Massage therapists are no strangers to plantar fasciitis: The foot condition is the most common cause of pain on the bottom of the heel, with at least two million Americans experiencing plantar fasciitis each year.

According to a new study, patients with acute plantar fasciitis who performed manual stretching exercises, as opposed to receiving shockwave therapy, had superior results and higher patient satisfaction.

A total of 102 patients who had acute plantar fasciitis pain were randomly assigned to two groups, according to a press release from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (Acute is defined as any patient that experiences pain for less than six weeks.) Fifty-four people performed an eight-week stretching program, while 48 people received repetitive low-energy radial shock-wave therapy once a week for three weeks. Each group was asked to refrain from any other forms of physical therapy.

Patients in the stretching group were told to perform stretching exercises three times a day, for eight weeks. All patients were contacted by phone every two weeks to check on training compliance. After four weeks, the patients were told to slowly return to their previous sport or recreational activity. Patients in group two received three sessions of radial shock-wave therapy, three times a week.

Patients were given follow-up evaluations at two, four and 15 months. At both the two- and four-month evaluation, 65 percent of patients who performed the plantar fascia-specific stretch reported total satisfaction with treatment or satisfaction with treatment with minor reservations. Only 29 percent did so after shockwave therapy.

According to John Furia, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon in Pennsylvania and one of the study authors those who develop plantar fascia pain should begin nonoperative treatment promptly.

“The earlier you understand how stretching fits in, and the earlier you learn how frequently to perform the simple plantar stretch, the less likely you will require a more invasive treatment method,” Furia said. “Shockwave therapy has been shown to be a very effective treatment for patients with chronic plantar fasciitis (pain for more than six to eight weeks), however, acute cases are probably best treated with more simple measures.”

How to do the stretch: According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), this stretch should be performed in the seated position. Cross your affected foot over the knee of your other leg. Grasp the toes of your painful foot and bring your ankle up and your toes up. Place your thumb along the plantar fascia and rub it to stretch it. The fascia should feel like a tight band along the bottom of your foot when stretched. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds. Repeat it 10-20 times for each foot.

Study details are running in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.

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