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PT Approved Heel Spur Exercises & Stretches

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT March 25, 2021 0 Comments

Incorporating heel spur exercises and stretches into your daily routine is a great way to reduce painful symptoms and occurrence of heel pain by helping to manage inflammation in the bottom of your foot. Persistent heel pain can make that first step out of bed excruciating and linger throughout the day. To avoid this, keep scrolling to learn the exercises you should be doing daily.

Stretching Exercises for a Heel Spur

When it comes to exercises for heel spur pain, find balance between strength and flexibility to restore balance of the foot and ankle while optimizing the body’s ability to heal itself and better manage symptoms.

Don’t forget to use these other home remedies to manage heel and foot pain

Remember to check with a physical therapist for proper diagnosis and guidance before beginning these exercises on your own.

When getting started, starting with stretching exercises should always be the first step for heel pain relief. Do these first thing in the morning! 

1. Ankle Pumps

Try these before taking your first steps out of bed in the morning.

  • Sit on the edge of your bed with the feet flat on the floor
  • Keep the heels on the ground while you lifts the toes up toward the ceiling as high as you can
  • Bring the toes back to the starting position
  • Next, keep the toes on the ground as you lift both heels off the ground
  • Return to the starting position and alternate for 15 repetitions
  • Repeat for 2 to 3 sets total

2. Toe Pumps

This is another great warm up exercise for your morning routine. It focuses more specifically on the toes and foot.

  • Long sit on the floor or in your bed
  • Curl the toes as you bring them closer to the ball of your foot and hold for 2 to 3 seconds
  • Relax the toes and switch to extending the toes by bringing the toes closer to the top of your foot
  • Alternate between these two positions for 15 to 20 repetitions
  • Repeat for 2 to 3 sets

Alternatively, you can wrap a towel or stretch strap under the arch of your foot. Hold the foot in front of you while curling and extending the toes as above to deepen the stretch.

3. Plantar Fascia Stretch

The large ligament on the bottom of the foot, the plantar fascia (which connects to your achilles tendon), is often stiff and painful with a heel spur in the calcaneus. Plantar fasciitis may even be the cause of your heel spur.

  • Grab a stretch strap to get started
  • Wrap the strap around the ball of the foot and hold both ends with your hands
  • Pull the toes gently up toward your shin until a stretch is felt in the bottom of the foot and back of the calf muscle
  • Hold for 30 to 60 seconds for 2 to 3 sets total
  • Attempt to increase the intensity of the stretch with each set

Alternatively, you can wrap the strap around the big toe and pull it up toward the shin. This will increase the intensity of the stretch in the bottom of the foot as long as your toe can tolerate it.

Find More Plantar Fasciitis Stretches

4. Calf Stretch

There are many calf stretch variations for heel pain relief. A tight calf muscle can affect the leg mechanics, aggravate bone spurs and even cause heel pain from plantar fasciitis. A calf stretcher makes loosening these muscles easy; you can get one here.

  • Stand near a chair or wall for balance before getting started
  • Place the foot you want to stretch on the center of the calf stretcher
  • Keep the toes pointing straight forward and the knee straight as you bring the heel closer to the floor and toes up toward the ceiling
  • Hold for 30 to 60 seconds for 2 to 3 sets on each foot
  • To get deeper into the calves, repeat with a slight bend in the knee

If you don’t have a calf stretcher you can try these as well:

  • Sitting in a chair with a stretch strap
  • Completing a runner’s lunge
  • Propping the toes up on the wall or a step

5. Downward Dog Yoga Pose

Yoga is a great option for boosting foot flexibility and your overall health at the same time (via stress management). This stretch loosens up the entire lower body including the hamstrings, calf, and plantar fascia.

  • Start on the floor in a plank position on your hands and toes (make sure the hands are directly under the shoulders)
  • Hinge at the hips as you bring your butt up toward the ceiling 
  • Keep the back, arms and legs straight as your body makes an upside down “V”
  • Hold for 30 to 60 seconds while focusing on taking deep relaxing breaths
  • Repeat for 2 to 3 sets

Consider adding more yoga poses to your routine for further health benefits.

6. Massage

This isn’t necessarily a stretch, but a foot massage can help to loosen plantar fasciitis ligaments that run along the bottom of the foot and connect to your heel. You can use your thumbs, a massage ball, or a massage roller on the floor under your foot. Heating or icing the ball or roller can also offer great foot pain relief.

  • Sit with the massage ball or roller under your foot on the floor OR bring your foot to your opposite knee so that you can reach the bottom of your foot comfortably
  • Slowly move up and down the bottom of the foot between the ball of the foot and heel bone
  • Adjust how much pressure you apply depending on your tolerance and being to stay relaxed
  • Massage for up to 5 minutes

Strengthening Exercises for a Heel Spur

Once you’ve warmed up your achilles tendon and the ligaments in your arch, progress your way through these heel spur exercises to help strengthen your foot; starting with the easiest movements first. 

7. Toe Towel Scrunches

This exercise strengthens the intrinsic muscles in the toes. This encourages a strong and supportive arch with standing and weight bearing activities.

  • Sit in a chair with a medium sized towel flat on the floor and both feet in the center of it
  • Lift the toes and reach them forward as you attempt to bring the front edge of the towel closer to your heels
  • Keep the heels touching the ground throughout the exercise except for when adjusting the towel
  • Repeat for 10 to 15 repetitions for 2 to 3 sets

For other toe strengthening options, you can “write” with your toes or press the toes down into the floor or a soft object.

8. Resisted Plantar Flexion

Grab a medium resistance band for gentle strengthening. This move can be aggravating if overdone, so always focus on keeping good alignment in the foot and ankle to reduce irritation.

  • Sit in a chair with the knee straight OR on the floor or bed with your legs out in front of you.
  • Place the band around the ball of your foot and hold each end securely with your hands
  • Push against the band as you point your toes
  • Hold for 2 to 3 seconds before slowly, and with control, returning to the starting position
  • Continue for 10 to 15 repetitions and repeat for 2 to 3 sets

9. Arch Building Foot Exercise

Being able to coordinate movement in your arch is a great way to boost lower body mechanics. This simple exercise can be harder than it looks if you’re struggling with arch issues as is common with a heel spur.

  • Sit in a chair and place your foot flat on the ground
  • Keep your toes and heel firmly on the floor as you use your intrinsic foot muscles to lift the arch up higher
  • If you’re having trouble coordinating this small move, you can gently push your big toe into the ground to lift the arch
  • Lift and lower the arch for 10 to 15 repetitions for 2 to 3 sets

As you learn to control the height of your arch, this will help you keep better form with standing activities like the next exercise below.

10. Single Leg Stance

When starting any standing exercise, it is important to focus on keeping the foot in an optimal position. This exercise is an excellent way to get started. If it’s still too difficult, simply attempt to stand while keeping good foot and ankle position.

  • Stand near a chair or wall for balance
  • Shift your weight into one foot, keeping good arch height as you lift the opposite foot
  • Focus on keeping good form as you balance on one foot for 30 or more seconds
  • Repeat for 2 to 3 sets
  • To progress this exercise, stand on a foam balance pad

Once you have mastered good balance with optimal foot posture, you can build to more dynamic moves while continually focusing on keeping the feet in a good position. This might include squats, lunges, and more.

Exercises to Avoid with Heel & Foot Pain

Technically, a heel spur won’t go away with conservative treatment (although there are some cases of a spur disappearing or reducing in size). However, the true problem with a heel spur is when it causes tissue aggravation and symptoms. If you have a heel spur you should avoid the most common causes of aggravation including:

  • Spending long periods of time on your feet without a break. Try to take a break at least once an hour
  • High impact activities such as jumping and running
  • Completing any daily activity or exercises with poor lower body control and/or biomechanics. (Not sure? Schedule a round of physical therapy.)
  • Wearing worn out shoes or flip flops for extended periods of time. Instead wear supportive shoes and/or orthotics
  • Starting any exercise without warming up and stretching the foot first

Maximizing Your Heel Pain Exercises

Each person will respond differently to these exercises. Start slowly and stay closely in tune with your symptoms. Typically, you will benefit most from daily exercise for 10 to 30 minutes until your symptoms are improving (usually within a few weeks). Then, you can transition to exercising the foot 3 to 4 times per week for maintenance and long term success. These exercises may be uncomfortable but should not aggravate heel pain symptoms.

There are so many awesome benefits to a regular exercise program. However, if your symptoms are not going away after a few weeks, affecting your quality of life, or getting worse, you should get in touch with your doctor or physical therapist as soon as possible for further medical advice. They may be able recommend anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, a cortisone shot, and more.

Sources:

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/heel-spurs-pain-causes-symptoms-treatments#1

    https://www.liebscher-bracht.com/en/encyclopedia-of-pain/heel-spur/#uebungen

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    Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
    Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

    JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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