Learn what stretches you can do to help treat your plantar fasciitis.
Kim van Deventer

Kim van Deventer

Stretches for plantar fasciitis: What to do, how to do them, and why they work.

Stretching is often recommended to help relieve plantar fasciitis. This article explains what areas to stretch if you have plantar fasciitis and how to do them correctly.

Table of content

Plantar fasciitis is a common injury with many different causes, and tight muscles are often thought to be why the condition develops. Therefore, stretches are regularly recommended as part of plantar fasciitis treatment and prevention. 

How do you know what areas are best to stretch for plantar fasciitis, why, and how to do them correctly?

What areas should you stretch for plantar fasciitis and why?

What the science says about stretching for plantar fasciitis

Stretches may help for plantar fasciitis, but there is no consensus in the literature about whether stretches are better than other conservative methods, such as strengthening exercises or insoles

Research doesn’t tell us what stretching protocols are best for plantar fasciitis exactly. However, there is limited evidence that stretches may help for plantar fasciitis in the short term (2-4 months).

There is a suggestion that intermittent stretching (several sets of 20-30 second stretches) may work better than sustained stretches (holds of 30 seconds +) when doing calf and Achilles stretches for plantar fasciitis.

Lastly, plantar fascia specific stretching has been found to be more effective than Achilles stretching for plantar fasciitis, but this research is limited and not good quality.

Why should you stretch these areas?

Although the research is limited and more studies are necessary, there are a few commonly accepted theories behind stretching certain areas to help with plantar fasciitis. 

1. Plantar fascia specific stretches 

Theory: When your foot is stiff, there is less “give” in your plantar fascia when you take weight on it. As a result, the plantar fascia is less adaptable to load and more vulnerable to injury.

So, specific stretching of your plantar fascia may keep your foot and plantar fascia more supple and reduce the strain on it. Research has shown plantar fascia specific stretches to be useful as part of plantar fasciitis treatment.

Anatomy of the plantar fascia

2. Calf and Achilles stretches for plantar fasciitis

Theory: Tight calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) and Achilles tendons may cause your feet to excessively pronate (turn in). This change in foot posture can lead to your plantar fascia taking on more load than it can bear and becoming injured. 

Therefore, a stretching program that incorporates your calf muscles and Achilles tendon may help to keep your feet optimally positioned and reduces the load on your plantar fascia.

Anatomy of the calf and Achilles tendon

3. “Posterior chain” stretches for plantar fasciitis 

The posterior chain is a thick interconnected layer of fascia (connective tissue), muscles, and tendons in the back of your legs that runs between your lower back and feet. The muscles relevant to plantar fasciitis include your glutes, hamstrings, and calves. 

Theory: The benefits of posterior chain stretching for plantar fasciitis are two-fold.

First, less flexibility in your posterior chain muscles may change the way you move, which can increase the strain on your plantar fascia. For instance, there is some research that suggests that tight hamstrings can cause your forefoot (the front part of the sole of your foot) to stay in contact with the ground for longer periods when you walk, which can lead to plantar fascia strain.

Second, tightness in one area of your posterior chain can cause tightness in another part, including your plantar fascia. For example, tight glute muscles may lead to tightness in your plantar fascia because they are connected by the same fascial layer.

For these reasons, stretching your “posterior chain” muscles may take the load off your plantar fascia and help it stay healthy and injury-free. 

Posterior chain muscles

The 5 best stretches for plantar fasciitis

Precautions for performing the stretches:

  • Always stretch gently – if you over-stretch, you can injure yourself or worsen your injury.
  • Stretches should not be painful while you perform them and should not increase your pain after doing them.

1. Seated plantar fascia stretch (with massage) for plantar fasciitis

Seated plantar fascia stretch

Instructions

  1. Sit with your knee bent and your injured foot placed over your opposite thigh.
  2. Bend your ankle and toes back until you feel a gentle stretch under your foot.
  3. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds.
  4. At this point, you can also massage your foot arch with gentle but firm strokes, starting from the ball of your foot and ending at your heel.
  5. Rest for 30 seconds (or stretch your other foot).
  6. Repeat this stretch 3 times on each side.

2. Standing plantar fascia stretches for plantar fasciitis

Standing plantar fascia stretch.

Instructions

  1. Place your heel on the ground and toes on the wall, as shown in the picture. Don’t worry if your toes do not bend as much as the person in the image; every person is different, so be gentle and only do what is comfortable. 
  2. Bend your knee towards the wall until you feel a gentle stretch under your foot or in your lower calf.
  3. Hold this position for up to 10 seconds.
  4. Rest for 10 seconds.
  5. Repeat this stretch 6 times.

3. Calf stretch for plantar fasciitis

Stretching your calves can help reduce the strain on the plantar fascia when you have plantar fasciiits.

Instructions

  1. Take a step forward so that the leg you want to stretch is behind you.
  2. Point your toes straight ahead and keep your heel on the floor.
  3. Keeping your back leg straight, slowly bend your front leg knee until you feel a gentle stretch in your calf in the back leg. 
  4. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds.
  5. Rest for 30 seconds (or stretch the other side).
  6. Repeat this stretch 3 times on each side.

4. The figure of four glute stretch for plantar fasciitis

Include glute stretches in your plantar fasciitis stretching routine as the glutes form part of the posterior fascial chain.

Instructions

  1. Lie on your back with both knees bent and pulled up in line with your hips.
  2. Place the outside of your right ankle just above your left knee.
  3. Take hold of your left thigh with both hands and pull it towards your chest. Use a pillow under your head if you struggle to keep your neck in a comfortable position.
  4. Depending on which part is the tightest, you will feel the stretch in your right buttock, thigh, or back area.
  5. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds.
  6. Rest for 30 seconds (or stretch the other side).
  7. Repeat this stretch 3 times on each side.

5. Seated hamstring stretch for plantar fasciitis

A seated hamstring stretch is a great all-in-one stretch for the posterior chain muscles.

Instructions

  1. Sit on the floor with the leg you want to stretch straight out in front of you.
  2. Bend your other leg, keeping your foot close to your body and your knee out to the side.
  3. The knee of the leg you want to stretch should stay flat and in contact with the floor throughout the stretch.
  4. Slide your hands down the straightened leg until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your thigh.
  5. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds.
  6. Rest for 30 seconds (or stretch the other side).
  7. Repeat this stretch 3 times on each side.

Conclusion

It is possible that stretching your plantar fascia directly and your calves, hamstrings, and glutes may help treat and prevent plantar fasciitis. Still, it is essential to remember that stretches alone cannot heal or prevent plantar fasciitis. 

The best way to recover from plantar fasciitis is by following a graded rehabilitation program that incorporates a healthy balance of rest, strengthening exercises (for the plantar fascia, feet, and hip muscles), and a well-rounded stretching routine. It should also start where you are, in line with your current healing phase. And progress you according to your goals and abilities. 

This can be a daunting process, but fortunately, Exakt health’s plantar fasciitis treatment program offers all of this support and more. So, if you need help, we are here for you. You can download the app for free from the Android or Apple stores.

Wishing you a quick and easy recovery!

References

  1. DiGiovanni BF, Nawoczenski DA, Lintal ME, Moore EA, Murray JC, Wilding GE, Baumhauer JF. Tissue-specific plantar fascia-stretching exercise enhances outcomes in patients with chronic heel pain. A prospective, randomized study. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2003 Jul;85(7):1270-7. doi: 10.2106/00004623-200307000-00013. PMID: 12851352.
  2. Garrett TR, Neibert PJ. The effectiveness of a gastrocnemius-soleus stretching program as a therapeutic treatment of plantar fasciitis. J Sport Rehabil. 2013 Nov;22(4):308-12. doi: 10.1123/jsr.22.4.308. Epub 2013 May 22. PMID: 23752554.
  3. Harty J, Soffe K, O’Toole G, Stephens MM. The role of hamstring tightness in plantar fasciitis. Foot Ankle Int. 2005 Dec;26(12):1089-92. doi: 10.1177/107110070502601215. PMID: 16390645.
  4. Bolívar YA, Munuera PV, Padillo JP. Relationship between tightness of the posterior muscles of the lower limb and plantar fasciitis. Foot Ankle Int. 2013 Jan;34(1):42-8. doi: 10.1177/1071100712459173. PMID: 23386760.
  5. Morrissey, D., et al. (2021). “Management of plantar heel pain: a best practice guide informed by a systematic review, expert clinical reasoning and patient values.” British Journal of Sports Medicine. 
  6. Heel Pain—Plantar Fasciitis: Revision 2014, Clinical Practice Guidelines Linked to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health From the Orthopaedic Section of the American Physical Therapy Association J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2014;44(11):A1-A23. doi:10.2519/jospt.2014.030
  7. Sweeting D, Parish B, Hooper L, Chester R. The effectiveness of manual stretching in the treatment of plantar heel pain: a systematic review. J Foot Ankle Res. 2011 Jun 25;4:19. doi: 10.1186/1757-1146-4-19. PMID: 21703003; PMCID: PMC3150253.
  8. Porter D, Barrill E, Oneacre K, May BD. The effects of duration and frequency of Achilles tendon stretching on dorsiflexion and outcome in painful heel syndrome: a randomized, blinded, control study. Foot Ankle Int. 2002 Jul;23(7):619-24. doi: 10.1177/107110070202300706. PMID: 12146772.

Contact Us