If you have sharp pain in your heel each time you take a step, there’s a good chance you have plantar fasciitis. It’s one of the most common foot and ankle issues out there, and if you don’t learn how to resolve it, you may end up dealing with it for years.
Luckily, with strategic exercise and care at home, you can reduce your plantar fasciitis pain and even get rid of it entirely. In this post, I’ll share 5 easy plantar fasciitis exercises you can do at home to relieve heel pain right away.
Pain Relief through Exercise
As a Physical Therapist, I’ve seen quite a few plantar fasciitis cases in my day – including one of my own a few years ago. Plantar fasciitis is so common because so many factors can contribute to its development; poor footwear, new and daily activities, age, and weight all play a part.
In every case, I start by helping my patients determine what the root cause might be so that they can address the problem at its source. They’ll also learn how to relieve pain at home, such as through ice therapy and taping techniques, which I demonstrate in this video.
But the most important thing I can show my patients is how to prevent plantar fasciitis in the future: by strengthening their muscles. If the muscles supporting your feet are strong, your plantar fascia won’t be so stressed and inflamed.
So if you want to stem – or prevent entirely – the development of plantar fasciitis, keep reading!
5 Ways to Relieve Plantar Fasciitis Pain
Ready to walk without stabbing heel pain? Then daily work your way through this list of plantar fasciitis exercises. Some of it might not feel like “exercise,” but trust me – it’ll work wonders for your muscles.
1. Toe Stretch & Mobilization
The first way to relieve plantar fasciitis pain is to use a stretch-and-tissue-mobilization drill, also called the “Plantar Fascia Stretch” or “Big Toe Stretch.” This combination stretch will help release tension and increase blood flow to your inflamed plantar fascia.
First, remove your shoes and take a seat. Cross your legs so that your ankle rests on your opposite knee and you can reach your big toe. Gently hold your big toe in one hand as you provide pressure with the opposite hand along your plantar fascia, that tight band of tissue on the bottom of your foot.
If your foot is particularly sensitive, you may want to simply hold the big toe without providing pressure. If so, shoot for 20-30 second holds.
Eventually, you can use your other hand to provide long strokes along your foot. You may even consider implementing the dull end of a spoon or butter knife to increase blood flow, a technique we PTs call “instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization.” Now you know.
However you go about it, try to perform soft tissue mobilization 2 or 3 times a day for 2-3 minutes at a time.
2. Massage Gun to Calf + Stretch
One of the first things I do in the clinic is address tight calves. The calf muscle inserts at the base of the calcaneus (or heel bone), so if this muscle is tight, it will pull directly against the plantar fascia.
How do you get a tight muscle to relax? You massage it! And you don’t have to spend a fortune on massage sessions. A tool like a massage gun will help you effortlessly relax your calves at home.
Whenever I have tension or muscle soreness, I use the Bob and Brad C2 Massage Gun because it’s affordable and easy to control. Compared to other massage guns I’ve tried – and I’ve tried many – this one is a steal. Plus, with the coupon code PROGRESS10 you can get a 10% discount.
If a massage gun isn’t your thing, then you should check out the Zarifa Foot and Calf Massager, a luxury medical device that provides thorough kneading all the way from your toes to your thighs.
Whichever you choose, aim for 2 to 3 minutes of direct calf massage. This will promote relaxation of the muscle, increase blood flow to the area, and set the stage for a good calf stretch.
You can stretch your now-massaged calf two ways. First, stand on the lowest step of your staircase and inch one foot backward until the heel can hang off the step. Make sure the front leg on the step is bent and the leg hanging off the step is straight. You’ll feel the stretch right away.
Or, try a simple lunge stretch: with your hands against the wall in front of you, split your stance so that one leg is behind you. Bend the front leg and straighten the back leg as much as possible. You can use your hands to shift your weight forward and deepen the lunge for a better stretch.
Either stretch should last 20 to 30 seconds, but ease up if you feel sharp pain. You don’t want to irritate the tissue too much.
3. Arch Lift + Squat
The next movement to master when you have plantar fasciitis is an arch lift.
Oddly enough, many people recommend picking up marbles with your toes as a home remedy for foot pain. While that technique might help somewhat, I prefer to focus on the foot’s intrinsic muscles (the lumbricals and quadratus plantae, techinically) rather than the toe flexors.
The intrinsic muscles support the middle of your foot and uphold your arch. If you have plantar fasciitis, there’s a good chance these muscles are weak. But strengthening them is easy – simply make a foot dome!
To make a foot dome, place a pen under the arch of your foot and try to create a dome over it by “lifting” the middle of your foot. It’s kind of like cupping your hands. As you dome, keep your toes relaxed and avoid flexing or curling them under your foot.
Foot doming pinpoints those inner foot muscles, so you may find this challenging at first. Shoot for 3 sets of 10 to 15 foot domes (“lift and release”). Once this becomes easier, you can challenge the exercise by performing squats as you maintain your lifted arch.
Doing everyday movements such as squatting while your arch is lifted will challenge your intrinsic foot muscles and considerably improve the stability of your foot.
This exercise is one you don’t often hear for plantar fasciitis. But that’s a shame, because the clamshell is highly effective for correcting and preventing plantar fasciitis pain.
The clamshell targets your gluteus medius, one of your rear muscles which helps position your hip. If this muscle is weak, you may be collapsing in at the knee without realizing it. Knee collapse can have detrimental effects on your body’s mechanics and further stress the inside of your foot.
To perform this simple exercise, lie on your side with knees bent in front of you, as if you’re sitting in a chair. Stack your feet and keep them glued together throughout the exercise. Next, rotate the top leg upwards, as far as you can while keeping your hips square; you shouldn’t rock back and forth with this movement. Close your legs to complete one clamshell.
Perform 3 sets of 10 clamshells on each side as part of your daily routine.
If you need to modify this exercise, you can place a pillow between your legs to reduce the range for your hip (pictured). Or, for an added challenge, loop a resistance band just above your knees and proceed with your reps.
5. Seated Towel Calf Stretch
Finally, I’ll conclude with a stretch I like to perform first thing in the morning. I’ve found that it works best early in the day – plus, it’s an excuse to stay in bed a couple minutes longer.
Before you get out of bed in the morning, straighten your leg in front of you and wrap a sheet or towel around your foot. Keeping your knee straight (very important!), gently pull on the sheet to stretch your foot towards your body. You should feel a light stretch in the heel and the back of your calf.
This stretch does two things: it introduces light stress to your foot to ease it into full weight-bearing, and it stretches your stiff calf muscle and heel cord.
Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times before getting up.
Other Ways to Combat Plantar Fasciitis
Each of these movements, stretches, or exercises will have profound effects on your plantar fasciitis pain. But if you want to double down and bolster these efforts even more, check out this article. And make sure your footwear isn’t holding you back from being pain-free. All of the walking shoes in this post are well-rated for plantar fasciitis prevention, so consider upgrading your wardrobe as you combat your heel pain.