I'm a Yoga Instructor, and These 5 Stretches Relieved My Plantar Fasciitis Pain From Running
I dealt with the pain of plantar fasciitis, which is inflammation of the plantar fascia ligament that runs from the toe to the heel, causing pain and stifness, back in the spring of 2019 when the warmer weather inspired me to start running more. The physical therapist I saw recommended some exercises to help heal, but to be honest, they didn't work. The only thing that helped was taking a break from any type of running or jumping in my CrossFit classes.
Fast forward to spring 2020 and when my CrossFit gym had to close because of the pandemic, the warmer weather once again inspired me to run outside — it was essential for my mental health. I knew I had to take it slow in order to prevent my plantar fasciitis from flaring up, but unfortunately after that first week, I was back in pain, and even walking from the bed to the bathroom was excruciating.
As a yoga instructor, I knew thorough and consistent (that was the key!) stretching would help relieve the pain, so I made a point to take a few minutes after every run to do these five poses — and they weren't just for my feet! That's because Erin Adams, DPT, physical therapist and certified manual trigger-point therapist from Fit 2 Perform said, "Stretching is very important in the healing process, and not just stretching the area of pain. Because, in fact, sometimes stretching the bottom of the foot in the initial acute stages could actually exacerbate the pain. You must stretch and open up the whole leg chain: toes, foot, ankle, lower leg, and even the hip."
Adams recommended these stretches be done multiple times a day and held for shorter, more manageable amounts of time to avoid causing more trauma to the area. For example, do three sets of 20-second holds in the beginning stages of injury before progressing to tolerating one- or even two-minute holds weeks or months later when the pain has lessened. To be honest, I only did these once a day after running, and sometimes before bed if I felt especially tight.
Six months later, I've been running five to seven miles, four to five days a week, and I have very minimal pain thanks to these five stretches. If you suffer from this common running injury, don't poo-poo stretching! It worked for me, and I'm so grateful I can still run. If your plantar fasciitis is causing you pain and running isn't possible, Adams suggested meeting with an experienced physical therapist to get help.
Extended Wide Squat
Purpose of this stretch: I like to start with this relaxing stretch because it helps open both my hips at once as well as my lower back. I feel like when my hips or lower back are tight, the tightness just travels down my legs. When I lean my torso forward in this stretch, I like to focus on pressing my heels down to stretch the backs of my ankles and the bottom of my calves. I also love doing this while brushing my teeth before my early morning run.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Bend your knees, and lower your hips down toward the ground. If your heels don't touch the ground, roll up a towel or the back of your mat, and place it under your heels for support.
- Bring your palms together at your heart center, and firmly press your elbows against the inside of your knees. This will help to open your hips even further.
- After five breaths, release the hands to the floor and walk them away from your feet to increase the stretch in the hips and lower back. Press the heels down and hold for another five breaths.
Purpose of this stretch: While this is a great stretch for releasing tension in my hip flexors (especially my psoas muscle), I love pressing the heel of my straight leg back to stretch one arch of my foot at a time. This is a great stretch to get the calves warmed up before Down Dog (which is the next stretch I do).
- Starting in a plank position with the shoulders over the wrists, step your left foot forward to the outside of your left hand.
- Hold for five breaths, actively pressing the right heel back.
- Step the left foot back and repeat with the right knee bent for another five breaths.
Tip-Toe Three-Legged Dog
Purpose of this stretch: I love stretching my feet and calves in Down Dog, Three-Legged Dog, and Tip-Toe Three-Legged Dog because I can focus on one side at a time.
- From a plank position, lift your hips up, coming into the upside down V position known as Downward Dog. Hold here for five breaths, pressing the heels toward the floor to stretch the calves.
- Step the feet together so the big toes are touching. Inhale to raise your left leg into the air, holding Three-Legged Dog for five breaths.
- Then come into Tip-Toe Three-Legged Dog by lifting the right heel as high as you can to stretch the arch of the right foot, as you simultaneously circle the left foot in all directions (this feels so good!).
- Hold here for five breaths, keeping the shoulders parallel to the floor.
- Lower the left foot back to the floor and repeat Three-Legged Dog and Tip-Toe Three-Legged Dog on the right side.
- Lower the right foot and come back to Down Dog for another five breaths, trying to lower the heels even more, feeling a deeper stretch in the calves.
Toe Breaker Pose
Purpose of this stretch: Many of my yoga students are runners, so I always include Toe Breaker pose in the sequencing. It's the ultimate stretch for the arches of the feet, but also stretches the front of the thighs. This stretch is intense!
- Kneel on the floor. Tuck your toes toward your knees. Stay here if this is enough of a stretch, or if you want to go deeper, slowly lower your pelvis to sit on your heels.
- Hold this stretch for five breaths, leaning the torso back if you want to intensify the stretch. Don't forget to breathe!
Purpose of this stretch: While this simple and relaxing backbend opens the chest, neck, shoulders, and abs, I also love this stretch for my shins and the front of my feet.
- Begin seated on your shins.
- Interlace your hands behind you in a double fist, pressing the heels of your palms together. Pull your pressed palms toward the floor, opening through the chest and shoulders.
- Or for an even deeper stretch, rest your hands on the floor behind you, raising your knees off the floor slightly to increase the stretch in the front of your feet and shins.
- Breathe deeply for five breaths.