Save your sole from plantar fasciitis

Do foot-stretching exercises to keep the tissue in the sole of your foot free from pain.

If you’ve ever had pain in the mid-sole of your foot on those first few steps out of bed or after getting out of a chair, then you’re acquainted with your plantar fascia. This tendon complex, along with the deeper spring ligament, serves as the tension cable along your foot’s sole that keeps the foot arched and provides shock absorption.

There are several ways to keep this critical tissue happy:

  • Good arch support in one’s shoes removes some of the stress.
  • A proper shoe fit around the heel prevents sway of the ankle, which places undue stress on this tissue. Often when someone seeks my advice for a sore foot, I find them wearing flip flops or shoes without heel stabilization. The fix in this case is often to spend less time wearing such shoes.
  • Good padding in a shoe’s sole or insert reduces impact stress on the foot. Gel inserts work quite well for many. Of course we are now living in the age of carbon fiber, and there are several shoe products that make use of the material’s springy support.
  • Stretch! Our body’s tissue shares the load between muscle groups. If one part of the chain gets tight, the neighbor pays the price. Both the plantar fascia and calf muscles can be stretched while seated: Place the ball of your foot against a vertical surface while bringing your heel in contact with the floor. Then roll your chair towards the vertical surface and hold as you feel the stretch.

If the plantar fascia is irritated, try the following:

  • Roll a golf ball under your bare or socked foot. This massages and stretches the tissue. Some prefer to use a frozen plastic water bottle, thus icing and massaging the foot at the same time.
  • Apply ice to reduce swelling and pain. Keep to 20-minute intervals to prevent damaging tissue.
  • Strengthen the muscles that flex the toes. Curl your toes through some wet sand (my beach prescription) or with your foot flat on the floor. Alternatively, raise and press toes individually toward the floor, similar to drumming one’s fingers on a table.
  • Use a Strassburg sock. This looks like an athletic sock with a variable tension strap connecting toe to the top of the sock. It can hold the foot and calf in a stretched position.

If the tissue’s pain does not relent, then it’s time to seek professional help. Usually with a little bit of preemptive action on our part we can keep our soles at peace.

Brian Svazas, M.D., M.P.H.