You swing your feet over the side of the bed, stand up, and ow!
What is that pain in your heel that’s got you holding one foot while hopping up and down on the other? You gingerly step down again and you can still feel it, a sharp, stabbing pain deep inside your foot.
A quick Google search offers a diagnosis: plantar fasciitis. You read that it’s inflammation of your plantar fascia, the thick band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your toes. When it’s under too much stress, it develops small tears and irritation. The pain usually goes away once you get up and moving, but according to the internet, ignoring plantar fasciitis can lead to chronic, debilitating pain and other foot, knee, hip, or back problems.
So what can you do to alleviate and prevent plantar fasciitis?
Get checked out
Sure, Dr. Internet is great. But you should have your primary care practitioner check you out, too. It’s wise to rule out any other health or structural issues that can cause foot pain.
Plantar fasciitis is most common in runners and other athletes. If you run a lot, incorporating foot stretches into your normal warm up and wind down routines can help prevent the development of foot pain.
Even if you are not physically active, you may suffer from heel pain if you work on your feet all day, or if you tend to wear shoes with poor support. You can also benefit from doing foot stretches throughout the day.
Plantar fasciitis is felt most often first thing in the morning because the plantar fascia tends to tighten when you are at rest. If you’re suffering from heel pain, try these stretches in the morning before doing anything else:
- Flex your foot up and down 10 times before standing.
- Do toe stretches. With your foot extended in front of you as far as possible while still in reach, grasp and pull your big toe back toward your ankle. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Repeat three times.
- Try towel stretches. Fold a towel lengthwise and put under the arch of your foot, holding both ends in your hands. Gently pull your foot towards you. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Repeat three times.
- Finally, do a rolling massage. Sit on the edge of the bed or a chair and roll your foot back and forth over a cold bottle of water, can, or foam roller for one minute.
You can do these same stretches throughout the day when it’s possible to take your shoes off, such as after work, before exercising, or before bed. During these stretches you should feel some pulling, but not pain. Stop and take a break or stretch more gently if it does begin to hurt.
Massage is relaxing even under the best circumstances, so no wonder it’s ideal for soothing sore muscles and tissues when you’ve strained something! In fact, some studies have found that massage combined with stretching works better at treating plantar fasciitis than other medical treatments.
If you’re suffering from heel pain, massage by an expert may help. A massage therapist who understands all of the muscle groups in your legs and feet and how they connect will know how to massage your tissues and release the tension that can cause pain.
Alternatively, you can do a simple massage at home too. Start by warming your foot tissues with a hot bath, shower, or foot soak to loosen them up. With a little bit of moisturizer or massage oil on your hands, massage your foot along its full length from heel to toes with medium to firm pressure. Then switch to massaging across the width of your foot. Go back and forth in these two directions for about two minutes on each foot. Finish by applying ice to each foot for about 15 minutes.
Whether you see a professional or do it yourself, massage increases blood circulation and reduces tightness in your plantar fascia. Better circulation allows your tired muscles to get the oxygen and nutrients they need to feel strong again. All of this promotes healing to the damage done to your foot tissues and helps those tissues be more limber and ready for action so they don’t sustain more damage as you go about your day.
We’ll find a solution
Whatever the cause of your heel pain, the solution is possible. A combination of targeted massage and stretches can go a long way in healing hurting feet and preventing plantar fasciitis in the future. The next time you get out of bed and feel that familiar stabbing pain, take a few minutes for stretches and massage, and you’ll be up on your feet— literally— in no time!