Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of foot pain we endure. As a very common diagnosis seen in our clinic, plantar fasciitis can have a major effect on a person’s lifestyle. Those with foot pain may be less likely to walk or exercise on a daily basis, leading to poor fitness and a lower quality of life.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for plantar fasciitis. It is a chronic, nagging injury that can take a frustratingly long amount of time to go away. As physical therapists, we can use manual techniques and other tools to help reduce tightness throughout the foot and lower leg during PT sessions, but the course of treatment also requires buy-in from the patient. A good home exercise program performed frequently by the patient is essential for treating plantar fasciitis-like pain.
Those same exercises can also be used to help prevent foot pain! If you have had plantar fasciitis in the past, or are worried about foot pain, it’s possible to tackle the problem before the pain even starts. Here are five exercises we use frequently that can help reduce or even prevent foot pain associated with plantar fasciitis.
Many patients who come in to our clinic reporting plantar fasciitis pain often complain of tight calf muscles. This is common — tightness throughout the calf muscle can put more stress on other structures in the ankle and foot — but your normal calf stretch isn’t enough! Stretching the soleus and other deeper calf muscles is also important for reducing ankle and foot pain.
To perform the stretch, stand near a wall with your feet staggered, but still fairly close together. Lean against the wall and bend both knees. You should feel a stretch near the Achilles tendon on your back leg. Hold for up to 30 seconds, and do the exercise a couple more times.
Foot Arch Squeezes
The plantar fascia is a band of fibrous tissue in the foot, but there are muscles in there as well! Strengthening the muscles within the foot is a key element of treating plantar fasciitis.
To perform the exercise, sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Try to make the arch of your foot as large as possible WITHOUT curling your toes. Hold the squeeze for a few seconds, and repeat. We usually recommend using a timer for 30-60 seconds so that you can focus on the muscle contraction itself, not the number of repetitions you are performing.
Self-Massage With Ball
This is another staple of treating plantar fasciitis. Take a firm ball, like a tennis or lacrosse ball, and roll your foot over it while applying a bit of pressure. This exercise should be a little uncomfortable, as you are working on stretching the tissues within your foot. Like the last exercise, set a 30-60 second timer for this one.
It’s important to treat the foot when dealing with foot pain, naturally, but the hips also play a big role! Improving lateral and posterior hip strength helps stabilize the entire pelvis and lower body with activity, which can reduce stress on the knees, ankles, and feet.
Clamshells are a staple exercise for hip strengthening. To perform them, lie on your side with your knees bent. Keep your feet together and bring your top knee upward without rotating through your spine (place your top hand on your hip to help keep yourself aligned properly). This may feel easy at first, so add an elastic band or a 5-10 second hold to the exercise to increase the difficulty. You should feel a nice muscle burn in the side of your hip after this one!
Sidelying Hip Abduction
This is another good one for improving hip strength! Lie on your side again, but keep your top knee straight this time. Lift that top leg straight up toward the ceiling, and hold for a couple of seconds. Perform these in sets of 8-10 at a time, and do them on both sides! Even if only one foot is bothering you, it’s always good to give the other side some love too.
If you have any questions or any pain with these exercises, please consult a Therapydia DC physical therapist.