What Is Plantar Fasciitis and How to Avoid It

Are you a runner who’s started feeling discomfort in the heel of your foot? There’s a chance you might be developing plantar fasciitis, a common and frustrating condition which can put a real dampener on your workouts. Avoiding plantar fasciitis is of course a good idea – anyone who’s suffered with the condition will tell you how debilitating it is.

So, how can you go about avoiding plantar fasciitis and what exercises and stretches can you do to mitigate it if you’ve started to notice the symptoms?

What is plantar fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is a foot condition commonly experienced by runners. Your plantar fascia is a thin ligament which connects your heel with the front of your foot. Repeated pressure on this ligament – especially from running – can cause lots of small tears in the plantar fascia, and this results in inflammation and pain.

People suffering from the condition often notice the pain most acutely when getting out of bed in the morning or after exercise (you may not actually notice the pain while running). It can also become unbearable when standing for extended periods.

During the first stages of plantar fasciitis it will feel like there’s lump in the heel of your socks. Untreated, this may gradually evolve into stabbing pains in your heels when walking – especially in the morning – and, ultimately, constant pain.

If you’ve got pain in your feet but you’re not sure if it’s plantar fasciitis or something else, consult with your GP.

How to go about avoiding plantar fasciitis

Prevention is, of course, better than cure. There are a number of steps you can take to avoid it altogether – these will also apply if you think you may have the early stages of the condition:

  • Rest: If you’ve noticed discomfort during or after running, your best choice is to rest and avoid running, jumping and other impact sports for a couple of weeks. If you’re training for a race, this can be frustrating, but it’s a whole lot less frustrating than having to pull out altogether.
  • Avoid uncomfortable shoes: Heels, shoes with a tight toe box and no support can inflame the condition. If you’re suffering from plantar fasciitis, choose breathable, broad and low-heeled footwear.
  • Choose supportive running shoes: A key way of avoiding plantar fasciitis is to wear supportive running shoes which offer impact-absorbing heel support.
  • Wear insoles: If you have especially flat feet, you may benefit from wearing insoles which offer more support when wearing more formal shoes.

Plantar fasciitis exercises

If you’re already suffering from the condition – or want to avoid the risk – using the following stretches for plantar fasciitis may help. For acute conditions, we always recommend visiting a physiotherapist or foot specialist.

Calf stretches

Calf stretches help to loosen your muscles and relieve pain. Stretch your calves as follows:

  1. Facing a wall, stand arm’s length away and place your hands on the wall
  2. Place one foot close to the wall, with the other out behind you
  3. Bend your front knee forward gently, while keeping your back leg straight
  4. Hold the stretch for around 20 seconds then release and repeat 2 or 3 times
  5. Switch your legs and repeat

Use a roller

This stretch for plantar fasciitis releases tension in the sole of your foot:

  1. Sit on a chair
  2. Place a foam roller, a bottle of frozen water or another tube on the floor and roll your foot from front to back for around one minute
  3. Repeat the stretch on the other foot

You can switch out the roller with a tennis ball too.

Use a towel

This stretch helps to relieve tension and start to build up strength in your foot:

  1. Sit on a chair
  2. Fold a dish cloth or hand towel lengthways
  3. Bring one knee off the ground and loop the towel under your arch, holding an end of the ‘strap’ with each hand
  4. For around 15 to 30 seconds, gently pull the towel towards you while flexing your foot
  5. Repeat on the other foot

Hand stretch the plantar fascia

This simple exercise requires no equipment, apart from your hands, to relieve muscle tightness:

  1. Sit on a chair
  2. Cross one foot over the opposite leg and hold the front of the foot with your opposite hand
  3. Pull the toes ‘up’ towards your shin to create tension
  4. Hold this stretch for around 10 seconds, then repeat 2–3 times

Towel curls

Another simple exercise, this stretch will help relieve tension in your feet and calves:

  1. Sit on a chair
  2. Place a towel on the floor in front of your feet and place them flat on the towel
  3. Grip the towel with your toes and curl them towards you
  4. Relax, then repeat 4–5 times

Get back to running safe and sound

When a condition like plantar fasciitis strikes, it can really throw out your training schedule and be very frustrating. However, by taking precautionary measures, resting and doing some plantar fasciitis exercises, you’ll be back on track in no time.