If you suffer from plantar fasciitis you know how frustrating it is to get relief. Many people
suffer from chronic foot, heel and arch pain for years without any real solution.
Most people who suffer with plantar fasciitis have researched the best remedies to resolve your pain. Stretching is always at the top of the list.
It seems reasonable as your arch, calf and Achilles tendon areas just feel tight. Yet, stretching is not as simple an undertaking as it seems. Certain types of stretching can actually make your problem worse.
This article sheds light on what type of stretching is helpful and what type of stretching to avoid that may hinder your progress.
First, let's define plantar fasciitis, then we will look into the different types of stretching and the most effective way to stretch to relieve plantar fasciitis.
Dr. Angela Walk
The Plantar Fasciitis Doc
Specializing in Foot & Gait Mechanics
What Is Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar Fasciitis is the most common cause of foot and heel pain, and it is the most prevalent condition I treat in my office.
It involves a degeneration, or breakdown of the collagen fibers in the plantar fascia, a thick, fibrous band that runs from your heel to your forefoot.
Symptoms include pain at the inside portion of the heel that is worse after prolonged periods of rest. One distinctive feature of plantar fasciitis is experiencing severe pain with the first steps in the morning.
The term fasciitis indicates tissue inflammation, however, evidence suggests that inflammation plays a lesser or no role at all in the condition and plantar fasciosis is a more appropriate name.
Because most people are familiar with the name plantar fasciitis, I tend to use this name most often to avoid confusion.
Is Stretching Bad For Plantar Fasciitis?
In order to know when stretching can harmful, you must know your specific stage or phase of healing.
Plantar fasciitis has two broad stages and it should be treated differently depending on the stage of your injury, much in the same way we successfully treat tendons in different stages of disrepair.
The first stage is the acute or reactive stage. This is when the injury is new. Perhaps you increased your running mileage too fast or stood in bad shoes for too long. This is when pain is the worst and decreasing load should be initiated.
At this stage, stretching can be harmful and further injure the area.
The second stage is the chronic or degenerative stage where you have had the injury for a prolonged period.
In this stage, stretching and strengthening is helpful. I recommend active or dynamic stretching that involves movement vs. static prolonged stretching.
What Is The Best Way To Stretch For Plantar Fasciitis?
There are two types of stretching, static and active stretching.
Static stretching is when the body segments are not moving, while in active stretching, there is motion. Active or dynamic stretching is the most effective type of stretching for plantar fasciitis
Recent studies have shown that plantar fasciitis is as a result of degeneration, or a breakdown of the collagen fibers within the fascia and not an inflammatory condition.
Therefore, this type of injury responds to treatment measures resembling a tendinopathy. Thus, targeted strengthening exercises, dynamic/active stretching, and progressive loading is the most effective protocols.
Active Isolated Stretching vs. Static Stretching For Plantar Fasciitis
One mistake many make when stretching is doing the wrong type of stretch. There are multiple styles of stretching that target different goals.
When most people hear the word “stretch,” they think about holding a stretching position for a prolonged period of time, most often recommended is 20-30 seconds. This is called static stretching.
The problem with static stretching is that if a muscle is stretched too far, too fast, or for too long, it elicits a protective action known as the myotatic reflex, causing it to automatically recoil in an attempt to prevent the muscle from tearing.
This occurs about three seconds into a stretch. Therefore, I recommend stretching to your natural range of motion (hold for 2 seconds), before the negative stretch reflex kicks in, then return to the start position and repeat 10 times.
This type of stretching is called Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) and is a type of dynamic stretch. The stretch feels more like repetitions than stretching, and it is the most effective type for for plantar fasciitis recovery. Read more about AIS here.
Active Isolated Stretching For Plantar Fasciitis
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is one of the methods of stretching most used by today's athletes, chiropractors, physical therapists and personal/athletic trainers.
Active Isolated Stretching technique involves the method of holding each stretch for only two seconds.
This method of stretching is also known to work with the body's natural physiological makeup to improve circulation and increase the elasticity of muscles, joints, and fascia without triggering the negative reaction of the stretch reflex as in static stretching (holding a stretch for 20-30 seconds)
Active Isolated Stretching Guide
1. Isolate the Muscle to Stretch
If you didn’t already know, muscles often work in opposition. If you want to isolate a muscle, you need to do the opposite for the other muscle.
For example, when you flex your quadricep (thigh muscle), you stretch your hamstring and vice versa. So you need to flex one muscle in order to stretch another.
Then, the brain sends a signal to the hamstrings to relax. This provides a perfect environment for the hamstring to stretch.
2. Only Hold the Stretch for Two Seconds
Flex the opposing muscle to stretch the muscle you are isolating. But don’t hold it for a minute like static stretching! Instead, only hold the position for two seconds.
Each stretch is held for a maximum of two seconds in order to avoid the activation of the stretch reflex. The stretch reflex (also called the myotatic reflex) prevents a muscle or tendon from overstretching too far or too fast.
This is our body's natural protection against strains, sprains, and tears. By holding short-term stretches, we increase our range of motion with each repetition and eliminate any fear of pain.
3. Perform 10 Repetitions
Simply repeat this process until you have done about 10 reps. Breathing is also important, so exhale during the stretching portion of each rep. This allows oxygen to pump through the body and increase circulation.
Repeat each stretch 10 times in order to increase the circulation of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the muscles being stretched.
What Stretches Should I Do For Plantar Fasciitis?
I recommend (2) stretches for plantar fasciitis. Active isolated stretching with a foot rocker or stair step, and dynamic/active calf raises with a ball.
Active Isolated Stretching With A Foot Rocker
1. Using a or stair step or foot rocker, carefully lower your heel without bending your knees, letting your toes rise naturally.
This will create a stretch in your hamstring, calf muscle, and plantar fascia.
I recommend a foot rocker as it offers a special angled platform made specially to elongate the calf muscles. It's the best $20 you will ever spend.
Steady yourself by holding onto a chair or the wall.
If you are using a stair step, stand toward the end of the surface with firm toes and a slightly elevated heel
Now, lower you heel and begin to stretch. Hold this stretched position for 2 seconds then come back to the neutral position.
Perform 10 repetitions of this exercise on each side, 3 times per day.
Dynamic Stretching For Calves
Why Do Tight Calf Muscles Cause Plantar Fasciitis?
Calf inflexibility and limited ankle dorsiflexion is one of the most common causes of plantar fasciitis.
When our calf muscle group is tight, it limits the normal movement of our ankles. We need proper mobility to progress through our walking and running gaits.
When this motion is restricted, it places added stress on areas of the body that were not designed to withstand such pressure such as the plantar fascia.
The (2) most common causes of calf muscle tightness is wearing footwear with an elevated heel and prolonged sitting.
Most conventional footwear has an elevation of the heel. Not just women’s high heels, but casual shoes and even running shoes. Transition to functional footwear that has zero drop.
This may surprise you, but sitting too much causes our calf muscles to shorten. In our current modern day culture, sitting is the position we are in most often.
Many of us sit to work, we sit to eat, we sit to drive, we sit for entertainment in front of a television.
Avoid prolonged sitting by making efforts to stand and move more often throughout the day.
Can I Treat Plantar Fasciitis At Home?
I specialize in foot and gait analysis and I have seen hundreds of cases of plantar fasciitis. There is a tremendous amount of misinformation out there about the condition and sadly, this leads to many people suffering for longer than they should.
Most rehabilitation efforts fail because they are relying on cortisone shots, night splints, ineffective stretching, and rolling on a frozen water bottle. These methods are short-term band-aids and do not provide long-term correction.
I have created a six (6) step guide to resolve plantar fasciitis at home. I have found that the solution for most patients is through addressing multiple factors. I want to share a few insights that do work.
Transitioning to functional footwear
Strengthening your foot core
Strengthening weak calf and peroneal muscles
Increasing ankle dorsiflexion
Removing fascial adhesions
Barefoot walking with toe spacers
Rarely is there a quick fix for plantar fasciitis. Improving footwear, identifying areas of weakness in the foot and ankle, and restoring proper foot function is the most important pieces of the puzzle.
Take a look at my FREE GUIDE to resolve plantar fasciitis at home.
I hope this article has provided you with an alternative perspective to most of the content out there about plantar fasciitis and stretching.
If done correctly, stretching is an incredibly important part of your plantar fasciitis rehabilitation protocol to improve range of motion and flexibility.
Dealing with the pain of plantar fasciitis can be life changing, but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence.
By arming yourself with knowledge and taking charge of your healing, you can get back to the activities you love and feel like yourself again.
If you have additional questions about heel pain and plantar fasciitis, don’t hesitate to reach out. I'm here to help get you back on your feet--literally.
Best of Health,
I've written extensively on the topic of plantar fasciitis. Take a look at these other related articles:
Hi, I'm Dr. Angela Walk...
I have been involved in the health and wellness industry for over 20 years as a natural physician. I specialize in foot & gait mechanics and I have written extensively for health publications.
I am keenly aware of trends and new developments in natural health and I embrace an active lifestyle combining diet, exercise and healthy choices.
My goal is to inform my readers of natural options available to them in hopes of improving their health and quality of life.