Work out dos and don'ts when you have plantar fasciitis plus 5 stretches to reduce pain
March 27, 2024

Work out dos and don'ts when you have plantar fasciitis plus 5 stretches to reduce pain

Rachel Wadsley, PhD

Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of foot pain. According to Dr. John Gallucci, a dual licensed physical therapist with over 25 years of experience, most people with plantar fasciitis experience sharp stabbing pain in their arch, near the heel. Additionally, there can be localized swelling.

In the morning, people with plantar fasciitis often have stiffness and pain when taking their first few steps. Standing after sitting for long periods of time creates similar discomfort. Other issues can mimic plantar fasciitis, so it's crucial to talk with a medical professional for a proper diagnosis. 

After you get assessed, here are some tips for you to use along with exercise dos, and dont's to ease your pain and reduce plantar fasciitis flare-ups.

Avoid these bad habits that make plantar fasciitis worse

Not knowing the warning signs

Dr. Gallucci cautions that if you're experiencing tightness in your calf or Achilles tendon or pain at the heel of your foot, these can all be warning signs of plantar fasciitis. This is when you need to back off of your exercise routine. If the pain persists after rest from your workout routine, it's best to seek a medical opinion before getting back into your regular training workouts.

Not maintaining an ideal weight

Being overweight makes plantar fasciitis symptoms and pain worse due to the added strain on your foot muscles and tendons. According to the CDC, achieving a 10% reduction in body weight and decreasing body fat can significantly improve your health. Plus, feeling more comfortable in your body will increase the amount of exercise you're able to do. In the wise words of Michael Scott, it's a win-win-win with many unique benefits! 

Not wearing supportive shoes

Wearing correctly fitting footwear is essential, whether you're maintaining your overall health by walking, focusing on regular cardio workouts, or anything in between. You need shoes that support your activity, properly fit your feet, support your arch, and don't put a lot of pressure on your feet or toes. Avoid flat shoes like flip flops and high heels as daily footwear. If you participate in sports, purchase athletic shoes designed for that sport. Whether you are focused on weight training, resistance training, or cardio exercise, make sure to look for shoes that fit the activity you are doing.

Sitting or standing for long periods

Sitting or standing too long makes your body ache in general. Taking a break to stretch and move keeps you from getting stiff. When possible, set timers or reminders to move, even if it's for a minute or two. Plus, regular movement can help improve your mental health, prevent heart disease, reduce high blood pressure, and has a range of other health benefits.

Exercise Dos and Don'ts When You Have Plantar Fasciitis

Don't push through the pain

Plantar fasciitis pain isn't the same as soreness from a workout where micro-tears occur, and the body heals, forming muscle. This pain is your body's way of telling you something is wrong. Pushing through can lead to tears, ruptures, and heel spurs.

"Anything that increases pain should be stopped. Trying to [push] through it can lead to tears. Slow down and modify workouts. When you've been symptom-free for 7-10 days, it's okay to gradually return to normalcy," says Dr. Gallucci.

Do stretches and use supports

Stretching before exercising is a must to warm up your ligaments and muscles. As your heart gets pumping, blood flow increases to muscles helping them operate more efficiently. Having your body prepared for movement reduces your risk of injury. If you've been prescribed arch supports or a brace, wear those as ordered by your doctor to protect your body.

Consider supportive equipment as well. Buoyancy belts and AquaJoggers are two of Dr. Gallucci's favorite tools that he recommends to patients. Being in the pool is low impact and very gentle on the soles of your feet. Plus, you can grab one for under $40, making it easy on your wallet. 

Don't do high-impact activities

Being told you can’t run is crushing if you're a runner. But if you push your luck and continue to run with plantar fasciitis, you're going to set yourself back even further by risking more severe injury. Take 7-10 days off from running, as Dr. Gallucci recommends. During this time, ice your feet, and once you're pain-free, gradually build back to your previous distance and speed. By listening to your body, you'll be back to a regular training routine in no time.

Do low-impact exercise

Low-impact activities are your best friend if you have plantar fasciitis. They'll keep you active with less risk for further injury. Some activities to explore include swimming, cycling, yoga, and gym equipment that doesn't put a lot of pressure on your feet. You can try a light strength training program, grab some resistance bands, or incorporate movement patterns like stretching into your day as well. 

Do add variety to your exercise plan

Completing repetitive movements is another risk factor for developing or flaring up plantar fasciitis. So, Dr. Gallucci recommended cross-training. As mentioned above, swap out high-impact exercises for low-impact activities. Be sure to mix it up, whether you're trying some light strength training, aerobic exercise, or pilates.

5 stretches for plantar fasciitis pain relief

Calf stretch

  1. Hold a chair or place your hands against a wall.
  2. Keep one leg back with your knee straight. 
  3. Bend your other knee in front. 
  4. Keep both feet flat on the floor.
  5. Hold for 30-60 seconds. 
  6. Switch leg positions and repeat. 

Frozen foot rolling stretch

  1. Sit in a chair with both feet on the floor (you can do this standing if you're stable).
  2. Place a frozen water bottle or ball under your foot. 
  3. Roll the object back and forth under your foot for 2 minutes. 
  4. Repeat on the other foot. 

Seated foot stretch

  1. Sit in a chair or on the floor.
  2. Cross one heel over the opposite leg.
  3. Pull your toes towards your shin to stretch the arch of your foot.
  4. Hold for 10 seconds.
  5. Repeat 2-3 times. 

Towel curls

  1. Sit tall in a chair.
  2. Place a small towel on the floor (alternatively, you can do this with marbles).
  3. Place one foot on the towel.
  4. Curl your toes around the towel to pull it towards you.
  5. Relax and release the towel.
  6. Repeat 10 times. 

Heel raise

  1. Stand with the balls of your feet over the edge of a bottom step (only do this if you're stable!). 
  2. Hold onto the railing or other support, if needed.
  3. Gently lower your heels just below the edge of the step. 
  4. Slowly rise to the balls of your feet. 
  5. Do a set of 10 heel raises 2-3 times. 

Now you know the ins and outs of exercising with plantar fasciitis and reducing your risk of flare-ups. Remember to follow the instructions of your healthcare team. Once you’re ready to get back into the swing of things, take it slow. 

A certified personal trainer with additional experience in injury prevention can help you create a gentle routine that can be adjusted as you recover. Share with them the exercise restrictions, if any, your doctor or physical therapist has provided. 

Click here to get your trainwell (formerly CoPilot) trainer today!

Expert contributor:

Dr. John Gallucci Jr., MS, ATC, PT, DPT is the CEO of JAG-ONE Physical Therapy and sits as the Chair of the New Jersey Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Dr. Gallucci is also the Medical Coordinator for Major League Soccer (MLS). Visit his website and follow his company on Facebook @JAGONEPhysicalTherapy or Instagram @jag_onept

Written by Rachel Wadsley, PhD

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