Plantar Fasciitis Relief: 10-Minute Standing Practice
Ah, summer time! No more shoes, time bicycling, walking on the beach and boardwalk . . . And then, OUCH! Foot pain. With the advent of summer complaints about foot pain increase. Why? A simple reason—our shoes.
As I wrote in my last post, plantar fasciitis is common orthopedic complaint which affects one-in-ten adults between the ages of 40 to 60. Most often the cause is excessive strain on the fascia, or connective tissue, that runs from the heel to the heads of the long bones of the feet, known as the metatarsals. As we transition from more supportive winter shoes to walking barefoot or in shoes with minimal support (such as in flip-flops) there is an increase in stress, irritation and inflammation to this tissue which, if left unchecked, can lead to micro-tearing.
Besides choosing more structured footwear with arch support, you should do exercises that target the fascia. Since typically plantar fasciitis and tight calves go hand-in-hand, stretching the calves and hamstrings decreases foot pain. This is where yoga can make a huge difference. With proper alignment, many standing yoga poses can work to bring flexibility back to the calves, hamstrings and soles of the feet.
The following is a short, 10-minute practice you can do several times a week if you have plantar fasciitis:
Standing poses like this one are a great way to strengthen your legs and feet, stretch the fascia, and relax your body.
Begin by standing upright with your feet parallel and your feet a few inches apart. Lift the balls of your feet gently, then lower them back down. Rock forward and back a few times, then side to side, finally coming to a stillness with your weight balanced across both feet.
To ensure that your weight is evenly distributed across the bottoms of the feet, focus on rooting down through the “four corners” of each foot: first, the mound of the big toe, then the outer edge of the heel, followed by the inner edge of the heel, and finally the mound of the little toe. You can think of these corners as being like the tires on your car. For safety and the greatest stability, you want all four “tires,” or corners, of your feet to rest equally on the ground. Gently lift the inner arches without scrunching up the toes. Stay here for 3-6 breaths.
This next pose is great for building flexibility and strength in the fascia and toes.
From Mountain, slowly lift your right heel off the ground on an inhale and roll onto the ball of your foot. As you exhale, gently lower the foot back to the ground. Repeat the motion with the left foot. Continue alternating sides in a fluid prancing motion for 3-6 breaths. For safety, if you feel off balance, hold onto a table or back of a chair.
Runner’s stretch lengthens the Achilles tendon and calf muscles. This is best done facing a wall or inward opening door.
Stand about a foot from a wall, placing your hands at about waist height on the wall. Step your right foot 2-3 feet behind you, aiming the toes of both feet towards the wall. Lean forward on a diagonal, keeping your spine long and the back heel firmly pressed into the floor. Bend your elbows until you feel a stretch in the right calf muscles. Stay here for several breaths.
Next, bend your right knee while keeping your right heel down (or hovering close to the floor). The heel should be directly in line with the ball of your right foot. Continue to root down with the ball of the right foot as you reaching back through the heel. Again, hold here for several breaths before slowly releasing and stepping the right foot forward. Pause, taking a few deep breaths, before repeating on the left.
Fascia Stretch from Tabletop
This exercise provides a nice opening stretch to the entire foot to release pressure in the plantar fascia. It can be intense, so move slowly and back off if it is too intense. Also, if you have bunions, you may want to skip this pose as your toes may lack the necessary range of motion.
Come to your hands and knees on the floor to find a tabletop position. Make sure hands are beneath the shoulders and knees beneath the hips. Curl the toes under so the heels point up. Pause here for a few breaths and notice how the bottoms of your feet feel. This may be enough, but if you’d like to deepen the stretch, move onto the next step.
To deepen the stretch in the fascia, slowly sink your hips back towards your heels until you feel a deeper stretch along the soles of the feet. If you don’t feel a stretch, you can bring your torso upright to sit on your heels, keeping the toes curled under. Make sure not to stretch the feet so much that you feel pain, but enough to get the sensation of a deep stretch.
Hold here for several breaths, then come back to tabletop. As a counter stretch, you may choose to flatten the tops of the feet so the toenails are pressing down. Again, slowly shift your weight back and come back to sit on the heels for several breaths. You can repeat both stretches once or twice more if you like.
A nice alterative to this foot massage is to roll a chilled or frozen plastic water bottle back and forth on the bottoms of your feet from either a standing or seated position.
To complete your practice, come to seated on the floor. Bend your right knee in towards your groin, extending the left leg out at an angle. Use both of your thumbs to press along the inner arch of the right foot 30-45 seconds.
Finally, wrap your left hand around the top of your foot, palm on the sole of the foot and fingers wrapped around front of the toes. Hold your heel with your left hand, fingers to the outer edge of your heel. Begin to press the toes and heel in opposite directions, as if you were kneading bread dough for 1-2 minutes. Release the right foot and take a couple of breaths before repeating the massage on the other foot.
Summer and plantar fasciitis don’t have to go hand-in-hand. With self-care and attention to summer footwear, you can enjoy all the season has to offer. Be well!