4 Exercises to Eliminate Plantar Fasciitis

It’s 7 am. Your alarm goes off. You decide to hit the snooze button because showering before work is overrated. After hitting snooze for the third time, you know you’re cutting it close to arriving to work on time…but you’re fearful. Why?

Because recently, when you wake up and first step out of bed you have excruciating heel pain. As you continue to walk it gets a bit better but towards the end of the day, the heel pain slowly ramps back up.

If this is the case, you more than likely have something called plantar fasciitis. “Plantar what??” Don’t worry, I’m here to help!

Plantar Fasciitis Background

  • Plantar fasciitis has been estimated to occur in approximately 2 million Americans each year and affects 10% of the population over the course of their lifetime.
  • It can occur in both the athletic and non-athletic populations
  • It normally hurts the worst first thing in the morning
  • Can be associated with a sudden change in activity such as increased amounts of walking, running, or standing
  • It accounts for 8% of all running-related injuries
  • Depending on the severity of your plantar fasciitis it can take anywhere from 3-6 months to heal and 9+ months for more severe cases (luckily you’re reading this blog and am confident this won’t be you)
  • Most complain of pain right over the inner portion of their heel (see photo below)

What exactly is the plantar fascia?

 

The plantar fascia is a thick tendinous structure that consists of 3 bands that begin at the heel and inserts at the base of all your toes. The plantar fascia plays a critical role with walking, as it absorbs shock and helps propel our momentum forward via the Windlass mechanism.

Without diving too deep into the biomechanics, the Windlass mechanism helps stiffen your foot during the phase of walking when you are about to pick up your foot and push off allowing your leg to swing forward to take your next step. 

If this Windlass mechanism isn’t working optimally then plantar fasciitis can rear its ugly head. If you have tight calves, a shortened stride length, or overpronate; then you are not utilizing the Windlass mechanism optimally and your plantar fascia can become irritated. 

The heel pain is normally the worst in the morning because when we sleep the toes are feet are relaxed and are pointed downwards; meaning the plantar fascia is shortened for 6-8 hours we are asleep. So stepping down first thing in the morning is putting the plantar fascia on stretch causing excruciating heel pain.

Yea, yea Mat….can we get to the exercises already??

Yes, but before I do I always prefer leaving a disclaimer. If you think you might have plantar fasciitis then please go see a physical therapist. A PT can identify your individual needs and develop a plan of care specifically for you. Now…let’s get to the exercises

Plantar Fascia Stretch

With my plantar fasciitis patients, I like to encourage stretching of the plantar fascia BEFORE getting out of bed in the morning. It’s a fantastic way to warm up the tissue before taking your first step in the morning. Watch the video below on how to perform this stretch.

 

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💥PLANTAR FASCIITIS SERIES💥⠀ Plantar fasciitis affects approximately 2 million Americans each year and affects 10% of the population over the course of their lifetime. ⠀ ⠀ Those that have it normally complain of pain over the inner portion of their heel (see photo on left). And it can occur in both the athletic (runners) and non-athletic populations. ⠀ ⠀ Over the next few days I'll be covering exercises to get rid of that pain. The first exercise is one I recommend people do before getting out of bed in the morning. ⠀ ⠀ This stretch is best performed 10 times for 10 sec holds to help warm up the tissue before putting weight on your heels. Tomorrow I'll be covering how to improve the tissue mobility of the plantar fascia. ⠀ ⠀ #physicaltherapy #fitness #healthandwellness #rehab #mobility #athlete #exercise #movement #correctiveexercise #prevention #instagood #PT #DPT #plantarfasciitis

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Soft Tissue Mobility

This is a fancy term for massaging the plantar fascia. This can be done in a multitude of ways from using your thumbs to my personal favorite, sitting on the edge of your bed and using anything from a tennis ball to a golf ball. I normally recommend somewhere between 2-5 minutes going at a nice slow pace. The video below will go into more detail.

SIDE NOTE: If you are in increased pain or have inflammation then I recommend freezing a bottle of water and gently rolling out the bottom of your foot for 8-10 minutes.

Calf Stretch

Earlier I discussed, if the Windlass mechanism doesn’t work properly then the plantar fascia is at risk to be irritated. One of the risk factors for the Windlass mechanism not working optimally is having limited ankle movement, specifically, limited dorsiflexion. Dorsiflexion is the fancy word for bringing the foot/ankle in the upwards direction. If you were to walk on your heels with your toes in the air, your ankles would be considered in dorsiflexion.

Limited dorsiflexion can be caused by several things but normally is caused by tight calves. Now everyone has probably seen a calf stretch but in the photo below I show you how to do it more effectively. This stretch should be performed after your plantar fascia and soft tissue work for a 2-5 minute HOLD.

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💥PLANTAR FASCIITIS SERIES 💥 Yesterday I discussed how poor ankle mobility can play a role in plantar fasciitis. Stretching the calves can greatly improve ankle mobility. Unfortunately I see calf stretches performed incorrectly all the time 🙅🙅‍♂️ The stretch on the left ❌ is one I see commonly. Although this is stretching the calf it's not stretching it optimally. The stretch on the right ✅is a MUCH better calf stretch. I could go on and on about biomechanics and how the stretch is better but I'd rather you try both for yourself and see how it feels! Trying sustaining a nice stretch for 2-3 minutes and the ankle/foot will be moving much better. #physicaltherapy #fitness #healthandwellness #rehab #mobility #athlete #exercise #movement #correctiveexercise #prevention #instagood #PT #DPT #plantarfasciitis

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Single-Leg Heel Raises

When your plantar fascia pain has become manageable and no longer excruciating this is the exercise to help keep the pain away. Grab a small towel, roll it up, stand on a small platform or step and place the rolled up towel underneath your toes until they are in a maximally flexed position.

At this point, you will begin to do heel raises at a SLOW pace. This is important to make sure you are not causing the plantar fascia to become inflamed. It should take 3 seconds to go up, hold for 2 seconds at the top, and 3 seconds to go back down. See the video below for further instructions.

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💥PLANTAR FASCIITIS SERIES 💥 Another great exercise to beat plantar fasciitis 👊🏻 is a high load single leg raise on a step or small platform. In a study done by Rathleff et al. they compared the plantar fascia stretch vs a high load single heel raise on patients with plantar fasciitis. ⋅ At the 3 month mark they found the high load single leg heel raise group had significant improved foot function compared to the plantar fascia stretching group. ⋅ Although more research is needed this can be an amazing exercise. The 🔑 is to perform this exercise EXTRA slow and to put a towel underneath your toes to put proper stress on the plantar fascia. Then go 3 seconds UP, 2 second hold at the top, and 3 seconds for the descent. Start by doing 3 sets for 12 repetitions. GOOD LUCK! #physicaltherapy #fitness #healthandwellness #rehab #mobility #athlete #exercise #movement #correctiveexercise #prevention #instagood #PT #DPT #plantarfasciitis

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Begin this exercise by doing 3 sets of 12 reps for 2 weeks. Then grab a backpack, stuff it with books, and do this exercise for 4 sets of 10 reps for 4 weeks. After 4 weeks, add more books and do 5 sets of 8 reps.

NOTE: It’s ok to have some pain while performing this exercise, as long as it discontinues after you’re done doing the exercise. And when your pain has gone…it’s still CRITICAL to continue doing your exercises to make sure you keep the pain away for GOOD!

Other Treatments

  • Orthotics

Research has shown that wearing orthotics can help reduce pain and improve function. You can opt for a custom-made orthotic but I would recommend just a general over the counter orthotic from Amazon or your local sporting good store. My favorite brands are Vasyli and Superfeet; no, they do not pay me to promote them although if anyone from Vasyli or Superfeet is reading this then let’s talk 😉

  • Night Splints

Night splints are for the more severe cases who have had plantar fascia pain for more than 6 months. These splints are worn during sleep and keep your ankle at a 90-degree angle in order to keep your plantar fascia from shortening. These splints look like this and are normally worn for 1-3 months.

Summary

Plantar fasciitis is a condition that affects your ability to walk, run, and even stand because of irritation of the plantar fascia. It can be abnormally painful but it can be cured! If these exercises and stretches haven’t helped your symptoms after a few weeks then it’s time to call your local physical therapist and have someone take a further look.

If you want more tips on how to ease foot and ankle pain you can we have a report titled “Essential Tips to Reduce Foot And Ankle Pain in 14 Days…Even If You’ve Suffered For Months Or Years And Your Doctor Told You Nothing Could Be Done To Help!” 

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