You probably never thought much about your plantar fascia until the pain in your heel jolted you. A thin ligament that connects your heel to the front of your foot, the plantar fascia, can be a trouble spot for many people. Heel pain affects more than 50 percent of Indians, and the most common cause is plantar fasciitis. Repetitive motion from running or step aerobics, or added pressure from weight gain can damage or tear the plantar fascia, causing inflammation and pain.
Along with runners, plantar fasciitis is common among pregnant women because the extra weight on the ligament can cause inflammation, leading to pain. If you have heel pain, don’t be discouraged. There are simple steps you can take to ease the pain so that you can resume running or another exercise.
Taut muscles in your feet or calves aggravate plantar fasciitis. Soothe or prevent the pain with some of these easy stretches recommended by experts:
1. Stretch your calves
- Stand an arm’s length from a wall.
- Place your right foot behind your left.
- Slowly and gently bend your left leg forward.
- Keep your right knee straight and your right heel on the ground.
- Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and release. Repeat three times.
- Reverse the position of your legs, and repeat.
Muscles targeted: Gastrocnemius muscle in your calf. As your plantar fascia begins to heal and the pain diminishes, you can deepen this stretch by performing it with both legs slightly bent. Done this way, the stretch loosens the soleus muscle in the lower calf.
Do not: Hold the stretches for too long.
2. Seated roller stretch
Placing a round object under the foot and rolling back and forth can help loosen up the foot muscles. People can use a frozen water bottle, ice-cold can, golf ball or foam roller for this.
Use the following steps to stretch the foot:
- Sit up straight on a chair
- Roll a round object back and forth under the arch of the foot
- Roll for 1-2 minutes
- Then, switch to the other foot
3. Toes stretch
To relieve muscle tightness in the plantar fascia, try the following:
- Sitting on a chair, cross the heel of one leg over the other leg
- Hold the foot in your opposite hand
- Pull the toes toward the shin to create tension in the arch of the foot
- Place the other hand on the bottom of the foot to feel for tension in the plantar fascia
- Hold for 10-15 seconds
- Do this two to three times, then reverse and do the same with the other foot.
4. Towel stretch
Flexing the foot increases blood flow to the area and relieves tension in the calves, which can help with pain.
- Fold a towel lengthwise to make an exercise strap.
- Sit down, and place the folded towel under the arches of both feet.
- Grab the ends of the towel with both hands, and gently pull the tops of your feet toward you.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat three times.
5. Towel curls
Curling a hand towel or facecloth with the toes can stretch the foot and calf muscles. Try doing these stretches before walking or doing any other morning tasks. Use the following steps:
- Sit on a chair with both feet flat and a small towel in front of the feet
- Grasp the center of the towel with your toes
- Curl the towel towards you
- Relax the foot and repeat five times
6. Marble pickups
Picking up a marble with the toes will flex and stretch the foot muscles. Use the following steps:
- Sit on a chair with knees bent and feet flat on the floor
- Place 20 marbles and a bowl at your feet
- Pick up one marble at a time by curling your toes, and place the marble into the bowl
- Repeat 20 times
Some other tips and precautions
You’ll need to give running a rest until the inflammation in your plantar fascia calms down. Runners heal at different paces, but experts generally suggest taking about two weeks off. Ice your plantar fascia, perform the stretches, and take an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen if you need it.
When rest and ice have alleviated your heel pain, then you can try “tiny runs,”. “Run a short distance slowly, like from one telephone pole to the next. Stop at each telephone pole to stretch.” Lengthen the runs gradually by running the distance between two telephone poles, two houses, two trees, or other markers you identify on your route. Continue to stop at each marker and punctuate your run with calf stretches.
While rest and regular stretching help mend plantar fasciitis, be sure you have sturdy shoes when you get back out there for your runs. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) points out that adequate support and proper fit are also important to avoid heel pain and prevent other running-related injuries. Be sure to buy new shoes as frequently as you need to so that they provide the support and cushion your body needs to stay free of injury.