Exercises to Prevent and Treat Heel Pain

Heel pain is a frustrating daily reality for millions of Americans. There are many reasons for this—and just as many diagnoses, from plantar fasciitis to Achilles tendinitis to bone spurs to pinched nerves.

That said, tight muscles and inflexible muscles, tendons, and ligaments are often part of the equation. And that means that stretching can be an important part of your treatment plan.

In fact, there are a number of simple exercises you can perform at home every day designed to keep the plantar fascia, legs, and calves flexible and loose.

These stretches can not only help you manage and reduce your existing heel pain, but when practiced every day can actually help you prevent future problems. If you have a history of heel pain, this is one of the most important improvements you can make in your life—and also one of the easiest!

Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

heel pain

Calf Stretches

One of the first areas you’ll want to target with your stretching is your calves.

Wait … what?

Yes, it’s true.

It may seem strange, but it really does make sense when you think about it. As you might remember from an old children’s song, every part of your body is connected to every other part—and not just through bones, but muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other tissues as well.

In particular, the calf muscle, Achilles tendon, and plantar fascia along the bottom of your foot are all closely linked together, almost like a rope and pulley system, and work together to provide the strength and power to walk and move.

If your calf is tight, it yanks on the other components of the system, and this can cause irritation in the plantar fascia—and ultimately heel pain.

So, what’s the best way to stretch your calves? There are a lot of options here, but you really can’t go wrong with a good, standard standing calf stretch.

Start out facing a wall, about an arm’s length away. (You can place your hands on the wall if you want the added support.) Step back with one foot, so that the leg is straight and the whole foot is flat on the floor. (Your front leg will need to bend to achieve this.)

Then, gently push your hips forward toward the wall, so you feel a good stretch in the calf. Hold for about 15 seconds, then switch legs.

Plantar Fascia Stretches

Once again, you have a lot of good options when it comes to plantar fascia stretches—and the good news is that most of them can be easily performed while seated, without any special equipment.

One pretty basic stretch you can try involves sitting cross-legged near the end of the bed, or from your chair. Cross one foot over the other knee. Grab your heel with one hand, and the toes foot with the other.

Next, gently pull your toes back toward you, while providing resistance with your other hand. This stretch does “double duty,” since pulling up on the toes stretches the plantar fascia, while bending your foot up at the ankle stretches the Achilles.

Hold for about 10-15 seconds, then switch feet.

Another option is to grab a towel, fold it lengthwise, and wrap it around your arch. (You’re basically making a DIY exercise band here—neat!) While you pull on the ends of the towel and pull the top of your foot toward you, curl your toes.

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

Another good stretch—and one that can be quite relaxing! —is rolling a round object underneath your arch.

Step one: take a seat in your favorite comfy chair. This should sound good already!

Next, select your round object. Lots of things work well for this exercise, so choose something you already have and that feels comfortable for you. A golf ball, tennis ball, foam roller, or water bottle all make good choices.

Now, slowly roll your chosen object up and down the arch, from the ball of your foot to the heel and back again, for a minute or two. Use a decent amount of pressure—is should almost feel like a massage for your arch, working deep into the tissues.

In addition to feeling good, this exercise helps to stretch and strengthen the plantar fascia.

stretching heel

Toe Gripping Exercises

While you’re seated in your comfy chair, you might also want to try some toe gripping exercises. You’ll be using your toes and feet to grasp, pick up, or curl objects.

How does this have anything to do with heel pain? Basically, using your toes in this fashion will gently stretch and pull on the muscles and ligaments (including the plantar fascia) at the bottom of your feet, which makes heel pain less likely to develop.

An easy variation you might try here are towel curls. (This works best on a relatively hard and slick floor, as opposed to carpet.) Lay a towel out in front of you, with your feet on the end closest to you. Next, by repeatedly curling your toes, try to scrunch up the towel and pull the rest of it toward you.

Once you’ve got it all scrunched as far as you can go, start pushing the towel in the other direction and “unscrunch” it as far as you can.

Another exercise you might want to try is picking up and placing small items. Place a variety of small objects—marbles, LEGO bricks, pencils, etc.—along with a cup or bowl. Pick up the objects one by one with your toes and place them in the cup.

Still Struggling?

Stretching is a big part of many heel pain treatment and rehab plans, as well as prevention strategies. However, stretching alone may not be able to get you the relief you need.

If your heels are hurting, you still need to come down and see Dr. Danciger at his Palm Desert office. We provide a comprehensive range of treatments for heel pain, such as laser therapy and orthotics, and always customize to meet the needs of the individual.

At your appointment, we’ll also be able to provide more specific advice and instruction on stretches to try, shoe styles that can help, and a whole lot more.

To schedule your appointment with Dr. Danciger, please call our office today at (760) 568-0108. You can also use our online contact form to request an appointment.

Dr. Harvey Danciger
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Dr. Harvey Danciger is a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Palm Desert, CA specializing in the foot and ankle
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