Rolling VS Stretching for Foot Pain in Runners

The foot is the first impact point for runners. Consider each leg must absorb 3- to 5 times a runner’s body weight with each strike. The plantar fascia (illustrated below), ligaments, and tendons of the feet can take a beating. The most common arch/foot pain in runners is Plantar fasciitis, although it can often be misdiagnosed. If you have a true plantar fascia strain or tear, it is imperative to understand what type of foot you have in order to attempt to self-treat.

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The easiest way to self-evaluate is to perform the wet test. Step out of the shower onto a piece of paper with full weight bearing on both feet.



Flat or Low arch runners will have a ton of contact between their foot and the floor. High arch runners will only have forefoot and heel contact. Normal arches will present with contact on the forefoot, lateral midfoot, and heel.


Here are the important self-treat differences to understand:






Why Stretching Can Be Bad
A big mistake many runners have made when they have pain in the bottom of their foot is to stretch their plantar fascia, whether via a sock/ rehab tool or a stretch they found in an article. Foot type has a huge impact on the safety of this strategy. Runners who have low arches typically have very flexible feet and the ligaments/ connective tissue in their feet are generally too long. Stretching this foot type can make the injury worse and even lead to nerve damage. If you are a low arch runner, you MUST avoid stretching your toes and feet

High arch runners generally have great integrity of those structures but can still experience some microstrain especially because their feet don't pronate well and therefore don't absorb shock well. If you are a high arch runner, you can stretch as much as you want as it will not cause you further harm.

On a different note of stretching, any runner with short (tight) calves must address the calf tightness with rolling/stretching in order to remove the tug-of-war effect on the plantar fascia. If you roll the plantar fascia only and fail to address the calf, the results will be limited. 

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Why is rolling safe?

Rolling a ball under the arches is the best and safest way to mobilize soft tissue and allow the foot to heal faster from repetitive forces. It does not change the length of tissue in the foot and therefore will not overstretch an area that is too long (ie, low arch feet). *Rolling is safe for all foot types except for a runner with a suspected foot fracture.

How many times a week should an athlete roll out the feet?

 Unlike stretching, pre-workout rolling is safe and an effective way to prep the tissues in your feet for running. There is no hard and fast rule for frequency, but we have our injured clients with PF roll 2x daily (once right out of bed and the second pre-workout). 2x/week for maintenance would be sufficient.


How long should an athlete roll out and what tools should they use?

 A lacrosse ball works great. Roll the entire arch, focusing on areas that are sore and feel "crunchy". 1-2 minutes is sufficient.


If I have foot pain, how long should it take to see results with rolling?

 Treatments to true plantar fascia should produce less pain in 2 weeks. If rolling your foot isn’t helping, consider there are many other factors that can be creating strain at your foot, including your low back and hip stability, shoe type, and calf tightness. You pain might also not be a true plantar fasciitis. Other differential diagnoses include flexor hallucis longus and brevis tendinosis, posterior tibialis tendon dysfunction, nerve entrapments, and tarsal subluxations. These have very different rehab approaches and you should work with a medical professional to determine both diagnosis and cause.


Email me if you need my help to figure out your foot pain: