You’re on your feet for a huge portion of the day, so why not give them a little more attention? In fact, sore and tight feet can be the cause of a multiple of issues like ankle, knee, hip and lower back pain.
Our toes mould into unhealthy positions for a variety of reasons (1):
1. We wear shoes that are too tight, too tall, or simply just not the proper shape our feet were meant to hit the earth with. Heeled shoes push our toes upward and strain the arch of the foot. When our toes are held in one position for too long, the muscles become sore and tight and it is difficult for them to return to normal length.
2. Most people aren’t used to using their foot muscles when they walk (mainly because shoes are constructed in such a way that we can’t). The muscles that normally work to pull toes and forefoot downward when we put our weight onto our feet can never engage properly. This results in the toes stretching upward, but not downward during push-off.
3. The way you position your feet is also important. A lot of people walk with their feet facing outward, and so when they “push-off,” they are using their big toe instead of the bottom of the foot. As a result of this, our big toe is pushed toward the other toes, and the big toe eventually tightens into the new shifted position.
Although shoes may give our feet advanced support, it can wreak havoc on our joints and soft tissue. As a result of this stiffness and weakness, our feet have become inflexible and immobile. When our feet are well balanced, without the 10 layers of support most shoes offer, then everything else in our body will feel aligned.
In fact, barefoot walking is one of the most beneficial things you could do for your feet. While out of the restraints of a shoe, your foot can take a more natural position when you stand, walk and run. This neutral position eliminates the friction that feet feel when in shoes, helping to reduce bunions, hammertoes and even symptoms of plantar fasciitis.
Getting into barefoot walking or trying out minimalist shoes (like Vibram or Xero – not a sponsored post, I just love these companies!) also comes with some work you need to give your feet, too. Even if you don’t want to get into minimalist walking, everyone can benefit from building foot and ankle strength and mobility.
If you’re wanting to get rid of paying hundreds for personalized orthotics, want to avoid painful cortisone injections, improve balance, or you’re wanting to get rid of old injuries involving the feet, then these five exercises will help.
These five toe exercises will strengthen, stretch and tone the feet, and allow your whole body to communicate with your feet in a healthy manner. By doing these simple exercises every day (maybe in the morning before you start your day), you will enjoy improved balance, reduced risk of injury in the ankles, knees and back, increased circulation throughout the lower extremities and a stronger walk/running stride. It only takes 5 minutes!
1. Toe Fan
This exercise strengthens the muscles in the front of your lower leg, below the knee, as well as your toes. Having more flexibility and strength in the feet and toes will allow better balance and more control while running or walking.
1. Stand on both feet and lift and lower the toes to loosen them up – keep the heel rooted during this time.
2. Now, keep all toes raised – you want your pinkie toe to rise to the same level as your big toe.
3. Repeat 4 times, and on each lift, spread your toes as wide as you can.
2. Great Toe Down
This exercise improves coordination, toe flexibility and intrinsic muscle strength. It will allow your body to communicate properly all the way from the base to the top.
1. Lift all ten toes off the floor, and tap your big toes on the floor while all the others stay lifted.
2. Lift the big toe back up, and repeat again for a total of 8 times.
3. Next, do the same with the pinkie toes for a total of 8 times.
4. Now alternate the pinkie and big does for a total of 8 times.
3. Heel Raises
This stretches the arch of the foot and strengthens the mid-foot. This stretch also stimulates the reflexology points in your feet which correspond to the heart and lungs – so it is great to perform before any workout.
1. Standing on both of your feet, lift your right heel and then put it down. You might hear cracking or crunching around the ankle joint but this is normal and will decrease as joint mobility improves.
2. Repeat for a total of 8 times.
3. After doing this, lift your right heel and roll the ball of your foot from side to side. Repeat on the other side.
4. Rock Out
This exercise increases flexibility and strength of the ankle and reduces risk of ankle injury.
1. Keeping your feet flat on the floor, rock them outwards, and then roll inwards to stand on the insides of the foot.
2. Repeat 6 times.
Improves flexibility of the foot’s arch, as the exercise stimulates movement of the arch lifting up (aka. “doming”).
1. Stand with your feet flat on the floor.
2. Lengthen your toes along the ground and then pull them towards you, keeping them on the floor. Try to grip the floor, rather than curling the toes under.
3. Repeat 5 times.