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How Does Massage Help Plantar Fasciitis Symptoms?

by Patty Weasler, RN August 23, 2019 0 Comments

massaging plantar fascia

Whether you’re looking for professional help or ready to try some do-it-yourself techniques, plantar fasciitis massage is a great way to manage foot pain, swelling, and stiffness. The key is finding the best techniques and tools for a comprehensive massage that can target the arch of the foot, heels, and calves. See our guide for in-depth information on how to get started. 

What is the Best Type of Massage for Plantar Fasciitis?

Deep tissue massage therapy focuses on applying pressure to the underlying musculature with slow, strong strokes. It helps by releasing tension in the foot and breaking up scar tissue so that it can heal over time. The massage targets specific areas in the heel and arch, leading to minor soreness in the following days. It is an effective way to reduce plantar fasciitis pain and prevent further complications of this painful condition.

To treat plantar fasciitis, it is important to focus on the area where pain is greatest, with a secondary focus on the surrounding muscle groups. The underside of the arch near the heel is a good place to start, focusing on the area where the ligament meets the heel bone. Then move on to the Achilles tendon, starting at the base of the heel and moving upward to the calf.

Massage Techniques for Plantar Fasciitis

There are various massage techniques for plantar fascia pain that you can try. Find the ones that fit your individual needs.

Foot Massages

  • Kneading

    Knead the heel by placing the butt of your palm or a closed fist to the bottom of the foot, and slowly rub around the heel. Start with light, short strokes before moving into deeper and longer motions. Work from the heel to the toes and do this several times over to begin loosening the tissue.

  • Pushing & Pulling

    For the ‘pushing’ part of this massage, apply pressure to the heel with your thumb, working over the area in light, short strokes. Move up and down the sole of the foot to the toes, then focusing on each toe individually. This can help promote soft tissue alignment as the plantar fascia heals. Perform this for 1-2 minutes or to tolerance.

    ‘Pulling’ motions target the same areas but with an inward to outward pattern, slowly working the entirety of the foot. The focus of this deep massage is to perform cross-friction to the heel and surrounding areas. This will stimulate an anti-inflammatory response for tissue healing and pliability. Perform for 1-2 minutes or to tolerance.

  • Toe Flexion Massage

    Toe flexion massage can be used alongside kneading, pushing, and pulling techniques. Start by placing one hand on the toes to gently bend them backwards and forwards for 1-2 minutes. This will stretch the plantar fascia, increasing its flexibility and resilience.

  • Lacrosse Ball Massage

    Having a lacrosse ball, plantar fasciitis ball, or other foot massager for plantar fasciitis can help work the bottom of your foot. This will break-up adhesions and reduce pain. Massage balls are simple to use and can offer a deep tissue self-massage by leaning body weight on the ball and rolling along the length of the arch. Lacrosse ball massages can be performed for several minutes throughout the day to tolerance, working the heel and the length of the foot.

  • Ice Massage

    Adding cold therapy to a traditional massage can help reduce inflammation while getting the benefits from the above techniques. Ice massage can be performed with textured massage balls or even a frozen water bottle, rolling the foot over the heel for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. This can help manage problem areas after exercise, as ice reduces inflammation and helps muscles relax. 

    See our guide below for a more detailed guide on the benefits of hot and cold therapy. 

  • Electric Massage

    A TENS unit can offer many of the same benefits of traditional massage with a variety of settings and intensity levels based on individual needs. It works by stimulating the production of endorphins for short-term pain relief in minutes. Start your TENS therapy with 10-15 minute sessions several times a day to manage pain.

Calf Massages

A calf massage for plantar fasciitis helps manage pain in the foot and heel by targeting surrounding muscle groups. Any of the following techniques can be effective.

  • Kneading, Pushing & Pulling

    Similar to the foot massages, kneading, pushing, and pulling techniques are an effective way to massage the calf muscles and lower leg area. Using the heel of your palm or a closed fist, move up the Achilles tendon, working up the back of the calf with short light strokes. Progress to a deeper massage with the thumb, using the same techniques mentioned in the foot massage section above.

  • Foam or Muscle Rollers

    Calf massage can also be performed with a foam roller or rolling stick and can be especially effective for trigger point therapy. Simply run the roller up and down the calf for 3 to 5 minutes to relax muscle knots and stimulate blood flow. These techniques can reduce tension on the heel bone and plantar fascia by improving the muscle’s pliability.

  • Electric Massage

    TENS units can be useful to manage plantar fascia pain by introducing a therapeutic electrical current through connective tissue. A low-level current inhibits the nervous system by overstimulating the leg muscles, giving temporary pain relief. Electrodes can be placed directly over the general calf region and tendon to target trigger points.

    Apply for 10-15 minutes each session. The therapy can be performed several times a day as tolerated. This will allow for a greater range of motion in the muscle to decrease tightness around the heel bone.

When and How Often Should You Massage Affected Area?

Massaging the area several times a day to tolerance will assist in breaking up the constant pain to maximize healing. The best times to perform massage are in the morning before getting out of bed and before exercise. This will decrease tightness before the activity and reduce pain, and performing massage consistently will assist in effective long term pain management.

Safe Massage for Plantar Fasciitis

Massage therapy for plantar fasciitis is one of the best treatment options to manage stiffness, target trigger points, and heal consistent pain in the heel region. Applying massage appropriately and safely should be your number one concern when getting started. If your pain does not improve or worsens, we recommend that you seek help from a medical professional. In conjunction with exercise and stretching, regular massage massage will allow you to stay on top of symptoms, and can even be an effective treatment for flat feet and heel spurs. Whether you are looking for a physical therapist to apply the techniques or want to try them yourself, these plantar fasciitis massage techniques and tools will work for you. 

Sources: deep-tissue-massage - plantar-fasciitis

Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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