I have found that one of the big things that can plague long time runners is plantar fasciitis. As this happens, they will often have to stop running for a while to treat this injury until it goes away. Runners often try ice, rest, ibuprofen, special socks and shoes to ease the discomfort, which all have been shown to help significantly in treating plantar fasciitis. The downside to just using those treatments is that this injury can come back repeatedly unless the underlying causes are being addressed. When you stop and look at the main underlying cause you will find that it is often the weak and tight muscles and tendons, in the calf muscles and heels that keeps producing this injury. So if we are to prevent plantar fasciitis, we have to look at addressing the issue of tight muscles. There are two specific exercises that I would recommend for helping prevent future onslaughts of plantar fasciitis. CALF RAISES This is such a simple exercise. Stand on a book, a stair, a ledge and with the heels hanging off the end, use your calf muscles to raise your heels above the plain extending them into the air. Here is where my opinion might differ from others. Often it is recommended to do about 20-30 repetitions of this exercise. The truth is that is way too low of an amount of repetitions. Our calf muscles are “fatigue” muscles, which means they need to be worked to exhaustion or to the point of fatigue in order for us to really see endurance benefits from this exercise. My recommendation is to do anywhere from 100-120 calf raises each day. You can break them up throughout the day, as long as you feel you are reaching a point of fatigue. If you are not working them out hard enough, you most likely won't see much long term benefits from this exercise. So really push yourself to exhaustion and do this daily. If you are a runner, I would even suggest finishing your run with this exercise as this will help your muscles stay stretched and fight off the tightness that can easily creep in after a run. After a week of this exercise, I recommend adding the following. HEEL RAISES Much like the calf raise, but now it is the toes that hang off the ledge/edge. Stand with your heels on the book/stairs/step and raise your toes off the level plane as high as you can into the air. Feel the stretch in the sides of your lower legs, new calf muscles that you don't get to feel much. Again, performing 50-100 of these a day will really help strengthen the tendons and muscles associated with your arch. TREATMENT Exercise is good not only for preventing plantar fasciitis, but for treating it as well. While stretches help the muscles, well, stay stretched, exercise will help strengthen and build up those muscles in a healthy way for recovery to take place. It is often forgotten how the calf muscles are so inter-connected to our heels and feet. When our calf muscles are weak and tight, they struggle to really strengthen the arch in the midst of the pain. Not only will will exercises probably make you feel better, your are laying the ground for a quicker recovery by ensuring your support muscles are primed and ready to move forward. So exercise regularly. It only takes a few minutes, but the benefits will far outweigh the time it takes to do these exercises. As always, stay healthy, so you can stay fit. Cheers, Drew
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