Foot and heel pain is a common complaint found in a physiotherapy centre and is usually felt just below (plantar fasciitis) or behind (achilles tendonitis) the heel. This type of pain usually occurs due to repetitive stress and loading, such as wearing completely flat shoes with no support, or high heels.
Plantar fasciitis is the over-stretching of ligamentous web that makes up the arch of the foot. This places increased stress on its attachment to the heel bone (calcaneus). Pain is typically felt at that particular point or at the mid foot level. Although not dangerous, continuous overloading of the tissues can lead to this condition becoming chronic and the risk of developing a heel spur increases (a heel spur being a bony outgrowth from the calcaneus where the plantar fascia has been continuously pulling).
Achilles tendonitis is inflammation of the achilles tendon, which is associated with microscopic tears within the fibres and progressive degeneration (later becoming a more chronic tendonosis). Without proper care, progression leads to gradual thickening and weakness of the tendon and a chronic condition develops.
In order to combat these conditions however, here are 3 simple exercises that will help:
1. Standing Calf Stretch
To perform this exercise stand with one leg in front of the other. The back leg will be the one undergoing the stretch. Keeping both heels glued to the floor, lean your body weight forward through the front leg until you feel the stretch in your calf and achilles tendon. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Repeat with the other leg. Perform 5 repetitions, 3 times a day.
2. Towel Pickup
To perform this exercise you will need a small towel and to be sitting comfortably. Place the towel flat on the floor, then place your foot in the centre of the towel. The object, using only your foot and toes, to pickup the towel from the floor and raise it into the air. This exercise activates the intrinsic muscles of the foot, strengthening the region and protecting it from future injury.
3. Underfoot roll
This exercise aims to stretch the tightened plantar fascia through the use of underfoot pressure along the fascial fibres. Seated comfortably, place a tennis ball or soft drinks can under the arch of the foot. Apply pressure through the foot and roll along the object being used in order to stretch the plantar fascia.