Plantar fasciitis can be a real pain in the foot.
Plantar fasciitis is the medical term for inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is the connective tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot. If you’ve ever had pain in the bottom of your foot with the first few steps out of bed in the morning, you’ve probably had some experience with this painful condition.
In active populations, plantar fasciitis is often associated with overuse or a sudden change in activity, and temporarily easing off of activity can be part of the solution. In more sedentary populations, weight gain is usually a major contributor to plantar fasciitis and a weight-loss plan could be of benefit. Whether you’re active or sedentary, however, previous foot injuries, poor arch support, or tight muscles around the foot can all predispose you to plantar fasciitis. While there are some very interesting and advanced treatments to help get rid of your discomfort, there are some simple (and free) things you can do at home to help prevent and possibly reverse plantar fasciitis.
1. Calf Stretching
As you may already know, the first few steps out of bed in the morning can be the worst of the day. Those first few steps can be enough to reaggravate your condition putting you into a cycle of inflammation and pain. The best way to help break that cycle is to stretch your calf before taking those first steps in the morning. When the muscles in your calf are tight, they pull on the heel bone, making your plantar fascia very taut and prone to injury. To help loosen those muscles, take a towel or belt and loop it around the ball of your foot. Keeping your leg straight, gently pull towards your body until you feel a stretch in the lower part of your leg. Hold that for 30 seconds and repeat up to 5 times before taking your first step out of bed. Another great way to stretch your calf in bed is to do it while you sleep! Wearing a night splint that will keep your calf in a stretched position all night will help those first morning steps not be so painful.
Stretching out the muscles in the lower leg is an integral step to recovery. There are two main muscles in the lower leg that attach to the heel, so you should work on stretching them both out. Stand against a wall and slide one leg back, pushing the heel down towards the floor (first picture). When you feel a stretch in the lower part of your leg, hold it for 30 seconds. After those 30 seconds are up, bend your knees until a deeper stretch is felt a bit lower in the leg (second photo). Again, hold this stretch for 30 seconds and repeat this until you’ve done it 3 times on each leg.
2. Plantar Fascia Stretching
Loosening up the tissues that are irritated probably makes sense to you, but you may not know how to do so. Luckily, there’s a very simple way. All you have to do is pull your toes up with your hand until you feel a stretch along the ball of your foot. You may feel the stretch anywhere from the ball of your foot to your heel. Holding this position for 30 seconds a few times can make a world of difference in your pain levels.
Who doesn’t love a good massage? I suppose you could pay for someone to rub out the tissues in the bottom of your foot, but if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, look no further than the humble tennis ball. Placing a tennis ball on the ground and gently rolling it under foot for a few minutes can help loosen up your plantar fascia, making it much less likely to become irritated. Put enough pressure on the ball to get a deep massage. You may feel some soreness, but back off if you feel any pain.
While using the tennis ball is great for keeping things loose, sometimes it’s worth doing some icing at the same time for some inflammation control. Freezing a water bottle and rolling it under your foot for 10 minutes at the end of the day can be a very effective way to keep inflammation in check while staying loose. It might not be the most comfortable thing in the world, but “Brrr” is better than “Ouch” any day.
4. Shoe Choice
Your feet take a lot of abuse. They must bear your weight when you stand, as well as take an equal and opposite force from the ground in response to your weight. There are additional pressures on the feet, and especially the plantar fascia, as you walk or run. Good shoes for plantar fasciitis reinforce your foot arch and keep your feet in proper alignment. They also should reduce the load on your Achilles tendon and minimize the stress on your plantar fascia as you walk.
So what are the best shoes for plantar fasciitis? No single shoe is going to work for everybody, but a few general guidelines can help everyone find the right footwear to help with their plantar fasciitis. Looks are nice, but most orthopedist recommended shoes for plantar fasciitis should feel comfortable right out of the box. It also should control your foot’s motion, and for some people, correct pronation. Finally, there should be good arch support and cushioning, particularly if you have high arches.
5. Manual Therapy
In a recent article published in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy by Cleland et ai, the use of manual therapy and exercise was found to be more effective than traditional physical therapy interventions in patients who suffered from plantar fasciitis. The manual therapy interventions in the study included deep soft tissue mobilization to the plantar fascia as well as joint mobilization and manipulation to the foot, ankle, knee and hip. At 6 months, the patients who received manual therapy and exercise reported their symptoms to be a “great deal better” while the traditional therapy intervention group only reported their symptoms to be “moderately better”.
We are proud to say that the use of manual physical therapy in conjunction with exercises and education is the standard of care at Lilly Physical Therapy in Edmonds, WA. This article demonstrates the effectiveness of this approach in comparison to traditional physical therapy. Getting into a therapy program at Results Physiotherapy is as easy as calling to schedule an appointment for an evaluation.
One thing to keep in mind is that while these tips have been proven to work, they’re not an instant fix and they must ALL be done together in order to see results. It can take a few weeks of consistency with them before your pain levels begin to change. We are happy to help you at Lilly PT and want you to feel better and succeed in your treatment!