Part One: Stretching for plantar fasciitis

Stretching is a great way to reduce the strain and pain caused by plantar fasciitis. However, it is important to know what to stretch and how to properly perform these exercises.

What are you stretching?

The system of the calf muscle and Achilles tendon heel bone or calcaneus, then plantar fascia is all connected. But this entire network the plantar fascia really doesn't stretch much, the heel bone and Achilles do not stretch and that leaves the calf muscle including gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. These are the primary target of our stretching exercises.

Anatomy – Stretching for plantar fasciitisThe plantar fascia spans from the heel to the forefoot and extends into the base of the toes. The calf muscle, including the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, combine and attach at the heel to form the Achilles tendon. The soleus muscle attaches to the tibia and fibula below the knee and the gastrocnemius muscle extends and attaches above-the-knee.

It is important to think of the leg and foot including the gastrocnemius and soleus muscle as one functional unit. Or think of these muscles as one cable extending from above-the-knee along the back of the calf to the heel bone and then extending out to the forefoot. Of this entire complex, the most stretchable portion includes the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.

The calf muscles are the most flexible components of this functional unit. As a result, this portion of this functional unit is where stretching is most important.


Why stretch?Leg muscles, stretching for plantar fasciitis

Walking, running and even standing in one place creates tension from the calf muscles that are attached and inserted into the heel bone. The plantar fascia extends from the heel bone to the forefoot and effectively completes this triangle. Therefore, there is always tension on the plantar fascia with any weight bearing activity and effectively it is the ligament of the bottom of the arch. When you're walking, the minute the heel comes up off the ground the plantar fascia becomes engaged and further tightens up as the great toe flexes upward during propulsion. As this action occurs in the plantar fascia, it tightens up and tends to help stabilize the arch. In some cases the arch height actually goes up. Therefore, the plantar fasciitis is clearly dynamic throughout the gait cycle and its functions very. But during many of these functions it has significant tension and traction at its origin site, the calcaneus. Individuals with tight calf muscles have more tension pulling on the heel bone and this effectively translates to tension and the fascia also.
For example, think of a woman who has worn high heel shoes her whole life. After period of several years, without stretching the calf muscle will tighten up and adapt to this high heel position. Therefore this individual has very tight calf muscles. So, when this particular individual goes from high-heeled shoes that they were most the time to a flat shoe or athletic shoe the calf muscle becomes quite a bit tighter. This additional tension will put more traction on the heel bone and effectively to the next connection which is the plantar fascia. Stretching may help compensate for this along with a night splint.

See more about plantar fasciitis and treatments.


Our next post (Part Two: Stretching for plantar fasciitis) will feature the different kinds of stretching techniques that can be used for plantar fasciitis.

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