Heel stretch exercises can be a really effective way of reducing foot pain and tightness. They can be split into two groups, those that target the calf muscles, gastrocnemius and soleus, and those that target the plantar fascia, a band of soft tissues running along the sole of your foot connecting the heel and the toes.
Here we will look at some of the best heel stretch exercises, simple to perform yet really effective. It can also help to stretch out the other muscles of the foot and toes, so do have a look at the ankle and toe stretches section too. All these exercises should ideally be done twice a day and always before and after exercise.
The calf is made up of two muscles. The larger muscle, gastrocnemius, arises from just above the knee and the smaller muscle, soleus arises just below the knee. They both run down the back of the calf before joining together to form the Achilles tendon which attaches to the back of the heel. You can either do a general calf stretch which targets both muscles, or work each muscle separately if you want to be more specific.
Purpose: Targets both calf muscles
Starting Position: Stand with your heel hanging off the back of a step
Action: Bend you standing leg slightly to let your heel drop down until you feel a stretch in the calf
Repetitions: Hold for 30 secs and repeat 3 times, gradually trying to drop the heel further to increase
Variations: To target gastrocnemius keep the knee straight, to target soleus, as the heel drop, bend the knee on the same side slightly
Purpose: A simple, effective gastrocnemius stretch
Starting Position: Standing facing a wall with the leg to be stretched behind, toes pointing forwards
Action: Keeping the back heel down and knee straight, lunge forwards onto the front leg until you feel a stretch in the calf of the back leg
Repetitions: Hold this gastrocnemius stretch for 30 secs and repeat 3 times
Purpose: Heel stretch for the Soleus calf muscle
Starting Position: Stand facing a wall with the leg to be stretched stepped behind, toes pointing forwards, both knees bent
Action: Gently lean into the wall until a pull is felt down the calf of the back leg
Repetitions: hold this soleus stretch for 30 secs and repeat 3 times
Note: Soleus stretches often don’t feel as strong as a gastrocnemius stretch
The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue which runs along the sole of your foot, connecting the heel bone to the toes. It supports the arches of the foot and is really important for transferring forces through the foot. Irritation of the plantar fascia, known as plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain, affecting 1 in 10 individuals, so plantar fascia stretches are really important for almost anyone with heel pain.
Purpose: A great heel stretch for relieving plantar fascia tightness under the foot
Starting Position: Sit with one leg crossed over the other
Action: Grasp all of the toes and pull them as a unit back towards your shin, until you feel a pull in the sole of your foot
Repetitions: Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times
Purpose: Stretching the soft tissues underneath the heel and ball of the foot. Great to do while watching TV!
Starting Position: Sit with your foot resting on a golf ball or tennis ball
Action: Push down into the ball and roll your foot backwards and forwards
Repetitions: 5-10 minutes, 1-2 times daily
Variations: Use a frozen bottle of water or cold drinks can instead of a ball to get the added benefit of cold therapy as you do this heel stretch
There are also things you can use to help such as the Yoga Toe which can be a really effective way to stretch without having to exercise.
These exercises tend to work best when combined with strengthening exercises so do visit the foot strengthening section as well.
If you want help working out what is causing your pain, visit the heel pain diagnosis section, or for more general pain the foot pain diagnosis section.
"Thank you so much! Your website is a
fountain of information! I was worrying about top of foot pain, and
your suggestions for strengthening and stretching are helping
"Your info took me straight to the problem. Well described and clearly explained."
"Thanks for having these exercises available! I performed a few and they have helped tremendously with my foot pain."
"Thank you for this information, it is very useful."
"Some really good suggestions and information"
"I have suffered these symptoms for over a year seen two doctors and a physio. None of them diagnosed this. Hope its not too late to put your advice into practice." Lezlee, UK
"Certainly it has helped me to understand and educate me on the issue."
"Very interesting! All good information. Tried a few stretches, already feels good."
"3 days ago I thought I was going to need foot surgery. I NEVER thought that stretching my calf would relieve the excruciating pain at the top of my foot. Thank you!!"