The plantar fascia is a thick band of connective tissue that extends from the heel bone to the toes supporting the arch of the foot. If overstrained, it may become swollen, inflamed and weak, a condition called plantar fasciitis. The pain is usually present on the sole towards the front of the heel.
Plantar fasciitis commonly affects people in their 40s or 50s, usually women. Those who exercise a lot or stand for prolonged periods or those who wear shoes with poor support are at increased risk. Plantar fasciitis may result from tears in the connective tissue caused by repeated strain. It may also be associated with trigger points in the calf muscles or tendons or in specific muscles at the sole of the foot.
At the American Spine Center, we usually recommend rest, anti-inflammatory medication, ice application, wearing shoes with better support, and stretching exercises for the foot and ankle.
Here are a few simple exercises to prevent or treat most cases of plantar fasciitis:
Calf stretches: Stand on an elevated surface such as a short step with your heels sticking out while you support yourself on the front of your soles. Lower your heels either together or one at a time stretching the muscles and tendons of your calves. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and repeat three times on each side. Perform this exercise twice daily.
Soleus stretch: The soleus is a specific muscle in the calf that extends from the knee to the heel. To stretch this muscle stand facing a wall with the non-affected foot ahead of the other. Lean against the wall keeping the heel of the affected foot flat on the floor. You will feel a stretch at the lower ankle towards the back of the foot. To enhance this stretch, you can try extending the knee of the forward leg towards the wall.
Foot flexor stretches: While sitting down, raise your foot up so that you hold it with one hand. Use your other hand to bend your toes upwards holding for 30 seconds. Perform the movement three times on each side doing this exercise twice daily.
Towel exercise: Keep a small towel under your foot. Use your feet to pick up the towel and then flatten it against the floor again. Repeat this movement 10 times and repeat the exercise twice daily.
Your doctor may also recommend therapeutic injections or other modalities such as kinesiology taping.
If untreated, symptoms of plantar fasciitis can be painful and may last a year or more. Therapy can help you get back to an active lifestyle much sooner.