascia are a common trigger for Plantar Fasciitis, particularly those that involve running, jumping or dancing. Long-distance running, for example, is exceptionally demanding for the feet. Barefoot walking or other physical activities that require being barefoot, as well as standing for long periods of time, also put an excessive strain on the plantar fascia ligament and increase the likelihood of developing Plantar Fasciitis.
Working out without warm-up, starting new physical activities without proper preparation, or abruptly increasing the intensity of regular activities, are also frequent causes of Plantar Fasciitis.
Shoes with inappropriate foot support also play a big role in triggering Plantar Fasciitis. Footwear should be comfortable, stable, and have good cushioning and arch support.
Individuals that are overweight or that go through sudden weight gain are more at risk of developing plantar fasciitis due to the extra load on the plantar fascia. Pregnant women, for example, frequently develop plantar fasciitis, particularly during the last months of pregnancy.
Plantar Fasciitis can also be a consequence of biomechanical factors, such as excessive pronation (rolling inwards) of the foot. Tight calf muscles, caused by excessive sitting or insufficient stretching, for example, can also be problematic. Since the feet and calves are closely connected, tight calf muscles can cause inadequate pronation that continuously over-stretches the plantar fascia.
Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis
There are many foot exercises for Plantar Fasciitis that may help you manage and prevent it. The best Plantar Fasciitis exercises are those that stretch and strengthen the plantar fascia and other tissues that help support it, such as the Achilles tendon and calf muscles.
Stretching exercises for Plantar Fasciitis are very simple. You can do them at home and they can easily be included in your daily routine. Ideally, to obtain the best results in preventing Plantar Fasciitis, stretching exercises should be performed at least twice a day. Just make sure to warm up with a short period of walking and you’re ready to go.
Here are a few simple stretches for Plantar Fasciitis you can easily do at home:
Soleus stretch (calf muscle stretch)
Stand straight with your hands against a wall, both knees apart and your toes facing forward. Keeping your heels flat on the floor, lean into the wall until you feel the stretch in your lower calf. You can also place your injured foot slightly behind your other foot, and keeping your heels flat on the floor, slowly bend both knees until you feel the stretch in the lower part of your leg. Another possibility, also with your injured foot slightly behind the other foot and heels flat on the floor, is to slowly lean forward keeping the injured leg straight and bending the other leg until you feel the stretch in the middle of your calf. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat three times.
Stand with your toes on a step with your legs slightly apart and your heels off the edge of the step. Slowly lower your heels, keeping the knees straight, until you feel the stretch in the calves. Hold for 15 seconds and then lift your heels back to the starting position. You can either do both feet at the same time, or one foot at a time. Repeat five times.
Using a frozen water bottle, roll it back and forth with the arch of the foot from your toes to your heels. You can also use a rolling pin, a can or a tennis ball, for example, but using something cold will help reduce inflammation. You can do this either standing or sitting. This dynamic stretch is great for a long day on your feet or to help relieve stiffness or swelling.
Plantar fascia massage
Using two fingers, apply small circular friction to any tight knots and lumps in the plantar fascia. The pressure should be deep, but not so much that you tighten up with pain.
Elastic strap stretch
Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Take a stretch strap and place it around your toes. Keeping your knees straight, gently pull the strap towards you, pulling the toes towards your body. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then release. Repeat three times.
Place just toes up on the wall with the ball of the foot and heel on the ground. Lean into the wall slowly until the stretch is felt. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times.