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Ask the Lab: Plantar Fasciitis

PLEASE NOTE: The medical opinions in USTA.com's Ask the Lab are responses intended for the average player. Please consult with your primary physician before beginning any new exercise program.

From Colleen S., Windemere, FL: What are the best exercises for plantar fasciitis? I have a heel spur that always hurts after I play and the sole of my foot hurts whenever I get up from a sitting position.

Mary Jo Campbell, MEd, ATC, CSCS: Thanks for sharing your story, Colleen, it is the most common orthopedic complaint relating to the foot. Your plantar fasciitis may be related to your heel spur but in fact there are many causes for this chronic foot ailment.

The plantar fascia is a thick band of connective tissue that runs from your heel bone to the ball of you foot. Since this creates the arch of your foot, if the band is short, you will have high arches, long and you will have low arches. A strain of this ligament can create an inflammation cycle that can be very painful and frustrating to resolve. Since the fascia shortens with inactivity, sitting for long periods of time and sleeping at night result in a common symptom of sharp pain on your first step. (see illustration)

The most common causes of plantar fasciitis are excessive pronation of the foot (walking on the inside of your foot), rapid weight gain, standing for long periods of time on hard surfaces, poor shoe quality with inadequate arch support and a tight Achilles tendon (calf muscle). Most cases of plantar fasciitis can be treated conservatively with rest and gentle stretching of the Achilles. In more severe cases, orthotics, night splints, NSAIDs and even cortisone injections may be prescribed. The latter being a very painful and unpopular choice!

Colleen, in your case I suggest the following:

Decrease your activity, check your equipment-new shoes may be necessary or just inserts may help, use a tennis ball when you are seated to create a massaging effect on that arch and follow it with a gentle, frequent Achilles stretch. As with any inflammatory response ice baths or ice massage is extremely beneficial. If you do not find relief in 2-4 weeks you should see your orthopedist or physical therapist for more aggressive treatments.

CLICK HERE for a photo gallery of examples of stretches to help Plantar Fasciitis

About the Author:

The answers to this week's Ask the Lab are provided by Mary Jo Campbell, MEd, ATC, CSCS. Campbell serves as the USTA Strength and Conditioning Coach/Athletic Trainer at the USTA West Coast Training Center in Carson, CA.

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