These 7 Simple Stretches & Exercises Could Eliminate Your Foot Pain For Good
You work out, you eat well, you even foam roll and pop a magnesium supplement from time to time to keep yourself limber—but still, you can't shake this weirdly intense pain in your feet. So, we're here to help you solve this mystery: If the pain is worse in the morning, is concentrated near your heel but runs along the entire arch of your foot, and gradually gets a little better throughout the day (but never fully goes away), then you probably have plantar fasciitis. Luckily, there's plenty you can do to ease the pain.
What causes plantar fasciitis?
Maybe you heard about plantar fasciitis at one point or another and wrote it off as a condition that comes on later in life. But it's actually pretty common for 20-, 30-, and 40-somethings to experience it. Characterized by inflammation of the thick band of tissue (aka the plantar fascia) that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes, this condition is more common among runners, people who are overweight, people who wear unsupportive shoes like flats or high heels, and people whose jobs require them to stand for prolonged periods of time.
Essentially, anything that puts too much stress on the tissue that's meant to support the arch and small intrinsic muscles of the foot can lead to plantar fasciitis. "Because of stress and tension on plantar fascia, you get minor tears where the fascia inserts on the heel bone. If left untreated and you continue to exercise or walk in bad shoes, those tears continue to progress and cause inflammation and pain," says Jeanine Robotti, clinical director and physical therapist at Physio Logic, an integrated wellness facility in Brooklyn.
The condition tends to be worse with those first few steps after getting out of bed, Robotti says, because the tissues in your feet shorten while you sleep, making your calf and plantar fascia tight come morning.
1. Arch massage
This is a simple exercise that can be done throughout the day if you have a desk job. Use a tennis ball or small massage ball to roll out the sole of your foot. Start seated and, when able, progress to doing this exercise while standing. When pain is acute, fill a plastic water bottle with water and freeze it. Use this to massage the sole of your foot to help reduce pain and inflammation.
2. Toe stretch
Sit up straight in a chair and place one foot across your thigh. Pull your big toe up toward your ankle so you feel a stretch along the arch of your foot. Hold 10 seconds and repeat 5 times. Then pull all your toes up toward your ankle and hold 10 seconds for 5 repetitions. Massage the sole of your foot while holding the stretch. This will help improve flexibility in the plantar fascia.
3. Towel stretch
Sit on the floor or in a chair. Place the center of a towel under the ball of your foot and hold both ends. Straighten your knee and gently pull the towel toward you to stretch your calf and foot. Hold the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds and repeat 3 to 5 times.
4. Calf stretch
Stand facing a wall with your hands on the wall at shoulder height. Step back with one leg. Keeping the back knee straight and heel on the floor, bend your front knee until you feel a stretch in the back leg. Hold for 20 to 40 seconds and repeat 2 to 4 times. This will stretch the gastrocnemius and Achilles tendon, which can become extra tight if you wear high heels.
From there, slightly bend the back knee while keeping the heel on the floor to change the focus to the soleus muscle. You will feel this stretch lower in the calf near your ankle. Hold 20 to 40 seconds and repeat 2 to 4 times.
5. Plantar fascia and calf stretch
Stand with the balls of your feet on the edge of a step. Slowly let your heels down over the edge of the step and relax your calf muscles. You will feel a stretch throughout your calf and plantar fascia. Hold 20 to 30 seconds, then engage your calf muscles to lift your heels and return to the start position. Repeat 2 to 4 times.
6. Towel scrunches
Sit in a chair with a towel spread out on the floor under your feet. Use your toes to pull the towel toward you and then to push the towel away. This will help strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the feet, which will eventually take some of the burden and stress off of the plantar fascia.
7. Marble game
Sitting in a chair, dump a cup of marbles on a towel on the floor. Pick them up one by one with your toes and place them back into the cup. This is another intrinsic muscle builder.
If doing these stretches and exercises regularly for 2-4 weeks doesn’t ease your pain, see a podiatrist or physical therapist for an evaluation.
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. In addition to contributing to mindbodygreen, she has written for Women's Health, Prevention, and Health. She is also a certified holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has a passion for natural, toxin-free living, particularly when it comes to managing issues like anxiety and chronic Lyme disease (read about how she personally overcame Lyme disease here).