One of the most common injuries related to foot pain is plantar fasciitis. In this post, we’ll provide a definition of this common foot injury along with its symptoms. We’ll also outline the basic anatomy of the foot, ankle, and calf regions. Lastly, we’ll list a series of helpful exercises that you can easily perform at home.
What is Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation and/or small tears of the thick band of tissue (the plantar fascia) that connects a person’s heel bone to their toes. The plantar fascia runs along the length of each foot and is shaped somewhat like a bowstring. Plantar fasciitis is often seen in runners, people who are overweight, as well as those who frequently wear non-supportive shoes.
Common Symptoms Associated with Plantar Fasciitis
One of the classic symptoms associated with plantar fasciitis is pain that radiates from the heel upon rising in the morning. This occurs because the inflamed plantar fascia isn’t healthy enough to support the actions of placing weight and standing on the injured foot. Initially, the pain can be quite intense, although it usually dissipates as a person continues to walk on the injured foot.
People can also experience a recurrence of pain after they’ve been sitting for a long time and then attempt to walk on their injured foot. Conversely, a person with plantar fasciitis can also experience foot pain if they stand for long periods as well.
Lower Leg, Ankle, and Foot Anatomy
The feet, ankles, as well as lower legs, work closely together to allow both basic movements such as walking and more complex movements such as running, sudden stops and starts, pivoting motions, and much more. Along with the plantar fascia, other anatomical parts of the calves, ankles, and feet include the:
- Achilles tendon.
The plantaris is a long, slender muscle that runs alongside the Achilles tendon. Its purpose is to work with the Achilles tendon to allow a person to flex their ankle, i.e., point their toes. The Achilles tendon is a thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the lower end of the calf muscles. The Achilles tendon is also the thickest tendon in the human body.
The soleus muscle is a wide, flat muscle that begins just below the knee and extends all the way down the rear of the calf to attach to the heel bone. The gastrocnemius is a two-headed muscle on the rear portion of the lower leg. The gastrocnemius muscle extends from the knee area and attaches to the Achilles tendon on the opposite end.
If the plantar fascia becomes injured, it can put additional strain on these important anatomical structures, further complicating one’s ability to walk normally and engage in other basic activities.
Stretches and Home Remedies for Plantar Fasciitis
Standing Calf Gastrocnemius Stretch
This exercise is performed from a standing position. Begin the exercise by placing your hands directly in front of you on a wall, with elbows slightly bent. Place one foot close to the wall and slightly bend the knee. Keeping the rear leg straight, lean forward toward the wall. With this movement, you should feel a stretch in the calf of your straight leg. Hold this stretch for 15-30 seconds, then switch legs and repeat the stretch on the other side.
Standing Soleus Stretch
This exercise is very similar to the gastrocnemius stretch above, the only difference is that both the leg near the wall and the one extended behind you should both be slightly bent at the knee. Hold the stretch (15-30 seconds) with both knees bent, then switch legs and repeat. You should feel a stretch on the lower part of the calf muscle area.
Seated Plantar Fascia Stretch
Begin this exercise by sitting in a chair. Place the ankle of your injured foot on the knee of the opposite leg. Grab your toes and gently pull them toward your body. You should feel a stretch along the length of the bottom of your foot. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, then repeat the exercise with the other foot.
The above 3 stretches should each consist of 1-2 sets with 3-5 repetitions in each set, performed 2-3x/day.
Foot Rolling Exercise
Sit in a comfortable chair and place a tennis ball, golf ball, foam roller, or a plastic bottle filled with frozen water underneath the injured foot. Gently move your foot around so the roller, bottle, or ball comes in contact with the entire length and width of the bottom of your foot. The purpose is to gently massage the plantar fascia, so only use mild pressure. Perform this exercise 2-3x a day, 1-2 sets, 2 minutes each set.
Towel Curls/Marble Pick Up
This exercise is designed to strengthen the plantar fascia. It can be performed with a towel or washcloth, or marble. Sit in a comfortable chair and place one of these items underneath your injured foot. Curl your toes toward your body to “scrunch up” the towel or washcloth. If you’re using a marble, curl your toes inward to grab the marble, lifting it slightly off the ground. Perform this exercise for 1-2 sets, 15-20 repetitions in each set, 2-3x/day.
You can perform this exercise while sitting in a chair or sitting on the floor. Wrap a resistance band around your injured foot and extend your leg away from your body. Slowly point your toes, bring them back to neutral (upright), then continue the movement to slightly point your toes inward toward your body. Ankle pumps should consist of 1-2 sets, 10-15 repetitions, 2-3x/day.
Physical Therapy for Plantar Fasciitis
Without proper treatment, plantar fasciitis can become a chronic, nagging pain for many years. If you’ve been struggling with plantar fasciitis, physical therapy can help. A physical therapist can help reduce the heel pain associated with plantar fasciitis with treatments such as laser therapy and gentle stretching exercises. A physical therapist can also help strengthen the plantar fascia and associated foot, ankle, as well as lower-leg structures to provide enough support, so the injury will not return. They can also provide advice on how to select footwear that will support the plantar fascia.
If you need help with plantar fasciitis, please contact Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab at 570-208-2787.