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Simple Foot Exercise Heals Chronic Heel Pain

Not long ago, Benedict DiGiovanni played 18 holes of golf. Instead of taking an easy-going ride in a golf cart, the 41-year old orthopedic surgeon at the University of Rochester Medical Center decided to walk the course.

He says he didn't have a problem until the next morning, "I woke up and put my foot down and had terrible heel pain."

DiGiovanni knew right away that he - like two and a half million other Americas - was suffering from plantar fasciitis, a tear in the flat band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes. DiGiovanni immediately applied a simple foot exercise he had devised for his own patients.

In a recent article in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, DiGiovanni reports on the results of a 2-year study of 80 patients with chronic heel trauma. He says an exercise called the "plantar fascia stretch" worked far better than the Achilles tendon stretch more commonly used in therapy. "We found that about 75 percent had no pain at all. It had been resolved. And they had no activity limitations any longer." DiGiovanni adds that 75 percent no longer needed to see a physician or a physical therapist. "They typically had seen multiple people for this in the prior years they had had it," he says.

Here's how to do the exercise:

Sit with one leg crossed over the other and stretch the arch of the foot by pulling back the toes toward the shin for a count of ten. Repeat the exercise 10 times.

DiGiovanni says to do the stretch before you take the first step in the morning or at any time that you have been less active. "It takes 100 seconds. That's all," he says.

If it feels like a tight guitar string, you're doing it right.

DiGiovanni says you'll see improvement within weeks rather than the nine months or longer that the plantar fascia takes to heal itself. Based on study results, DiGiovanni advises patients to try the stretch before considering surgery or injections.