Be gentle with your stretches. You can make your pain worse if you overstretch your plantar fascia.
What the science says about stretching for plantar fasciitis
Research doesn’t precisely tell us what stretching protocols are best for plantar fasciitis. However, there is limited evidence that stretches may help for plantar fasciitis in the short term (2-4 months).
There is a suggestion that intermittent stretching (several sets of 20 to 30-second stretches) may work better than sustained stretches (holds of 30 seconds +) when doing calf and Achilles stretches for plantar fasciitis.
Stretches that specifically target the plantar fascia have been found to be more effective than Achilles stretching for plantar fasciitis. However, this research is limited and of poor quality.
There is, however, no consensus in the literature about whether stretches are better than other conservative methods, such as strengthening exercises or insoles.
Research has (so far) failed to identify an "ideal" stretching program that works for everyone.
What areas should you stretch for plantar fasciitis and why?
In general, stretches for plantar fasciitis target 3 main areas:
The plantar fascia itself
The calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) and Achilles
The “posterior chain” muscles of the lower limb (glutes, hamstrings, and calves)
The posterior chain is a thick interconnected layer of fascia (connective tissue), muscles, and tendons in the back of your legs that runs between your lower back and feet. The muscles relevant to plantar fasciitis include your glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
Why should you stretch these areas?
Although the research is limited and more studies are necessary, a few commonly accepted theories exist behind stretching certain areas to help with plantar fasciitis.
Stretches that target the plantar fascia
Theory: When your foot is stiff, there is less “give” in your plantar fascia when you take weight on it. As a result, the plantar fascia is less adaptable to load and more vulnerable to injury. So, specific stretching of your plantar fascia may keep your foot and plantar fascia more supple and reduce the strain on it. Research has shown plantar fascia-specific stretches to be useful as part of plantar fasciitis treatment.
Calf and Achilles stretches
Theory: Tight calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) and Achilles tendons may cause your feet to pronate (turn in) excessively. This change in foot posture can lead to your plantar fascia taking on more load than it can bear and becoming injured. Therefore, a stretching program that incorporates your calf muscles and Achilles tendon may help to keep your feet optimally positioned and reduces the load on your plantar fascia.
“Posterior chain” stretches
Theory: The benefits of posterior chain stretching for plantar fasciitis are two-fold. First, less flexibility in your posterior chain muscles may change how you move, increasing the strain on your plantar fascia. For instance, some research suggests that tight hamstrings can cause your forefoot (the front part of the sole of your foot) to stay in contact with the ground for longer periods when you walk, which can lead to plantar fascia strain. Second, tightness in one area of your posterior chain can cause tightness in another part, e.g., your plantar fascia. For example, tight glute muscles may lead to tightness in your plantar fascia because the same fascial layer connects them. For these reasons, stretching your “posterior chain” muscles may take the load off your plantar fascia and help it stay healthy and injury-free.
Kim Van Deventer is a freelance healthcare writer and digital content strategist for healthcare businesses and medical content agencies. She has a BSc in Physiotherapy and worked as a physiotherapist for more than 14 years, specializing in sports injury rehabilitation, chronic pain management, and women's health. Kim combines her clinical experience and digital marketing skills to create relevant and helpful content that improves patients' lives.