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The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that runs beneath the foot, connecting the heel to the toes and supporting the arch. It can become damaged due to overuse or overload, causing pain in the heel. This pain is commonly experienced most acutely upon first arising in the morning and tends to lessen with activity throughout the day. Plantar fasciitis commonly affects runners, football players and other athletes, as well as non athletes. Middle age and excess body weight increase the risk for developing plantar fasciitis. Stretching exercises may help alleviate the condition, but consult a doctor for guidance to avoid further injury.
Stretching exercises for the calf and foot have proved effective for many people, especially in the short term — 2 to 4 months. The American Physical Therapy Association cites stretching the calf and the foot 2 or 3 times daily as a beneficial exercise. They also recommend using either a sustained or intermittent stretching technique. In sustained stretching, the stretch is typically held for 3 minutes. A typical intermittent pattern involves holding a given stretch for 20 seconds, releasing, then repeating, usually for 5 sets. Both techniques are similarly effective.
Plantar Fascia Stretch and Massage
“The Permanente Journal” reported in 2014 that stretching that specifically targets the plantar fascia has been shown to yield the best results. Seated in a chair, cross the affected foot over the opposite knee. Using your hand, pull the toes back toward the shin to create a stretch in the arch. While holding the stretch for 1 minute, use your other hand to manually massage the arch, rubbing across the foot perpendicular to the length of the foot. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat. Complete 3 sets.
Seated Towel Stretch
Effective stretches for the arch and the calf can be easily done from almost anywhere. Consider keeping a towel by your bed or favorite chair so you can stretch several times a day. Fold the towel lengthwise to create a strap. Place the towel around the ball of the foot, holding onto each end with your hands. Gently pull the toes back toward the shin, creating a stretch in the calf and the arch of the foot. Hold for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds. Complete 3 sets.
Standing Heel Hang
You can also stretch the plantar fascia while standing at the edge of a step or a curb. Holding onto a railing or a post for balance, stand with the affected heel hanging off the edge of a step or curb. Keep the knee straight and the foot in alignment with the knee. You should feel a stretch in the calf and possibly the arch. Hold for 20 seconds, then release for 20 seconds. Complete 5 sets 2 or 3 times daily.