Plantar fasciitis - the causes, symptoms and stretches to help recovery

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What is plantar fasciitis? 

Plantar fasciitis is a condition characterised by pain when you take those first few steps in the morning or after you’ve been sitting down for a while. 

The plantar fascia is a flat length of connective tissue that runs from your heel bone (calcaneus) to the base of your toes (it splits into five ‘digital slips’, one for each toe). Its main roles are supporting the long arch in your foot and helping with the toe-off when you’re walking or running.

What are the symptoms of plantar fasciitis? 

1. Most people suffering with plantar fasciitis will feel pain on the bototm of the heel, although others experience pain at the bottom mid-foot area. 

2. The pain generally builds over time and whilst some describe it as a dull ache, for others it will feel sharp. 

3. Plantar fasciitis usually afffects just one foot although it can affect both. 

4. The pain is often worse in the morning when you first get out of bed. 

Can I run with plantar fasciitis?

The condition can prevent you running for a while, though in extreme cases it can mean the end of a running career. Plantar fasciitis may resolve itself, although there are forums filled with stories of people spending thousands of pounds on treatments – including night splints, orthotics and injections. 

Related: Running injuries - when to run, when to stop

You probably do need to stop running to allow the injury to heal, but there are plenty of simple steps you can take to speed up the recovery process a little. 

What stretches or exercises can I do to help plantar fasciitis?

The following technique has been successful for an extremely high percentage of my patients. The aim is to lengthen, strengthen and support the plantar fascia. It’s wise to stop running until you can press quite hard without feeling pain in the affected area.

Related: The complete guide to stretching for runners 

1. Foot ‘writing’

Working from your ankle, write the alphabet with your foot before walking in the morning. 

2. Towel grabbing

Pull a towel along a smooth floor using your toes and forefoot. Do for two minutes twice a day.

3. Calf stretches

Do them for 60 seconds, six times a day, against a wall so your toes are in extension (bent upwards).

4. No barefoot walking

Keep shoes on as much as possible. 

5. Wear orthotic supports in your shoes. 

6. Pull your big toe into extension for as long as you can during the day.

7. Wear a strassburg sock at night. This provides a gentle stretch to the fascia.

8. Ice your heel for 10 minutes after any prolonged period on your feet. You can also roll your foot over a bottle of frozen water. 

9. Where possible, wear your trainers. 

Weekly physiotherapy treatments will also help. Each week the amount of soft-tissue work on the calf and forefoot will be increased, easing the pull on the plantar fascia origin (the heel bone). The work will focus closer and closer to this painful spot, but never directly over it. 

These sessions, which feel like a deep sports massage, may be painful. Between sessions five and 10 most clients are given running workouts to try (right).

How can I start running again after plantar fasciitis?

To begin with, jog for a minute, then spend two minutes stretching your calf muscles. You may be able to repeat 

this as many as five times, providing the pain doesn’t escalate above a four out of 10 (with 10 being the worst pain imaginable). If this goes well, repeat it after a two-day rest (i.e. run on Monday and Thursday). If it is still too painful, stop running and do nothing until your next physio session.

The running can be built up until you can complete three times 15 minutes with pain below two out of 10. Once this stage has been reached you will be set training sessions for the next month before a review, following which you will, hopefully, be discharged from treatment. 

What can I do to prevent plantar fasciitis?

If you have never been struck down by plantar fasciitis, building the three exercises on this page into your routine will help guard against suffering in the future.