Background: Plantar heel pain is a commonly occurring foot complaint. Stretching is frequently utilised as a treatment, yet a systematic review focusing only on its effectiveness has not been published. This review aimed to assess the effectiveness of stretching on pain and function in people with plantar heel pain.
Methods: Medline, EMBASE, CINAHL, AMED, and The Cochrane Library were searched from inception to July 2010. Studies fulfilling the inclusion criteria were independently assessed, and their quality evaluated using the modified PEDro scale.
Results: Six studies including 365 symptomatic participants were included. Two compared stretching with a control, one study compared stretching to an alternative intervention, one study compared stretching to both alternative and control interventions, and two compared different stretching techniques and durations. Quality rating on the modified Pedro scale varied from two to eight out of a maximum of ten points. The methodologies and interventions varied significantly between studies, making meta-analysis inappropriate. Most participants improved over the course of the studies, but when stretching was compared to alternative or control interventions, the changes only reached statistical significance in one study that used a combination of calf muscle stretches and plantar fascia stretches in their stretching programme. Another study comparing different stretching techniques, showed a statistically significant reduction in some aspects of pain in favour of plantar fascia stretching over calf stretches in the short term.
Conclusions: There were too few studies to assess whether stretching is effective compared to control or other interventions, for either pain or function. However, there is some evidence that plantar fascia stretching may be more effective than Achilles tendon stretching alone in the short-term. Appropriately powered randomised controlled trials, utilizing validated outcome measures, blinded assessors and long-term follow up are needed to assess the efficacy of stretching.