Keep your feet pain-free
Our feet do so much for us, yet it isn’t until we hurt our feet that we realize the amount of work our feet do. When we run, dance, jump, and walk, our feet bear our entire body weight to get us from place to place. According to Wikipedia, the human foot consists of more than 26 bones and 33 joints. In addition, more than a hundred muscles, ligaments, and tendons hold these bones and joints together. This article describes the best simple foot exercises as well as tips to strengthen your feet to help with pain prevention.
Before starting these exercises, consult with your physician. The exercises described below are for maintaining strong healthy feet based on personal experience. It is not intended as a substitute for medical care and advice.
Exercises to Try
Stretching exercises are helpful for strengthening and creating flexibility in the feet and ankles. The good news is that these exercises are free! And, the hardest thing about them is that you have to do them consistently. For healthy, happy feet and ankles, it's a good deal, right?
Equipment needed: A belt or a towel if you are unable to touch your toes.
Straight Leg Stretch #1 - Lying Down
1. Lie on your back with your legs straight. To begin, flex your feet.
2. Keeping your left leg on the floor, bring your right knee to your chest. Place the middle of the belt around the arch of your right foot and hold on to each end of the belt.
3. Straighten your knee to the extent possible. The belt (or towel) helps to extend your arms so that you can straighten your leg. Your target is to keep your right leg perpendicular to the ground. If you are very flexible, you might be able to hold on to your foot.
4. Take a few slow breaths.
5. Still holding your belt and with your right leg straight, slowly move your foot to the left so that it is over your left hip. This movement is very slight; both hips should still be on the ground. You will feel the stretch in the back of your right leg. Take a few deep breaths.
6. Finally, hold your belt with your right hand. Slowly move your straight right leg to the right. Take a few deep breaths.
7. Repeat on the left side. This stretch may not address your foot pain directly, but it will help to loosen your leg muscles in preparation for the next exercise.
Straight Leg Stretch #2 - Sitting Up
1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you.
2. Flex your feet. Hold your toes or place the middle of the belt around the arches of your feet.
3. Straighten your legs.
4. Keeping your back straight, slowly bend forward.
5. While bending forward from your hips – keeping your back straight – pull your toes toward you.
6. Take several deep breaths.
7. Then point your toes and bend forward from your hips keeping your back straight.
8. Take several deep breaths.
This is exercise is a bit awkward at first, but it was the single most effective foot exercise for stretching and strengthening my feet to prevent foot pain after I had recovered from tendonitis.
Do this in the morning before you get out of bed and at night before you sleep. You can also use this exercise is before and after your workout. For best results, do this exercise daily.
This exercise can be done sitting or lying down. I prefer to lie on my back for a better leg stretch.
1. Straighten your legs.
2. Bring one knee to your chest. Hold on to your leg (calf, shin, or thigh) and straighten your leg, if possible. If you are unable to do so, keep your knee bent with your foot in the air.
3. Imagine that you are spelling the uppercase alphabet in the air with your big toe. Do your best to articulate each letter, making the letters as large as possible.
4. Repeat with your other foot.
5. For an extra workout, spell out letters in lower case.
Watch this two-minute video for simple foot exercises to strengthen your feet and ankles, including a demonstration of how to "spell" the alphabet with your toes when sitting upright.
With these simple foot exercises, you are building strength and flexibility, and promoting good circulation.
Tips and Products for Happy Feet
- After a long day on your feet or after your stretching exercises, use natural homeopathic rubs like Arnica or Castor Oil.
- Arnica (for bruises or sprains) is a cream or alcohol-based gel that can be found for about $10 at your health food store, or online. Common brands include Arnicare by Boiron. Arnicare gel absorbs quickly into your skin.
- Castor oil is a clear vegetable oil widely known as a laxative. However, in this case you will apply a few drop of castor oil externally to your joints (to help promote circulation). Doing so over time can help to reduce pain or prevent inflammation . Since it is an oil, you only need a very small amount. If it gets all over your clothing, sheets, or floor, you've applied too much. Rub the castor oil on the affected area of your foot. Also consider rubbing it on your joints, including you ankle. Wear socks if you like. Be patient; castor oil takes time to work. Since castor oil is an emollient, at the very least, you will have soft skin.
- Wear footwear with good support. Shoes that offer the proper support can help to alleviate and prevent foot pain. consider a shoe that offers solid support from the heel to the ball of the foot. That is, the sole should only flex near the ball of the foot, where your foot naturally flexes.
- Wear shoes that fit. Your shoes should be comfortable, so don't compromise. If you have a wide foot, buy a shoe with the proper width. Women with wide feet can also consider purchasing men's athletic footwear. Men with wide feet can buy shoes from brands like New Balance, which offers a nice selection of comfortable shoes in wide widths.
- If you already have a comfy pair of athletic shoes and just need added support, consider using firm insoles or inserts. Common brands (brands that have worked for me) include Superfeet, Spenco and Sof Sole. To use insoles, remove the insoles that came with your shoe, and place your new insole in each shoe. After spending money on your shoes, you might not want to buy $20 insoles, but believe me, insoles and orthotics like Sof Sole and Spenco will help your feet. The highly rated premium insole like Superfeet Unisex Green (about $40 on Amazon) is great for people with high arches. You can read reviews here.
- Women who must wear dress shoes, can opt for a lower heel. Or, if high heels are a must, use products that can help to cushion the balls of the feet.
- Wear shoes that match your activity. When wearing an athletic shoe, find a pair of shoes that cradles the foot and is designed for your particular sport or activity. For example, runner's typically require a shoe that offers shock absorption and that supports the forward to back movement of running. In contrast, dancers or cheerleaders, need a shoe that can accommodate pivoting movements on the ball of the foot.
- Check out the book Fixing Your Feet: Prevention and Treatments for Athletes.
Fixing Your Feet targets athletes like marathoners and hikers, but everyone can learn something from the information in this book. You might gain an understanding about foot anatomy or biomechanics, or even what to do for a specific foot injury.
Your feet have a very big job as they work hard for you each day. Use proper footwear, consistently exercise your feet, use natural rubs, and keep learning how to take good care of your feet. Do these things and your feet will thank you!