For how much we use our feet, we often neglect specific intrinsic strengthening to stabilize our feet and our entire structure in our day-to-day grind. In our country, we tend to wear shoes that are too narrow and limit our natural foot and toe movement, which can cause tightness, weakness, and pain over time. My patients often say they “overpronate” or have “weak ankles” and wonder what they can do to strengthen their feet. Here are 5 quick exercises to help in this area. You can do exercises 1-4 sitting with your feet on the ground or standing for more of a challenge.1
- Splay your toes – Try spreading the toes apart as far as you can. Hold for about 5-10 seconds then relax and repeat 10 times. You can progress this by splaying your toes and trying to pick up a towel with your feet. Remember to do it on both sides!
- Toe Yoga – Try to lift just the big toe only (like you are giving a thumbs up), then lower the big toe, push the big toe into the ground and lift the other 4 toes only. Repeat 10 times slowly alternating and holding each position for a few seconds. If you have trouble doing this, you can use your hands to help assist your toes to get the movement.
- Rainbow – Spread your toes first, then try to only lower down your big toe and pinkie toe, hold this position for 5-10 seconds. Relax and repeat 5-10 times. You can use your hands to help assist big toe and pinkie toe pressing into the ground if needed.
- Arch Lift – Have your foot on the ground underneath your knee. Without curling or lifting your toes, raise your arch. I like to imagine my big toe joint sliding toward my heel to create a little “dome” or lift in my arch. Keep the big toe joint on the ground and the toes flat as you do this exercise. Do 10 times.
- Single-Leg Balance: stand in front of a counter or chair for safety if needed. Spead and relax your toes. Shift your weight to one foot and try to balance on that leg only. You will notice your standing foot and ankle muscles working to keep you upright. Imagine you are rooting yourself into the ground and growing tall from your base. You may hold onto the counter to begin but try to progress to only fingertips or no assist to improve balance and stability in your feet/ankles. Notice if you are curling or clenching your toes. Try to spread and relax them into the ground. The goal is to do each side for 20-30 seconds, twice. You may need to start at 5-10 second holds initially, increasing the duration as you are able.
These exercises are meant to be challenging! Daily practice will help them get easier. You also will build more awareness of your foot’s intrinsic muscles which are important for our gait, stability, and balance. I perform these exercises as a warmup before my Yoga/Pilates practice or when just sitting at my desk. It is to note that these are exercises only focusing on the foot intrinsics. It is important to also have good core and hip strength to have stability in your feet/ankles as well.
If you have pain/stiffness limiting you in these exercises, you may benefit from further assessment and treatment from a Physical Therapist. Here at Kintsugi Physical Therapy & Wellness, we assess your entire movement system to relieve pain, improve efficiency, and help you enjoy the things you want to do. Also, check out our previous blog post on “Tips for Reducing and Managing Plantar Fasciitis Pain.”
9 ways to heal your aching feet – Harvard Health. (2012). Retrieved 14 October 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/exercises-for-healthy-feet