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Plantar fasciitis is a condition that results in pain, inflammation, and swelling of the protective tissue on the bottom of the heel. It is an especially common injury in athletes who tend to put a lot of pressure on their heels and Achilles tendons through running and jumping. Doctors may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs and suggest shoe inserts to help manage pain, but the mainstay of treatment is a regimen of plantar fasciitis exercises. The goals of exercise are to stretch and loosen ankle tendons, strengthen nearby muscles, and reduce the risk of further injury. Patients can determine which plantar fasciitis exercises are the most appropriate for their specific conditions by consulting with their doctors, physical therapists, or trainers.
The symptoms associated with plantar fasciitis can range from mild and uncomfortable to severe and debilitating. Some people are unable to walk or even put on shoes due to tenderness and swelling. Doctors usually recommend that patients rest their heels, apply ice, and take anti-inflammatory medications for several days before attempting plantar fasciitis exercises. Trying to engage in activity while the heel is still very sore may worsen, rather than relieve, pain and swelling.
Once the heel starts feeling better, an individual can begin light stretching plantar fasciitis exercises. The affected plantar fascia band of tissue on the heel is generally very tight following the injury, and stretching it out can loosen fibers and significantly reduce discomfort. A particularly effective exercise, called the belt stretch, involves sitting with the leg straight ahead and looping a belt around the ball of the foot. With the knee straight, the belt is gently tugged with both hands to stretch the Achilles tendon. When the stretch becomes comfortable, an individual can pull harder while using leg muscles to keep the foot pointed straight upward.
Another popular stretching exercise involves standing up, holding onto a tabletop, and slowly squatting down toward the floor. An individual should squat as far down as comfortably possible, hold the pose for several seconds, and then slowly stand. This exercise is most effective if the heels are kept on the ground at all times. A person may only be able to perform one or two squats at first, but repetitions become easier as the plantar fascia loosens.
As the heel becomes looser and pain subsides, an individual can begin more intensive plantar fasciitis exercises to restrengthen the area. He or she may be able to perform squats with weights or jog short distances after thoroughly stretching and warming up the legs. Strengthening exercises should be performed in moderation with periods of rest in between, and, if possible, under the supervision of a trainer. Pain that persists or recurs despite plantar fasciitis exercises should be reported to a physician so that surgery or other rehabilitation techniques can be considered.
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