Fast Fixes for Aching Feet: Yoga for Plantar Fasciitis
I remember the morning I started to get out of bed and was in excruciating pain as soon as I tried to stand. When the pain persisted over several weeks, I headed to my local podiatrist who diagnosed me with plantar fasciitis.
Plantar fasciitis is a painful inflammation or micro-tearing of the soft tissue along the arch of the foot. This tissue, or plantar fascia, is a thick, web-like ligament that connects your heel to the front of your foot. It acts as a shock absorber and supports the arch of your foot, helping you walk.
Causes of Plantar Fasciitis
One of the most common orthopedic complaints, plantar fasciitis affects one-in-ten adults between the ages of 40 and 60. The pain typically starts in front of the heel on the big toe side of the foot, but without treatment, eventually spreads into the arch. It can be caused by a number of things:
- over stretching and overuse,
- structural factors, such as very high arches, flat feet, tight calves and hamstrings,
- being overweight or obese,
- standing or running on hard surfaces for extended periods of time,
- wearing shoes with soft soles and poor arch support
Overwhelmingly, poor fitting or worn footwear is the culprit. Simply changing your shoes to ones that are more supportive can go a long way to easing your pain. Your doctor may also prescribe inserts for your shoes, night splints and/or exercises, among other treatments.
Yoga for Foot Pain Relief
In addition to your doctor’s recommendations, try sleeping with the bedclothes loose around your feet and ankles. This prevents the feet from pointing a down, a position that shortens the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon. Additionally, keep a water bottle in your freezer and use it to roll the soles of your feet several times a day. The cold will reduce inflammation and help ease discomfort.
Since plantar fasciitis pain is most debilitating first thing in the morning, here are some exercises you can do in bed before your feet ever hit the floor.
Foot and Ankle Warm Ups
To warm up your feet and bring more blood flow to them, start with these simple movements done while lying in bed.
Start by wiggling your toes. Next, to engage your ankles as well as your toes, flex and point your feet for several breaths, spreading the toes as wide as you’re able. To loosen the ankles further, make slow circles with your ankles in each direction.
Tightness in the hamstrings and calves contributes to plantar fasciitis pain. Stretching along the whole fascial chain, from the backs of the thighs all the way down into the heels, can bring relief.
Still lying on your back, bend both knees and place your feet flat on the bed a few inches away from your buttocks. Bring your right knee into your chest, interlacing your hands around the back of the thigh. On an inhale, straighten your knee to stretch the your foot towards the ceiling. Press the sole of your foot to the sky, flexing your foot. Notice the sensations in the back of your calf and thigh. Release on an exhale, bending the knee back towards the chest. Repeat 3-4 more times.
Next, with your right leg still extended to the ceiling, point and flex your foot 2-3 times. Move slowly, especially if there is tension in the back of the calf and thigh.
Then, using your hands as resistance, press the thigh into your interlaced hands as you continue to draw the toes towards your face. Hold this stretch for 2-3 breaths, release and repeat once or twice more.
Finish by bending the knee back into your chest and placing your ankle on your left thigh. Take a breath before moving onto the next exercise.
Toe Pull from Supine Pigeon
This exercise works to stretch the plantar fascia, the longest part of which connects to the big toe. You can practice it seated in a chair as well, with one ankle cross over the opposite knee.
With the right ankle crossed over your left knee, flex your right foot slightly so the sole of the foot is pointing away from you. Rest the right hand on your right thigh for stability. Then with your left hand, grasp the toes of the right foot. As you breath, draw the toes, especially the big toe, towards your heel. Alternate between pulling the toe towards you and then pressing it away towards your knee, manually pointing and flexing your foot 3-4 times. Pay particular attention to the stretch in the inner arch and sole of the foot.
Release and repeat both the hamstring stretch and big toe pull on the left.
This stretch helps to release tension in the calf and Achilles tendon which often accompany plantar fasciitis. You’ll need a yoga strap, towel or a bathrobe tie for this exercise.
Sitting up in your bed with the legs extended in front of you, bring a yoga strap around the ball of your right foot. Holding one end of the strap in each hand, draw your toes towards you by gently pulling on the strap until you feel a stretch in the calf muscle. Hold for about 30-45 seconds. Then release, repeating twice more. Remove the strap and pause to notice how your calf feels before repeating on the left.
A wonderful way to end your morning routine, consider also doing this at night before bed to sooth tired, aching feet.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, rest your right ankle on your right thigh. Use both thumbs to press along the sole of your foot, moving from the heel to the toes and back. Work in a line toward the big toe, paying particular attention to the inner arch. Repeat for 30 seconds to a minute, moving up and down the foot in a line from the heel to each toe.
Next, place both thumbs in the middle of the foot. Slide both thumbs outward towards the edges of your foot, widening the sole. Repeat 3-4 times, moving your thumbs up toward your toes and then down towards your heel.
Finally, holding the front of your foot with your right hand, use the knuckles of your left hand to briskly rub all over the right sole for 30 seconds to one minute. Pay particular attention to the base of the toes, instep and heel. Repeat with the opposite foot.
When finished, slowly come to standing. Pause and notice how your feet feel. You may still have some discomfort, but it should be mild enough for you to now be able to walk.
Setting aside time to do a few stretches before getting out of bed in the morning can ease the pain of plantar fasciitis. Check out this blog for tips on more ways to relieve plantar fasciitis pain.
published 7/6/20; updated 5/24/23