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My Top 10 exercises for plantar fasciitis

Updated: May 7

Exercises for plantar fasciitis can be divided into stretches and strength training exercises. I’ve already done a detailed article on stretches for plantar fasciitis, so in this article I’m going to focus on strength and control exercises, explain how they help, and demonstrate the ones I find work best during each phase of plantar fasciitis rehab. Remember, if you need more help with an injury, you're welcome to consult one of our physios online via video call.


I share my top 10 exercises for plantar fasciitis

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In this article:


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How do these exercises help plantar fasciitis?


Doing the correct exercises at the correct time in your recovery can help your plantar fasciitis to recover as well as prevent it from coming back.


How exercises help recovery

The plantar fascia is the main structure that helps support your foot arches when you stand, walk, run, and jump. Once injured, your plantar fascia loses some of its strength and endurance, which means that it can no longer cope with the forces placed on it when you do your normal daily activities and sport.


Anatomy of the plantar fascia

The only way to restore its strength and endurance is by following a progressive rehab plan that starts with easy, low-load exercises, but increase in intensity as your plantar fascia regains its strength. All other treatments, including rest and stretching exercises, may help to reduce your pain, but they can’t restore the strength and endurance of your foot.

How exercises can prevent plantar fasciitis from recurring

Our bodies work like kinetic chains, with each muscle and joint having to do some of the work when we move. If one part is weak, it often increases the strain on other parts.


Also, having poor control around your hips and ankles may cause your legs to turn in excessively when you walk, run, or jump. This can also increase the strain on the plantar fascia.


These issues can easily be addressed by adding some general leg strength and control exercises to your rehab plan.


Important exercise guidelines - please read


Remember, the exercises in this article may not be right for your specific case, so please check with your physiotherapist before starting any of them.


Stage of recovery

The exercises have to match your foot’s current stage of recovery. If they are too difficult or the load is too high, they can worsen your plantar fasciitis.


To help you understand what type of exercises may be appropriate for you, I’ve grouped the exercises in this article into three stages: Early rehab, mid-rehab, late rehab. I’ve also provided progression criteria to help you decide when you may be ready to move to the next stage.

The exercises should match your goals

Every rehab plan should be tailored to the individual. For instance, a person who just walks for exercise will require a different level of strength and control than someone who runs or play football.


Your rehab exercises should match your sporting and activity goals.
Your rehab exercises should match your sporting and activity goals.

If you do any sports that include running or jumping activities, you should definitely work up to doing plyometric exercises (hopping and jumping). However, if you don’t do these types of activity and only want to walk, you can usually leave out hopping and jumping exercises, and you don’t have to progress to such very heavy weights with your strength training.

I have made notes in the exercise instructions to help you understand what exercises may be needed to safely get back to various types of sport or activity.

How often should you exercise?

After every exercise session, your body requires a period of time to recover and strengthen your tissue in reaction to the exercise. If you don’t allow it this recovery time, it can actually cause your foot pain to worsen.


Low-load exercises, that don’t work your body hard, usually only require 24 hours recovery time, so they can be done daily. Exercises that produce fatigue and work you harder should be followed by at least 48 hours of recovery time before the next hard session.


What is classed as high load and low load is also relative to your current level of strength and fitness. So, I’ve provided guidance on how much recovery time fit vs. less fit people should leave between exercise sessions in each rehab stage.

Monitor your pain

It is usually OK to start gentle exercise when you have mild to moderate pain that you would rate as around 3 out of 10 on a pain scale (where 0 = no pain and 10 = severe pain).


When you do an exercise, it is usually OK to feel a slight increase in your normal level of discomfort, as long as this settles back down to the previous level within a few hours.


If your foot feels significantly more sore later in the day or the next day, it is usually a sign that your exercise session was a bit too much. Allow your pain to calm down, and then test a lighter session, e.g. do fewer repetitions, reduce the weights, or leave some of the exercises out.

If you would like help with figuring out your rehab plan and what exercises may be best for you, check out the Plantar Fasciitis rehab plan in the Exakt Health app. I've helped to design the app to guide you through the rehab process from the moment your foot becomes painful all the way back to your sport. It uses your feedback after each workout to help you adjust your exercise intensity to the right level.


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Download the Exakt Health app to use the Plantar Fasciitis exercise plan

Plantar fasciitis exercises - Early rehab


When to start these exercises

These are usually good exercises to start with during the early stages of your recovery, when your foot is still quite sensitive and easy to irritate.


1. Toe grabs

What it does

  • It strengthens the foot muscles that are meant to support your plantar fascia.

  • It can reduce your pain for several hours by increasing the circulation in the injured area.

The toe grab exercise is a very good one for the early stage rehab of plantar fasciitis.

Equipment

  • A towel.

  • A chair.

  • A slippery floor, or place a book or magazine under the towel to allow it to slide easily.

Instructions

  1. Sit on a chair, resting your foot on the towel.

  2. Try to gather the towel up by grabbing it with your toes.

  3. Do 10 toe grabs.

  4. Rest 30 seconds or train the other foot.

  5. Do 3 to 6 sets on each foot.

Who can do it and how often

People of all levels of fitness can do this exercise once a day.


2. Calf raises - Double leg

What it does

  • It strengthens your calf muscles and plantar fascia.

  • Improves the control around your ankle.

  • It can also reduce your pain by increasing the circulation in your foot.

Double leg calf rase exercise often help reduces pain when you have plantar fasciitis

Equipment

  • Supportive shoes (like running shoes) if your foot is very sensitive.

  • Soft carpet or mat if you want to do it without shoes.

  • A stable surface to hold on to (e.g. kitchen counter).

Instructions

  1. Steady yourself by holding on to a sturdy object like a kitchen counter.

  2. Slowly raise up on your toes and then slowly lower back down.

  3. Only raise as high as is comfortable.

  4. Start by doing 10 repetitions. If that is OK (remember to check what your foot feels like the next morning), gradually build the reps until you can do 20 in one go.

  5. Rest for 60 seconds.

  6. Do 3 sets in total.

Who can do it and how often

If you’re not very fit or your foot is very sensitive, it may be better to do this exercise every other day. If you’re pretty fit and strong, you may be able to do it daily.

3. Balance - Supported

What it does

  • It helps to restore your plantar fascia’s ability to support your full weight on one leg.

  • It improves your control around your hip, knee, and ankle.

Start by having one had on the wall but aim to balance without support.
Start by having one hand on the wall but aim to progress to balance without support.

Equipment

  • Supportive shoes (like running shoes) if your foot is very sensitive.

  • Soft carpet or mat if you want to do it without shoes.

  • A stable surface to hold on to (e.g. kitchen counter).

Instructions

  1. Place one hand against a stable surface – this is to help reduce the work your foot and ankle have to do. As you get better at balancing, try to reduce the support until you can balance without holding on.

  2. Shift your weight over to one foot and lift the other off the floor.

  3. Try to keep your ankle as still as possible – your foot should not roll in.

  4. Start by holding the position for 10 seconds and check how your foot responds. If it is OK, slowly increase the time you hold the position for until you can balance for 30 seconds without support.

  5. Rest for 30 seconds or balance on the other leg while you wait.

  6. Do 3 times on each leg.

Who can do it and how often

It is usually best to do this exercise every other day, regardless of your fitness.

4. Box squat - Double leg

What it does

  • Strengthens the muscles in your glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

  • Helps train good movement patterns.

Place a cushion on the chair if you find it hard to squat to that level.
Place a cushion on the chair if you find it hard to squat to the level of the seat.

Equipment

  • Supportive shoes (like running shoes) if your foot is very sensitive.

  • Soft carpet or mat if you want to do it without shoes.

  • A dining room chair (or a box) that lets you squat to a 90-degrees knee bend.

Instructions

  1. Place the chair against a wall so that it can’t slide away from you.

  2. Stand in front of it so that the backs of your legs are nearly touching it.

  3. Your feet should be hip distance apart. They can point slightly out to the side if it feels awkward when they face straight forward.

  4. Hold your hands in front of your chest or have your arms out straight in front to help you balance.

  5. Push your bottom out to the back, bend your knees, and slowly lower yourself onto the chair, but don’t sit down fully. Simply touch your bottom onto the chair and then come back up.

  6. Check that your knees move in line with the middle of your feet. Your feet should not roll in or out.

  7. Do 10 repetitions.

  8. Rest 60 seconds.

  9. Do 3 sets.

Who can do it and how often

It is best to do this exercise every other day, regardless of your level of fitness.



Plantar fasciitis exercises – Mid-stage rehab


1. Calf raises - Single leg

When to start these

You can start this exercise once you can easily do 3 sets of 20 repetitions of the Double Leg Calf raise (see above) without it causing you pain during or after the exercise.


What it does

  • It strengthens your calf muscles and plantar fascia.

  • Improves the control around your ankle.

  • It can also reduce your pain by increasing the circulation in your foot

The single leg calf raise exercise helps to strengthen your plantar fascia

Equipment

  • Supportive shoes (like running shoes).

  • A stable surface to hold on to (e.g. kitchen counter).

Instructions

  1. It’s usually best to wear shoes for this exercise.

  2. Hold onto a stable surface.

  3. Shift your weight over to your one leg and lift the other off the floor.

  4. Slowly lift up and down on one leg.

  5. Gradually build up over several sessions to doing 15 repetitions in one go.

  6. Rest 60 seconds between sets.

  7. Do 3 sets on each leg.

Who can do it and how often

This exercise should only be done 2 to 3 times a week regardless of your general fitness. Leave at least 1 full rest day between sessions. If your foot doesn’t feel fully recovered by then, add an extra rest day and only do 2 sessions per week.


2. Balance - Moving head

When to start these

Once you are able to balance on one leg without placing a hand on the wall or table.


What it does

It further develops the control in your foot, ankle, knee, and hip.

Turning your head while doing a balancing exercise requires more control in your ankle.

Equipment

  • Soft mat.

  • A stable surface in case you lose your balance.

Instructions

  1. It is best to do this exercise in bare feet on a soft mat, as it makes it more challenging. However, if this hurts your foot, wear shoes.

  2. Stand close to a sturdy object that you can grab on to in case you lose your balance.

  3. Shift your weight over to one leg and lift the other off the floor.

  4. Pause for a moment and make sure that you have good balance while looking straight ahead.

  5. Then slowly turn your head, first to the right and then to the left. If you feel that you’re losing your balance, focus on a single point until you’ve regained it and then continue the turn.

  6. You don’t have to turn your head very far to start with.

  7. Do this for 30 seconds.

  8. Then rest for a moment to ensure you’re not dizzy.

  9. Switch legs.

  10. Repeat up to 3 times on each leg.

Who can do it and how often

Everyone can usually do this exercise 3 times a week with at least 1 rest day between sessions.

3. Lunge dip

When to start these

Once you can easily do 3 sets of 10 Double Leg Box Squats (see above) you can usually move on to Lunge Dips.


What it does

  • It strengthens your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

  • It further develops your control and movement pattern, as this is a more challenging position.

Lunge dips strengthens your legs in positions similar to running.

Equipment

  • Shoes (like running shoes).

Instructions

  1. Stand with your feet hip distance apart.

  2. Take a step forward, not too large.

  3. Your front foot should be flat on the floor and your back foot supported on your toes. If you struggle to maintain your balance, shorten the stride.

  4. Bend your front knee to 90 degrees and drop your back knee down to the floor, but stop before you touch it. Only go down as low as is comfortable for your knees.

  5. Then slowly lift back up, but stay in the stride-stand position.

  6. Repeat 10 times on one leg, then switch sides and repeat. This counts as one set.

  7. Rest for 60 seconds.

  8. Do 3 sets.

Who can do it and how often

If you’re pretty fit, you can do this exercise 3 times a week with at least 1 rest day between sessions. If you’re not that fit, then it may be best to do this only 2 times per week with at least 2 rest days between sessions.


Download the Exakt Health app to use the Plantar Fasciitis exercise plan

Plantar fasciitis exercises - Later stage rehab


1. Calf raises - With weight

When to start these

Once you can easily do 3 sets of 15 Single Leg Calf Raises (see above) without aggravating your plantar fasciitis pain, you should start doing them with extra weight.


What it does

  • It strengthens your calf muscles and plantar fascia.

  • Improves the control around your ankle.

  • It can also reduce your pain by increasing the circulation in your foot.

Place the weights in a backpack to have your hands free for support.
Place the weights in a backpack to have your hands free for support.

Equipment

  • Supportive shoes (like running shoes).

  • A stable surface to hold on to (e.g. kitchen counter).

  • Weights that you can hold in your hand or place in a backpack on your back.

How much weight to use

It is usually best to start with a very light weight and test how your foot reacts: 1 kg if you’re a smaller person and 2 kg if you have a larger body. The target weight you should aim to build up to will depend on your sport:

  • Walkers: Aim to eventually use a weight equal to 10% of your bodyweight, e.g. if you weigh 70 kg, your target is 3 sets of 15 repetitions with 7 kg.

  • Running and jumping sports: Aim to eventually use a weight equal to 20% of your bodyweight, e.g. if you weigh 70 kg, your target is 3 sets of 15 repetitions with 14 kg.

Instructions

  1. Place the weight in a backpack on your back or hold it in one hand (same side as the leg you’re exercising).

  2. Stand on one leg and lift the other off the floor.

  3. Hold on to a sturdy object for added stability.

  4. Slowly lift up and down on one leg.

  5. Start with a light weight (see suggestion above) and test how your foot reacts to this by doing fewer repetitions in your first session. If it is OK, then gradually increase the repetitions over the next few sessions until you can easily do 15 in one go with good form.

  6. Rest 1 to 2 minutes between sets.

  7. Do 3 sets on each leg.

  8. Only increase the weight in the next session by 1 or 2 kg if you can easily complete 3 times 15 repetitions with your current weight. It is often better to be patient and progress more slowly, as you can flare your plantar fasciitis up if you rush it.

Who can do it and how often

It is usually best to do this exercise only twice a week with at least 2 rest days between sessions. If you’re very fit, you may be able to do it 3 times a week with one rest day between sessions.


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2. Single-leg box squat


When to start these

Once you can easily do 3 sets of 10 of the Lunge Dips (see above), you can usually move on to doing this exercise.


What it does

  • It strengthens your glutes, quads, and hamstrings.

  • It challenges your balance and develops good control around your ankle, knee, and hip.

The single leg box squat strengthens all the muscles in your leg that support the plantar fascia.

Equipment

  • Shoes (like running shoes).

  • A dining room chair (or box) that lets you squat to a 90-degrees knee bend.

  • Cushions, in case the exercise is too hard.

Instructions

  1. Place the chair against a wall so that it can’t slide away from you.

  2. The surface should be at a height that feels challenging to get up from using one leg, but without having to strain. Place a few cushions on the chair to make the surface higher if you find it too hard.

  3. Stand in front of the chair so that the backs of your legs are nearly touching it.

  4. Shift your weight over to one leg and lift the other out in front of you.

  5. Initially, you can place one hand against a wall or table to help you balance.

  6. Push your bottom out to the back and bend your knee to slowly lower yourself onto the chair, but don’t sit down fully. Simply touch your bottom onto the chair and then come back up.

  7. Don’t plonk down; it should be a slow and controlled movement.

  8. Check that your knee moves in line with the middle of your foot. Your foot should not roll in or out.

  9. Build up to doing 10 repetitions on each leg.

  10. Rest 60 seconds.

  11. Do 3 sets.

Who can do it and how often

It is usually best to do this exercise only twice a week regardless of your level of fitness. If you struggle, make the surface higher by placing pillows on it.

3. Double-leg hops

Please note - this is only one type of plyometric exercise. If your sport involves jumping or quick accelerations and changes or direction, you will likely benefit from adding in a variety of jumps.


When to start these

It is usually safe to start these exercises once you can do your Single Leg Calf Raises using weights that are equal to 10% of your bodyweight (see above).


What it does

  • It develops your plantar fascia’s ability to tolerate forceful and explosive movements.

  • It further develops your control needed for fast movements.


You should start with gentle, low hops - not as high as these.
You should start with gentle, low hops - not as high as this one.

Equipment

  • Shoes (like running shoes).

Instructions

  1. Hop gently up and down on both feet.

  2. You’re not looking to hop very high.

  3. Aim to land as softly as you can and don’t slam your heels into the floor.

  4. We usually start our patients with 3 to 5 sets of 20 hops and then increase it over time depending on their sport and personal goals.

  5. It is usually best to rest about 2 minutes between sets.

Who can do it and how often

Hopping and jumping exercises are only necessary if you do sports that involve running or jumping. Walkers, swimmers, and cyclists do not have to do them. You should usually leave at least 2 days for recovery between sessions and limit it to 2 sessions per week.


THE PLANTAR FASCIITIS SELF-TREATMENT SERIES:

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Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 20 years' experience and a Master’s Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn and ResearchGate.


References


  1. Rathleff MS, Mølgaard CM, Fredberg U, Kaalund S, Andersen KB, Jensen TT, Aaskov S, Olesen JL. High-load strength training improves outcome in patients with plantar fasciitis: A randomized controlled trial with 12-month follow-up. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2015 Jun;25(3):e292-300. doi: 10.1111/sms.12313. Epub 2014 Aug 21. PMID: 25145882.

  2. Caratun R, Rutkowski NA, Finestone HM. Stubborn heel pain: Treatment of plantar fasciitis using high-load strength training. Can Fam Physician. 2018 Jan;64(1):44-46. PMID: 29358253; PMCID: PMC5962984.

  3. Cheung RT, Sze LK, Mok NW, Ng GY. Intrinsic foot muscle volume in experienced runners with and without chronic plantar fasciitis. J Sci Med Sport. 2016 Sep;19(9):713-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2015.11.004. Epub 2015 Nov 22. PMID: 26655866

  4. McKeon PO, Hertel J, Bramble D, Davis I. The foot core system: a new paradigm for understanding intrinsic foot muscle function. Br J Sports Med. 2015;49(5):290.

  5. Cotchett, M., Rathleff, M.S., Dilnot, M. et al. Lived experience and attitudes of people with plantar heel pain: a qualitative exploration. J Foot Ankle Res 13, 12 (2020).

  6. Harutaichun P, Boonyong S, Pensri P. Differences in lower-extremity kinematics between the male military personnel with and without plantar fasciitis. Phys Ther Sport. 2021;50:130-137.

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