Plantar fascia friendly exercise
A commonly reported complaint from patients is that they cannot exercise due to their pain which contributes to weight gain. As being overweight has been identified as a risk factor for plantar fasciitis this causes a significant problem. There is a general consensus amongst health professionals that running is one of the worst exercises for aggravating plantar fasciitis. This is believed to be partly down to the high impact nature of running where the heel strikes the ground with a high magnitude of force along with the high levels of tensile stress placed on the plantar fascia to perform the biomechanical movement of running. So what exercisese can you do to help you lose weight without making your heel pain worse?
Patients that are wanting to exercise to keep up fitness levels or to lose weight whilst suffering from plantar fasciitis should try alternative exercises which do not aggravate plantar fasciitis or cause pain. Whilst this seems like common sense it is surprising how many patients are not aware of the potential delay in recovery they are causing when running and are unaware of safer and more suitable alternative exercises. Generally, lower impact exercise is usually less harmful such as:
Cycling - This is a low impact exercise. There is no weight directly placed on the heel minimising compressive stress over the plantar fascia. Cycling usually results in tightening of the calf muscles due to the repetitive concentric contraction of the calf muscles which can make plantar fasciitis worse, therefore it is important to stretch the calves thoroughly after cycling to minimise the negative effects of increased calf muscle tension.
Rowing - This is a low impact exercise and a good alternative exercise to running. Most gyms have indoor rowing machines. In terms of cardiovascular intensity, rowing is one of best exercises for increasing cardiovascular fitness and burning calories.
Cross trainer - this is a popular alternative to running and is a relatively low impact exercise. There is less impact placed directly on the heel during the elliptical motion on the cross trainer and therefore does not often cause aggravation of the plantar fascia. However, it is common for the back heel lift during forward motion via ankle plantarflexion which results in increased tensile loading of the plantar fascia and in some people this can aggravate their plantar fasciitis symptoms. If this is the case you should discontinue this exercise until a time when you can do it without pain.
Swimming - I have not heard of a case where a patient's plantar fasciitis symptoms have worsened due to swimming. As one is barefoot during swimming the foot is entirely unrestricted in its movements. The water provides a low level of resistance to fine muscle movements in the feet which may strengthen the foot muscles. This is why people often report cramping in the feet during and shortly after swimming, since the foot muscles are working exceptionally harder than they usually do and functioning in a different way, leading to fatigue and cramping. This is unlikely to have any negative effects on plantar fasciitis and there is some early stage evidence currently to suggest the importance of strong foot muscles in treating plantar fasciitis.
So if you want to keep active and exercise whilst suffering with plantar fasciitis, then try out the exercises above.
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