As one of the most common running injuries, plantar fasciitis can have a debilitating effect on a triathlete’s performance. This condition leads to inflammation of the tissue band under the foot, causing significant discomfort and even debilitating injury. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to treat by doing specific plantar fasciitis stretches and exercises, as well as getting ample rest.
The pain caused by plantar fasciitis can sometimes ease while exercising, so it may be tempting for some runners and triathletes to ignore it or put off treatment until a later date. However, without proper treatment and recovery, the condition may become chronic, which ultimately could lead to foot, knee, hip, or back problems.
Let’s take a closer look at this common foot injury, the causes, and seven stretches and exercises designed to relieve plantar fasciitis pain and get you back to running.
The Causes Of Plantar Fasciitis
The plantar fascia is the name of the bowstring-shaped band of tissue that runs from the toes to the heel. It acts as a shock absorber when you walk or run and supports the arch of your foot. Subjecting it to too much stress can cause tiny tears in the tissue. If this happens repeatedly, the tissue can become inflamed or irritated, causing heel pain. Some people who develop fasciitis pain also find it challenging to raise their toes when sitting or standing.
You would usually feel it as a sharp pain that stabs when you take your first steps a night’s sleep or long rest. The pain usually decreases during activity, but then returns after a period of inactivity.
According to studies, as many as 15% of adults are affected by plantar fasciitis. American Hip Institute & Orthopedic Specialists’ Dr. Benjamin Domb said that, while the condition is found mostly in people between 40 and 60 years old, it can affect younger athletes, especially if the sports they practice put strain on the plantar fascia.
Other than running, other causes of fasciitis pain are walking or standing on hard surfaces for hours, obesity, and foot mechanics such as walking patterns that affect weight distribution, fallen arches (pes planus), and high arches.
Causes that athletes should pay attention to include:
- Overstretching the sole of the foot
- Being new to exercising on a hard floor
- Wearing shoes that don’t provide enough support or cushioning
- Increasing the amount of standing, walking, or running
- Exercising when your heel or calf is tight
In addition to these causes, plantar fasciitis can occasionally be a symptom of a larger problem, such as a compressed nerve or a stress fracture.
Pain-Relieving Plantar Fasciitis Stretches and Exercises
The stretches recommended for relieving fasciitis pain combined with rest periods can help the plantar fascia heal. Dr. Nicole Nicolosi, a foot and ankle surgeon at Cleveland Clinic’s Orthopedic and Rheumatologic Institute, said that a gradual treatment approach is used to treat plantar fasciitis. She explained that this was because of the treatment, including the lengthening and stretching of the tissue, and this takes time.
The following seven stretches and exercises can relieve plantar fasciitis pain:
1. Toe Curls
- Stand on a towel placed on the floor.
- Curl your towel to grip the towel.
- Release the towel by straightening your toes.
- Repeat the exercise for about two minutes.
- Do the exercise three times a day.
2. Plantar Fascia Stretch
- Sit down and extend the leg with the affected foot.
- Place an elastic therapy band around the ball of the foot, keeping hold of the band.
- Pull the band until your toes are pulled toward your nose, and you feel the bottom of your foot and the back of your heel stretch—remember to keep your leg on the ground.
- Hold for one minute.
- Repeat three times.
3. Plantar Fascia Massage
- Roll a massage ball of the appropriate size backwards and forwards on the arch and heel of your affected foot—If you don’t have a massage ball, use a frozen water bottle.
- Do this for five minutes three times a day.
4. Gastrocnemius Heel Raise
- Stand upright on a step, positioning the ball of the affected foot, so the heel hangs off the back of the step.
- Lower your heel until you feel a stretch at the bottom of your foot.
- Lower and raise your heels repeatedly for 30 seconds.
- Repeat the exercise three times.
5. Gastrocnemius Muscle Stretch
- Stand in front of a wall with your toes pointed toward it.
- Place your hands flat on the wall.
- Position your affected foot behind your unaffected foot.
- Keeping your heels firmly on the floor, bend your front knee, lean toward the wall, and straighten your back leg.
- Rest your weight on your front leg until you feel a stretch in the calf and heel of your affected leg.
- Hold for one minute and repeat three times.
- Do the exercise three times per day.
6. Toe Extensions
- Stand straight and place your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Move one foot in front of the other.
- Lift the heel of your back foot and contract the calf muscles until you cannot extend your toes any further.
- Repeat fifteen times.
- Do five sets of this exercise every day.
7. Soleus Muscle Stretch
- Stand straight and place your unaffected foot slightly in front of your foot with fasciitis pain.
- Keeping your heels firmly on the floor, lower yourself toward the ground by bending your knees until you feel a stretch above the heel of your affected foot.
- Hold for one minute and then repeat three times.
- Do the exercise three times a day.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
Although nothing can guarantee that you will never develop plantar fasciitis, there are actions that you can take to minimize the risk of being affected by this condition. In addition to the stretches and strength exercises above, one effective way to mitigate plantar fasciitis is to maintain a healthy weight, which is relatively easy if you are a regular runner. Another is to replace old athletic shoes worn out with a pair that offer the best cushioning and support. The right shoes will protect against impact and reduce the chances of heel pain.
While stretching, maintaining a healthy weight, and wearing the right shoes can all work together to make you injury-proof, there are some cases where you will need to seek medical assistance. If the condition hasn’t improved after two weeks of at-home treatment, seek the advice of a doctor or specialist so you can get back to training quickly and painlessly.