7 Best Stretches to Relieve Plantar Fasciitis, According to Physical Therapists
Try these mobility exercises for plantar fasciitis to get some pep back in your step.
When the bottom of your feet are killing you, moving about is miserable. Maybe the aches started after a day of standing on your feet, going for a long jog, or dancing in your favorite (yet mildly uncomfortable) heels. Oftentimes, putting your feet up to rest or asking an oh-so-gracious loved one to massage away the discomfort will provide the relief you need—for a little. But if you ever find that in one of your feet the pain never seems to fully go away, you may have a condition called plantar fasciitis.
What is plantar fasciitis?
Inside the bottom of your foot is a thick band of fibrous tissue called the plantar fascia that connects your heel bone to your toes. It’s extremely an important tissue for two main reasons, according Zeena Hernandez, D.P.T., P.T., owner of Good Reps Physical Therapy:
- It acts as a shock absorber every time your foot lands when you walk
- It allows you to push through the ground to take a step forward.
Sometimes this band can get inflamed, creating a stabbing pain or a dull ache that emanates from the arch of the foot or closer to the base of your heel. This pain, a.k.a. plantar fasciitis, can be acute (like from a sudden injury) or a more chronic condition that slowly develops overtime, according to experts at American Family Physician.
What causes plantar fasciitis?
Whether you’re running a lot, working on your feet all day, every day, or often wearing unsupportive shoes, you can put too much stress on your plantar fascia through overuse, poor foot mechanics, or some combination of both. According to doctors at Ceders-Sinai, the plantar fasciitis tugs on its attachment at the heel as we walk. The thing is: that band doesn’t have a whole lot of give.
“So your risk of plantar fasciitis increases if you have tight calves, ankles, or restricted movement in the big toes,” Hernandez, says. In other words, tightness in any of these areas can affect your foot alignment.
For instance, tight calves and poor ankle mobility can cause the feet to roll inward and create too much tension in the plantar fascia, while a tight big toe makes it difficult for you to push off and step forward without putting more pressure on that poor band of tissue. None of this may not be painful initially, but poor alignment can gradually cause damage that may have you limping later on.
How can I relieve plantar fasciitis pain?
Since muscle imbalances and lack of mobility are some of the most common roots of plantar fasciitis pain, physical therapists typically recommend some combo of strengthening and stretching exercises to find relief. While you should always consult a PT to figure out the best action plan for you, Hernandez has put together some highly effective stretches that are safe for you to try in your own home.
Read below to find exercises that will help to loosen up those calves, ankles, and your toes. Here's to taking a load off and finding some relief.
How to perform stretches for plantar fasciitis:
From this list, pick three or four of you favorite moves based upon what equipment you have available.
According to Hernandez, these stretches can be performed statically or dynamically. Meaning: “If you feel if your body needs to hold the stretch right now go into it,” she says. “If you want to make it make it more of like a movement prep or warm up and move in and out of the postures you can get into it as well. Neither has been proven to be more effective than the other when it comes to addressing plantar fasciitis.”
For static stretches: Aim for 2 rounds of 30 second holds per side.
For dynamic stretches: Perform 2 rounds of 10-12 reps.
And finally, if you're looking to focus on ankle mobility, work on the calf first. Addressing the soft tissue will allow you to mobilize the joint more effectively, Hernandez explains.
Target area: soleus and gastrocnemius muscles of the calf
How to do it: Stand with your hands on your hips and your feet beneath your hips. Then step your right foot back so you can sit into a lunge position. Drop your back heel to the floor to initiate the first stretch. If you can't get your heel to the floor, step that back foot closer to the front foot until you can. After you hold for your desired time, step your right foot to the left behind you. Drop the heel and hold. Then step the right foot to behind you to the right, just outside the hips. Place the heel back down and hold. Once you've finished all of that, complete 3 rounds of static holds or 3 reps of this dynamic stretch. For a deeper stretch, you can put your hands against a wall and lean forward to increase the intensity. Remember to switch legs and perform the same reps and time on the opposite side.
Target area: soleus muscle of the calf
How to do it: Stand with your feet together, then step your right foot back about 12 inches. Slightly bend your right and left knees to sit into a mini-lunge, then drop that right heel as close to the floor as you can. Hold for 30 seconds or lift and drop the heel for your chosen amount of reps. Repeat on the right leg. To deepen the stretch, put your hands on a wall and lean forward. Just remember to keep your back knee bent throughout this stretch.
Target area: the gastrocnemius muscle of the calf and the big toe
How to do it: This stretch is best performed against a wall, but if you can place a yoga block in a spot where it won't move, amazing!Find a flat, vertical surface and place your right big toe up against it. The remainder of your foot should be flat on the floor. Step your left foot back for leverage. Bend your right knee and then lean forward as you feel a stretch in your right big toe and calf. Hold here for 30 seconds or move in and out of the stretch position for 10 to 12 reps. Switch legs and do it again.
Target area: ankle and calf
How to do it: Grab a small loop band with light resistance band and place it on the floor. Step your left foot on the inside of one end of the band then slip the other end around your right ankle. Let the band loop around the arch of your left foot as you step your right foot forward into a kneeling lunge position. Then shift your weight forward while keeping the right heel on the ground until you feel a stretch in the calf. Hold for a static stretch. Or: If you want something more dynamic, slowly move in and out of that stretch position. When you're done, switch legs.
P.S.: If having the band looped around both feet isn't working for you, you can loop the back end to the leg of a chair or another piece of furniture. Just make sure to pick something that won't slide!
Target area: ankle and calf
How to do it: This is similar to the banded ankle mobilization, but here you are going to use a dumbbell or a kettlebell instead of a band to assist the ankle movement. Start in a lunge position with your right leg in front, then grab a weight and place it on top of the right thigh. Shift forward while keeping the right heel on the ground until you feel a stretch in your calf and hold; or, slowly move in and out of that stretch position. When you’re done, switch legs.
Target area: big toes
How to do it: Get down on all-fours, making sure your hands are right beneath your shoulders and your knees are under your hips. Tuck your toes then slowly sit your bum back towards your heels. Hold it here for 30 seconds or keep moving in and out of this posture for your desired amount of reps.
Target area: plantar fascia
How do to it: Now, this technically isn't a stretch or a mobilization drill, but we are throwing in this bonus move because this massage helps to relieve tension in the feet. Grab a lacrosse ball, baseball, or a massage ball and place your right foot on top of it. Let your weight sink into the ball as you roll it up and down your foot. If you find one area to be particularly achy or tense, hold it here until you feel some release. Then move on to another part of the foot. Keep rolling anywhere from 30 seconds to one minute, then switch to the other foot.