Plantar fasciitis is a common injury for athletes. The good news is that there are many ways to treat it at home, without expensive trips to the doctor or specialist.
This article outlines five of the most effective treatments for plantar fasciitis based on current research. It also includes useful links to help get you started and tips to enhance your recovery.
You can also find a rehab plan for plantar fasciitis in the Exakt Health app – it’s free to download.
What is the best plantar fasciitis treatment?
There is so much information about plantar fasciitis, and it can be tough to sift through it all. Also, what works for one person might not work for everyone. So, it’s essential to find what works best for you.
But where do you start?
Recently, a group of researchers from the UK, Denmark, and Australia conducted a thorough review of all the available research regarding treatment for plantar fasciitis. In addition, they interviewed 14 expert clinicians and surveyed 40 people suffering from plantar fasciitis.
After combining their findings, they compiled a list of the five most effective treatments for plantar fasciitis. These include:
- Load management
- Supportive shoes
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
1. Load management
Load management is the most crucial aspect to get right if you want to recover from plantar fasciitis.
What does load management mean?
Load management means ensuring that the amount of stress or “load” you’re putting on your plantar fascia is within its limits.
Why is load management important in plantar fasciitis treatment?
Your plantar fascia’s primary role is to stop your foot’s arch from flattening when placing weight on it. So, when you’re standing, walking, or running, you’re loading your plantar fascia.
Overloading the plantar fascia injures the tissue. If you overload it repetitively it can cause plantar fasciitis to develop. And this reduces its strength and endurance. Once injured, you plantar fascia struggles to cope with the loads place on it by your normal daily activities.
The good news is that your plantar fascia can get better if you correctly manage its loading.
Your injury will settle, and the tissue will heal if you temporarily adjust your activity and reduce the loads you place through your feet.
Your plantar fascia can get better
One of the best ways to do this is through relative rest.
Relative rest is best
Relative rest means remaining as active as possible but reducing the activities that aggravate your injury. Just until your foot has recovered, and you’ve built some strength.
For example, if you’re a runner, you might reduce the volume or distance you’re running. Or, if you stand for work, you could alternate between sitting and standing during the day.
Relative rest aims to help you maintain as much of your current strength as possible without straining your injured plantar fascia tissue.
Complete rest is usually not needed
Complete rest is not advised because it isn’t necessary or beneficial for your recovery. When you rest your foot entirely and don’t use it for an extended period, it loses strength and can strain more easily. Also, it’s impractical because it’s difficult to incorporate into most people’s lives.
Don't stop completely
Focus on total daily load
Sometimes, it’s not a single activity causing the problem. Instead, it’s the total time spent on your feet. For instance, you may do several short walks around town, stand in queues, or walk your dog all in one day. It all adds up.
You may not always be able to pinpoint a specific activity causing your pain. Or your foot may hurt more in the evenings. In these instances, spreading your activities throughout the week may help. So the load doesn’t accumulate all in one day.
Activities that usually aggravate plantar fasciitis:
- Standing for long periods
- Walking long distances
Activities that maintain fitness and usually don’t aggravate plantar fasciitis:
- Walking shorter distances on soft ground
- Pool running
How do you decide what activities you can do?
Monitor how your foot responds to different activities over 24 hours to assess the pain response.
Sometimes you can feel comfortable while doing an activity. But later that day, your foot hurts, or your pain flares up the following day.
Usually, you can be confident an activity is safe to do if:
- You feel only slight discomfort during the action; and
- Pain does not increase later that day or the following day.
You should consider reducing or avoiding an activity if:
- You feel a lot of discomfort while you’re doing it; or
- It increases your pain, and this lasts for more than 24 hours.
You should consider reducing or avoiding an activity if:
2. Supportive shoes
When you have plantar fasciitis, your foot needs extra support to help it heal.
Supportive shoes may help reduce the impact on your injured plantar fascia and improve your foot position. This can help relieve your pain and speed up healing.
Test different shoes
There are no specific shoes guaranteed to prevent or treat plantar fasciitis. Often, it’s a matter of trying different shoes and seeing what works best for you. There are a few features that a shoe for plantar fasciitis should have:
- Good arch support to help reduce the strain on your plantar fascia
- Heel support to stop your foot from rolling inwards (overpronation)
- A cushioned sole to help reduce the impact on your feet when you walk or run
Although supportive shoes can help with plantar fasciitis, they are not a cure. They should be combined with other treatments to have the best effect.
Taping is a short-term treatment often used to help treat plantar fasciitis. There are different types of taping methods.
Plantar fasciitis taping is usually done with rigid or semi-rigid tape. This type of tape usually aims to support the arch of your foot and prevent your foot from rolling inwards (overpronation).
Although many people report good results with it, there isn’t enough evidence to use taping as a standalone treatment. Instead, it’s recommended as part of a plantar fasciitis rehab plan.
If taping helps relieve your pain, it may indicate that arch support orthotics could help you in the long term.
The most common orthotics or inserts used to help with plantar fasciitis are arch support orthotics and gel heel cups.
Not everyone finds these products useful, but they can bring instant relief for some. This is because no one’s injury is ever 100% the same. And everyone’s body is different.
Arch support orthotics
Arch support orthotics aim to improve the position of your foot and relieve the strain on your plantar fascia. They act as a ‘crutch’ for your plantar fascia, which can help it rest and recover.
There are different types of arch support orthotics available. Some can be bought over the counter (prefabricated), while others are custom-made and need specialist fitting.
There is still some debate on which of these is more effective.
Although prefabricated insoles are less expensive than custom-made ones, they may not give you the best fit. Often, they’re relatively high-arched and less comfortable for people with flatter feet or lower arches.
We usually advise patients to try the prefabricated insoles first as they are more accessible and less expensive. Then, only if they’re clearly not a good fit, try custom insoles.
Gel heel cups
A fat pad under your heel acts as a natural shock absorber. Studies show that people with plantar fasciitis tend to have thinner heel fat pads in their injured feet.
Some of the pain you’re feeling may come from the lack of cushioning in your heel.
So, while gel heel cups do not support your foot arch, they can cushion your heel, redistributing your weight away from the painful area. And this may help provide some pain relief.
5. Exercises for plantar fasciitis
When treating plantar fasciitis, it’s crucial to do exercises that restore the strength and flexibility in your foot and the structures supporting it. A strong and well-supported plantar fascia can bear more load and will be more resilient in the future.
Stretches for plantar fasciitis
Doing gentle stretches for the plantar fascia and the muscles that make up your posterior chain can often bring immediate pain relief. However, this is a short-term solution and not a cure. A bit like a plaster – it relieves the symptoms but doesn’t address the cause of the injury.
To fully recover from plantar fasciitis and prevent it from coming back, you should also strengthen the muscles that control your leg and support your foot’s arch.
Strengthening exercises for plantar fasciitis
When treating plantar fasciitis, strengthening exercises are often overlooked. But they’re essential for a full recovery because stronger muscles can take on more of the load and help reduce the strain on your plantar fascia. You also have to rebuild the strength of the plantar fascia itself.
The most important areas to focus on strengthening are your:
- Foot and ankle muscles
- Hip and leg muscles
- Plantar fascia
Foot and ankle strengthening exercises for plantar fasciitis
The small intrinsic muscles in your foot and the anterior and posterior tibialis muscles in your lower leg are vital for maintaining the arch in your foot. These muscles work together to stabilize your foot, preventing flattening of the arch, and helping control excessive pronation (rolling in of your foot).
Improved foot position and strength help keep your plantar fascia healthy and safe from injury.
The Exakt Health app has this covered. It includes exercises for your plantar fascia and all the lower leg muscles that could be contributing to your problem.
Hip and leg strengthening exercises for plantar fasciitis
Weak hip and thigh muscles can cause your legs to turn in excessively when you walk or run. As a result, the alignment of your hips, knees, and ankles changes. Increasing the load on your plantar fascia.
Strengthening your hip and leg muscles helps keep your lower body better aligned over your foot, which takes the strain off your plantar fascia.
Therefore, the app’s plantar fasciitis program includes stretches and exercises that target the plantar fascia as well as other body areas that may seem further away from your foot.
Plantar fascia strengthening exercises for plantar fasciitis
As mentioned earlier, once injured, the plantar fascia also loses some of its strength. You can rebuild this with a carefully graded loading program.
Usually, the best way to strengthen your plantar fascia is with heel raise exercises. However, heel raises are not the best exercises to start with or when your foot is still very painful.
They should only be introduced once you can do them with minimal discomfort. The app guides you through the process step by step.
Plantar fasciitis is a complex condition to treat, and there is no single cure for it. In addition, what works for one person may not work for another. So, you may need to try a few different combinations of these treatments at home until you find what works for you.
Finally, remember that this condition takes time to heal. So, be patient and consistent with your exercises and treatments.
It may take a few months to see significant improvements. But if you stick with it, chances are, you will get better.