Share on Pinterest
HRAUN/Getty Images

Plantar fasciitis is the most common source of chronic heel pain in adults. This pain, which is usually worse in the morning, is caused by repetitive stress on the plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is a thick band of connective tissue that links the heel bone to the toes and provides support for the arch of your foot.

It used to be thought that plantar fasciitis was caused by injuries to the foot, but it’s actually a chronic and degenerative inflammatory condition. Medications like non-steroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and orthotics like shoe inserts and heel cups are common ways to treat plantar fasciitis pain, but physical therapy and stretching exercises are a key part of recovery.

Working it out

Activity modifications, orthotics, medications, and exercise can resolve plantar fasciitis pain in 90 percent of people with this condition in 3 to 6 months.

Was this helpful?

Physical therapy for plantar fasciitis combines the use of stretches and similar exercises with periods of immobility. Wearing a night splint is often used to maintain a neutral position of the foot. This can help avoid the formation of a contracture from the weakened connective tissue. It can also reduce heel pain in many people.

Beyond splinting at night and using medications to control pain and inflammation, there are a number of exercises and stretches that can help you manage plantar fasciitis. You may also try things like active release treatment or rolling. Learn more about your options for activities and exercises that can help plantar fasciitis below.

Stretches you can try at home

The following are some common stretches and exercises that can help relieve plantar fasciitis pain.

  1. The gastrocnemius stretch: Place your hands against the wall and stretch one leg behind you with your leg straightened while your front leg remains bent. You will feel the stretch in the calf and foot of the straightened leg.
  2. The plantar fascia stretch: In a seated position, cross one leg over the other, resting the foot of the raised leg on your other knee. Using your hands, stretch the toes of the raised foot back. You will feel the stretch in the arch of your foot.
  3. Foot flexes and massage: Stretch your foot by flexing it up and down at least 10 times before standing. Doing stretches when you wake up before ever standing up for the day can help reduce pain. Massages across the width of your foot arch before standing can help, too.
  4. Towel stretch: Use a towel looped around the bottom of your foot to pull it gently toward you. The towel can help you get results similar to a stretch you would get by standing and touching your toes, without needing to be able to reach your toes in the standing position.
Was this helpful?

Active release treatment (ART) is a therapy that uses a type of massage to break up collections of scar tissue and improve blood flow to injured areas. A 2019 study comparing ART to myofascial release found that both treatments could reduce pain and improve function, but that ART was significantly more effective when it came to pain reduction. Check out our easy guide for this massage style here.

Active isolated stretching is a form of stretching where you are using only your muscles to perform a gentle stretch instead of propping yourself on a wall or other object. These stretches are done with less force than traditional stretching, and may help improve general recovery.

An example of this type of stretching for plantar fasciitis could be as simple as bending your foot back until you feel the muscles in your foot stretch, and then holding that position for several seconds. Yoga is a common method for practicing active stretching.

Rolling is another common therapy used in plantar fasciitis. There are many devices that can be used for rolling, but foam cylinders will get the job done. By rolling items like a foam roller on the underside of the foot, your mind is tricked into becoming desensitized to the pain from the tightened connective tissues in the fascia. It can also help to improve elasticity and make these tissues more flexible, therefore relieving pain associated with plantar fasciitis.

If there are certain activities that you notice make your feet hurt more, you should avoid them until your plantar fasciitis pain improves. Usually, this includes avoiding high-impact or jumping exercises like running or plyometrics.

Outside of exercises to do — or avoid — you should also consider wearing shoes at all times. Even at home, wearing a slipper or light support shoe can help. You should also avoid wearing old shoes, and if you are buying a new pair it’s best to look for something with good arch support. You can also purchase inserts made specifically to address plantar fasciitis pain.

Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of foot pain in adults. Many people experience this problem from prolonged stress on the connective tissues that link the toes to the heel. There is no quick fix for plantar fasciitis pain — physical therapy, stretching, and other exercises are the best way to treat pain and tightness. Just keep in mind that these things won’t help you overnight. It can take months for plantar fasciitis pain to resolve and, in some people, it may never go away completely.

If you have plantar fasciitis and your pain isn’t going away or is getting worse over time, talk to your doctor about additional options for treatment. Surgery is usually reserved as the last possible option for treating plantar fasciitis.