Feet killing you? While shedding (or swapping) your shoes might provide some initial relief, you might also need to address some deeper foot problems.
Unsupportive kicks, like high heels, ballerina flats, or flip-flops, can cause dysfunction of your Achilles tendon, foot muscles, and plantar fascia. Shoes that offer a lot of support, like exercise shoes with extra cushioning, or ill-fitting orthotic inserts, can cause trouble, too.
“Imbalance or weakness of the muscles can lead to limited motion and can affect each step while walking and running,” says Leslie Campbell, DPM, a podiatrist in Allen, Texas. “If severe enough, this can lead to overuse injuries or ankle, knee, and back pain.”
Some simple stretches can make a world of difference.
“Although it’s often forgotten in the greater scheme of exercise priorities, daily foot stretching is vital, since tendons and ligaments have no memory,” Campbell says. To unclench the connective tissue in your feet, Campbell recommends adding the following moves to your daily routine.
- Kneel on a yoga mat or carpet with knees hip width apart.
- With the tops of your feet resting on the mat, lower your hips to your heels.
- Keep your chest up, rest hands on knees, and breathe deeply. Think about releasing tension from all parts of the body, especially the ankles and feet.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
Note: To add support, place a rolled-up towel or blanket, or a yoga block, under your hips.
Kneeling With Toes Tucked
- From the same starting position, tuck your toes under and gently lower your hips to your heels. Make sure all 10 toes — including pinkies — are tucked.
- Keep your chest up, rest hands on knees, and breathe deeply.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
Note: This stretch can be intense. If it gets to be too much, place your hands on the floor to relieve pressure on your toes.
To stretch the muscles and tendons in your feet and lower legs, try these six additional moves:
- Toe Pull. Sit in a chair with your right ankle on your left thigh. Pull your right toes toward your right ankle. Hold for 15 seconds, and repeat on your other foot. Complete 15 reps per foot.
- Tennis Ball Roll. While seated, roll a tennis ball back and forth under your arch for 60 seconds per foot.
- Toe Spread. While seated, spread your toes apart. For an added challenge, wrap a rubber band around your toes. Hold for three seconds, rest for three seconds, and repeat 15 times per foot.
- Towel Pull. While seated with your feet positioned under your knees, toss a hand towel about 18 inches in front of you. Straighten your right leg and ankle to grab the towel and pull it back toward your body. Repeat 15 times. Switch sides and perform 15 reps using your left leg.
- Letter Draw. Drawing capital letters, spell the alphabet with your right foot by bending and flexing your ankle. Repeat with your left foot.
- Good Morning Toes. While lying in bed, flex your feet and stretch as though you’re pulling your toes toward your nose. Hold for 15 seconds. Complete 15 repetitions first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
— Karla Walsh NASM-CPT, AFAA