Photographs by Thomas Macdonald
Plantar fasciitis is a runner's recurring nightmare. It's a notoriously stubborn injury that strikes when the thick band of fibers that runs along the bottom of the foot becomes inflamed. It can start as a minor irritation but can advance and develop into a sidelining injury, especially if it's not treated promptly or properly. While ice, rest, orthotics, and pain relievers may ease the discomfort, the injury can come back again (and again) unless you address the underlying cause-weakness and tightness in the muscles and tendons that make up and support the foot, says Irene Davis, Ph.D., P.T., director of the Spaulding National Running Center, Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If arch pain is your nemesis, Davis recommends doing the following exercises barefoot daily (Learn to do the moves with correct form: watch the video how-to of the 5 exercises and follow along.)
Calf Raises Strengthens the tendons in your heels and calf muscles, which support your arch.
To Do: Raise up on the balls of your feet as high as possible. Slowly lower down. Do three sets of 10 reps. Progress to doing the raises on stairs (with heels hanging off), and then to single-leg raises.
Step Stretch Improves flexibility in your Achilles tendon and calf-when these areas become tight, the arch gets painfully overloaded.
To Do: Stand at the edge of a step, toes on step, heels hanging off. Lower your heels down, past the step, then raise back up to the start position. Do three sets of 10 reps.
Doming Works the arch muscles and the tibialis posterior (in the calf and foot) to control excess pronation.
To Do: While standing, press your toes downward into the ground while keeping the heel planted, so that your foot forms an arch (or dome). Release, and do three sets of 10 reps on each foot.
Toe Spread and Squeeze Targets the interossei muscles of the foot, which support the arch.
To Do: While sitting, loop a small resistance band around your toes. Spread toes; release. Then place a toe separator (used at nail salons) in between toes. Squeeze toes in; release. Do three sets of 10 reps of each exercise on both feet.
Towel Curls Works the toe-flexor muscles that run along your arch to increase overall foot strength.
To Do: Lay a small hand towel on the floor, and place one foot on the towel. Using just your toes, scrunch the towel toward you, hold, then slowly push the towel away from you back to start position. Do three sets of 10 reps on each foot.