What exercises can help relieve pain under the foot?

Photo of a man doing strengthening exercises
PantherMedia / Milkos

Stretching and strengthening exercises are part of the standard treatment for plantar fasciitis – and one of the things you can do yourself. As the following examples show, you can stretch and strengthen the band of thick connective tissue in the sole of your foot (the plantar fascia) without having to use any special equipment.

If you have an inflamed plantar fascia (a condition known as plantar fasciitis), it’s important to avoid heavy strain on the affected foot for the time being. This means avoiding things like running or hiking. But you don't need to keep the foot still.

When the pain starts to wear off, stretching and strengthening exercises can provide extra relief. The exercises themselves can be a little painful. You can consult a physiotherapist or doctor to find out which exercises are suitable for you.

If you have pain under your foot, you can try the exercises below. If you have problems with both your feet, you will need to do one foot and then the other in some cases.

Exercises to stretch the plantar fascia

Exercise 1

  • Sit on a chair and place the painful foot on the thigh of your other leg, outer ankle bone facing down.
  • Pull the toes of the painful foot toward your shin with your hand until you feel a stretch. Hold for roughly 10 seconds while
  • slowly massaging up and down the sole of your foot with the other hand, applying slight pressure as you do so. You should feel the tissue tense.
  • Do two sets during the day, repeating the stretch 10 times for each set.

Illustration: Stretching exercise #1

Stretching exercise #1

Exercise 2

  • Stand facing a wall at a slight distance from it.
  • Raise the toes of your painful foot slightly and press them against the wall while your heel remains on the floor. Make sure your heel and toes are in a straight line and your foot doesn't turn to the side.
  • To steady yourself, lean your hand against the wall.
  • To intensify the stretch, you can bend forward slightly, shifting your body weight toward the wall.
  • Hold the stretch for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times for one set.
  • Do two sets during the day.

Illustration: Stretching exercise #2

Stretching exercise #2

Exercise 3

  • Get down on all fours with your toes bent back and pressed against the floor, and the back of your heels pointing upward. Make sure your knees, feet and heels are in a straight line.
  • Slide your bottom backward toward your heels until you can feel a stretch. Hold for around one minute and repeat 3 times for each set.
  • If the exercise is too easy, slide your bottom even further back toward your heels so that you are sitting on them, and straighten your upper body into a sitting position.
  • Do two sets during the day.

Illustration: Stretching exercise #3

Stretching exercise #3

Exercises to stretch and strengthen your feet and legs

Because various different muscles, tendons and bones affect your plantar fascia, the following types of exercise are good for strengthening it as they involve several foot and leg muscles.

Exercise 1

This exercise strengthens the calf muscles and Achilles tendon as well as the plantar fascia.

  • Stand barefoot on the lowest step of a flight of stairs, facing the stairs. Move your heels backward a little until they are hanging over the edge of the step. To intensify the effect, you can place a rolled-up towel under your toes to raise them off the ground slightly. A thin hand towel or dish towel works well here.
  • Go up onto your toes, hold for 2 seconds and then slowly lower your heels, taking 3 seconds to do so, until you can feel a stretch. Hold the stretch for 2 seconds and then gradually bring your feet back to the starting position (tiptoes), again taking 3 seconds to do so. Make sure you use the full range of movement.
  • Repeat the up and down motion 12 times for one set and repeat the set 3 times, one after another.
  • This exercise should be done every two days.

It is more effective if you stretch one foot and then the other.

Illustration: Strengthening exercise #1

Strengthening exercise #1

Exercise 2

  • Sit on a chair with your knees bent at right angles and slightly apart. Your feet and knees shouldn’t touch each other.
  • Cross your arms in front of your chest and slightly lean your upper body forward.
  • Now slowly stand up and sit down again without using your arms for support. Your knees shouldn't touch each other while doing this.

Repeat the exercise for one minute for each set. Take a short rest and then do three more sets with a rest in between each one. Do this exercise every two days. It is best to place the chair against a wall to make sure that it stays in place.

Illustration: Strengthening exercise #2

Strengthening exercise #2

You can vary this exercise by doing squats, as follows:

  • Stand up straight with your legs roughly hip-width apart.
  • Stretch your arms out in front of you and gradually bend your knees, keeping your bottom out as far as possible. When bent, your knees should stick out slightly over your toes.
  • Lower your body as far as you can, keeping the bottom of your heels on the floor.

Repeat the exercise for one minute for each set. Take a short rest and then do three more sets with a rest in between each one. Do this exercise every two days.

By the way, going up and down the stairs strengthens your feet and leg muscles too!

What can help you stick with it?

Even though regular stretching and strengthening exercises for your plantar fascia don’t take up much time, you might forget to do them or need some extra motivation. It’s often easier if you make the exercises part of your daily routine, say every morning when you get up or before you have lunch or dinner. Sticky notes or little treats can also help you persevere.

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IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Created on October 20, 2021
Next planned update: 2024

Authors/Publishers:

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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