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Heel pain can have a number of different causes, including minor injuries like strains and sprains and more serious conditions such as plantar fasciitis. Many pain-causing conditions can be treated by stretching the affected muscles and connective tissue in the feet. Because the plantar fascia runs along the length of the foot from the heel to toes, stretching this band can aid in reducing pain caused by many different foot ailments.
The plantar fascia is a cord of tissue that connects at the base of the heel and at the ball of the foot, and is taut to help maintain the arch. When people have certain conditions, stand for longs periods of time or participate in high impact sports like running, they are prone to pain in the heel. The plantar fascia connects to areas of the foot that absorb this impact and is a focus area for treatment of heel pain.
The heel cord, or Achilles tendon, runs from the heel bone to the calf muscles. It helps absorb the impact of intense activities such as running and jumping. With overuse or inadequate exercise preparation, you can develop tendinitis in your Achilles tendon, which occurs when the tendon becomes inflamed.
The most effective heel stretches engage both the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon. You can stretch each of these bands by standing in front of a wall and lifting one foot so your toes rest against the wall while your heel stays on the floor. Alternate stretching each foot. If you stand in the same place for long periods of time, standing on a ramp will help stretch and loosen your plantar fascia and heel cord. Similar to the wall stretch, the ramp should be placed so that your heels are closest to the ground and your feet are pointed upward.
You can also stretch your plantar fascia and heel cord using a towel. In a seated position with legs bent and heels touching the floor, wrap a towel around the bottom of both feet and gently pull the towel ends toward you. Hold the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds.
If you experience heel pain, stretching in the morning and throughout the day can help loosen your plantar fascia and Achilles tendon. Always stretch completely before and after performing any physical exercise.