Plantar Fasciitis (PF) can be a perplexing foot condition that's the most frequent cause of chronic heel pain. It's most often seen in people who've experienced rapid weight gain, people who exercise by walking or running, people who have to stand or walk a lot for their job, and people who wear shoes that aren't supportive. When there's too much weight or impact exerted on the foot, the ligament that attaches to the heel bone and runs up to the ball of the foot, called the plantar fascia, will experience small tears that lead to inflammation. The pain caused by that inflammation start as a dull ache but will gradually begin to feel more acute, as though you're walking on broken glass.
A new treatment approach
The standard protocol recommended by foot doctors for treating PF includes the use of supportive shoes with custom orthotic inserts as needed, modifying activity, and performing foot stretches that target the plantar fascia. However, a study has shown that strength training may lead to faster relief of PF pain than stretching.
Stretching vs. strength training
The study compared two groups of people with PF; one group followed a treatment plan of doing foot stretches and wearing shoe inserts, and the second group followed a plan that involved performing strength training and wearing shoe inserts. The strength training involved unilateral heel raises with a towel placed under the toes to allow for a maximum flex at the top of the heel raise. The patients performed the exercise slowly, gradually adding weight and lowering reps over the course of three months.
After three months, the researchers found that the strength-training group scored 29 points lower on the Foot Function Index than the stretch group. The Foot Function Index is a measure of foot pain, disability and activity limitation in patients. The lower the score the better. However, there were no differences found between the two groups after six and 12 months.
Faster relief of symptoms through strength training
While the results were the same from stretching and strength training over time, it appears that strength training with weighted heel raises provides a swifter reduction in pain and improvement in function, which most patients will appreciate.
If you want to try heel raise exercises to improve your PF, make sure to perform the exercise very slowly to avoid aggravating the condition. In the study, the patients took three seconds to raise up off their heels, paused at the top for two seconds, and then took three seconds to lower back down. You can hold weights in your hands or wear a backpack with heavy books inside. Contact a business, such as the Hartford Podiatry Group, for more information.