Your doctor has recommended stretching for your ongoing heel pain (plantar fasciitis).
- Stretching can help reduce heel pain and improve function.
- For the most benefit, do the stretches at least three times a day for at least 8 weeks.
- The best time to stretch is before you take your first step in the morning or after a long period of rest.
How does stretching help with heel pain?
- Plantar fasciitis is thought to be due to inflammation (swelling) of the plantar fascia, the tissue connecting the heel bone to the toes.
- Doing stretches before standing up after you have been sitting or sleeping can help the plantar fascia to better absorb the weight of the body.
- The stretch is thought to be similar to normal foot movement and reduce the stress in the plantar fascia on taking body load.
- Stretching the plantar fascia can be used as a treatment regardless of how long you have experienced heel pain.
How to do the stretches
- Do 10 repetitions of the stretch three times a day (more often is preferable) for at least 8 weeks.
- The best time to perform the stretch is before taking your first step in the morning or before standing up after a long period of sitting down.
- Sit down and cross your affected leg over your non-affected leg.
- With the hand of the affected side, grab the toes of your affected foot and pull them back towards the shin for a count of 10 seconds. You should be able to feel a “stretch” sensation in the arch of the foot. Repeat this stretch 10 times, at least three times a day.
- To check if the foot is being stretched correctly, gently rub the thumb of your other hand over the arch of the affected foot while doing the stretch. The plantar fascia should feel firm like a guitar string.
Images reprinted with the permission of the University of Rochester Medical Center, USA.
What to look out for
- Stretching is usually safe and is helpful in many people with plantar fasciitis
- A few people (15 out of 100 people) may feel an increase in heel pain after starting this stretching program. If this happens, try to apply the stretch more gently and increase the amount of stretch applied over time.
- Stretching can be used with other treatments such as taping, load management and footwear advice.
Taping (called low dye taping): watch video
- Load management: Standing for long periods of time or high-impact activities such as running can overload the plantar fascia. Try to reduce the load by regularly switching between standing and sitting. If you normally run, slowly return to running by first alternating between walking and light jogging, and slowly increasing your distance and speed. If you are above a healthy weight range, losing some weight can help reduce the load on your plantar fascia.
- Footwear advice: Look for shoes which are comfortable and have good cushioning, arch support and are lower at the front of the shoe compared with the back. In warmer months, this may mean a contoured pair of sandals or thongs. Contoured sandals/thongs are available from pharmacies or specialist shoe shops and have been found to be better for reducing pain and improving function compared to a flat thong without arch support.
- If heel pain continues for 8 weeks or more, see your doctor to discuss other types of treatment.