By Brian Hoke
Our feet are intricate anatomical structures with many specially designed bones, strong ligaments that hold the bones together, and multiple layers of muscles that assist in giving us living adaptive platforms for everything we do that requires standing and walking. To maintain foot health and the mobility of our foot structures, it is helpful to do some “foot care,” such as simple stretches regularly that activate your lower leg and toe muscles. For each of these stretches, we suggest that you hold each stretch for ten seconds and repeat each stretch five times.
The Upward Stretch
The first stretch is an “upward” stretch. Cross one ankle over the opposite knee. Use the hand on the same side as the foot you want to stretch (use the right hand for your right foot, and the left hand for your left foot) and come over the top of the foot, wrapping your fingers over your toes. Pull your ankle upward, while at the same time pulling your toes upward. This is an excellent stretch for the plantar fascia as well as the muscles that support your arch.
The Downward Stretch
The second stretch is a “downward” stretch. Use the same position we just described but instead, use the opposite hand to come from the bottom of the foot and wrap your fingers over the top of the toes. Pull the ankle downward while at the same time pulling the toes downward. This is a wonderful stretch for the tendons on the top of the foot.
The Outward Stretch
The third stretch is an “outward” stretch. For this stretch, you will use the hand on the same side as the foot you want to stretch, and wrap your fingers around the outside of the foot. Use your hand to pull the outside of the foot up (as in turning the sole of your foot away from you).
The Inward Stretch
The fourth stretch is an “inward” stretch. Cross your foot over your knee and use the opposite hand to come across the bottom so that your fingers grasp the outer edge of the foot. Pull your foot so that the sole of your foot faces more inward. This will stretch tight ligaments and muscles on the outside of the foot. (A word of caution: if you have had frequent or severe foot pain, ankle sprains or heel pain, skip this stretch).
The Active Stretch
The following two stretches are “active” stretches that will stretch and tone the muscles in the foot. Some refer to these exercises as “toe yoga.” For the first exercise, actively engage the muscle that pulls the big toe up while simultaneously engaging the muscles that pull the rest of the toes down.
The reverse “active” stretch is done by actively engaging the muscle that pulls the big toe down while simultaneously pulling the rest of the toes actively upward. It may take a few sessions before you can do this exercise with ease.
Learn more about what causes foot pain and try doing these simple, but quality foot exercises three days a week to keep your feet healthy. It will only take a few minutes to go through the stretches, and doing so will give you more supple dynamic muscles and ligaments.
About the Author:
Specializing in orthopedic and sports physical therapy, Brian Hoke, DPT, SCS, has a particular interest in the biomechanical factors influencing lower limb rehabilitation. He is the owner of Atlantic Physical Therapy, a private practice in Virginia Beach, VA.
Brian is a board-certified Clinical Specialist in Sports Physical Therapy, a distinction achieved by fewer than 600 physical therapists in the U.S. He works with athletes of all levels—from recreational runners to elite professional and Olympic athletes. He has contributed chapters to two textbooks on the treatment of running injuries.
Brian is an avid educator, lecturing extensively in the U.S. and internationally. Since 1985, he has been a faculty member of the popular continuing medical education seminar, “When the Feet Hit the Ground, Everything Changes.” He co-developed and has taught the “Take the Next Step” course since 1990. In addition, he has been an adjunct faculty member of physical therapy programs at Old Dominion University and Touro College on Long Island, NY.
Brian’s expertise in sports physical therapy is a particular asset to Vionic’s athletic line of footwear. He and Phillip Vasyli have also collaborated to create a foot orthotic designed for problems with supination—when feet roll outward too much.