Your feet are complex machines with many small, interconnected parts. Not only that, they are the most commonly used parts of your body and, thus, must be flexible, adjustable, and responsive. Just like any other machine constructed this way, if just one of those parts isn’t working, the whole machine will work improperly, and you will experience it as foot pain.
Plantar fasciitis is, by far, the most common cause of chronic foot pain. The condition is characterized by disorganization of the web-like fibers on the bottom of the foot called the plantar fascia. During flare-ups, plantar fasciitis causes pain in the heel and sole. Those who are more likely to develop the condition include “weekend warriors,” elite athletes, those with high arches, and those who are obese. These conditions all create excessive tension on the plantar fascia, like an overstretched spring.
Exercises for plantar fasciitis are geared toward flexing and extending the plantar fascia so that it can be retrained into performing its duties. The stretches have the added benefit of strengthening the muscles surrounding the plantar fascia and the heel of the foot.
In addition to massage and rest, here are 6 exercises and stretches that can be effective in reducing pain and improving function:
1. Towel Scrunch
Get in touch with your inner monkey by performing toe curls with that same towel. Place the towel flat on the floor. While standing or sitting on a chair, try to pick up the towel by gripping it with your toes. Hold for 10 seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times.
2. Toe Stretches
While sitting in any position, curl your fingers behind your big toe and pull it gently toward your shin. Hold the position for 10 seconds. Release, and repeat with each subsequent toe.
3. Toe Points
In any position lying or sitting down, raise your feet about 12 inches off the ground and point your toes out in front of you. Hold the position for 10 seconds. Please note that if you’re lying down while doing this exercise, you’ll get a bonus core muscle group workout, including abs, quads, and hip flexors!
4. Toe Splays
In a sitting position, try to spread your toes out as far as possible. Hold the position for five seconds. Repeat five times. This exercise can help you develop significant control over the muscles that flex and extend the toes.
5. Marble Pickup
Similar to the towel pickup, this exercise will help you develop strength in the toe flexors on the sole of your foot; in particular, the marble exercise helps develop fine motor strength of these muscles. You’ll need five marbles (or objects of similar shape and size) and a cup. Place the marbles in a line on the floor. In a sitting or standing position, grip each marble with your foot and place it in a cup in front of you.
6. Calf Stretches
These stretches help strengthen the calf muscles in the back of the leg. They also help stretch the Achilles tendon, the strong but vulnerable cord that connects those muscles to the heel. We’ve listed a few, so see which you find the safest and most effective!
a. Towel stretch
While sitting up with your legs straight in front of you, place a rolled towel under the ball of the affected foot. Keeping your knee straight, grasp each end of the towel with one hand and pull the towel toward you. Hold the position for 15 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
b. Wall stretch
While facing a wall, stand about 18 inches away, and place your hands on the wall at eye level. Put one foot a step behind the other, with the front knee bent and the back knee straight. Lean your weight forward against the wall until you feel the stretch in the back of your leg. Hold each position for 45 seconds. Repeat at least three times per day, five days per week.
c. Stair stretch
You’ll need to be careful and have a good balance for this stretch. Stand on a stair in a stairwell or staircase. Be sure to hold on to the railing. Stand on the edge of the stair with your weight on the balls of your feet and your heels off the edge. Let your heels relax so that they fall slightly below the level of the stair step. Hold the position for 10 seconds, then bring your heels back to even level by tensing your calves.
At first blush, foot pain may not seem like a serious ailment. But if you have had it before, or are close to someone who has, you know better. Pain in the foot can be debilitating and is felt with literally every step. With the exception of acute fractures, foot injuries are treated with exercises that must be performed regularly and properly. Try the above exercises and stretches to improve the strength and pliability of your foot musculature. It’s important to remember to talk with your physician if you have any questions about these stretches.