Foot pain and fatigue are common complaints. Your feet, toes, and ankles—and, really, all the surrounding muscles—put in a lot of hard work throughout the day, whether you're wearing high heels, standing for long periods throughout the day, or literally pounding the pavement for a tough workout. Plus, as we get older, our feet start to show their age, no matter how many times we try that baby foot peel.
"One of the most common functional deformities is hyper-pronation, or flat foot, which is known to cause many conditions like bunions, hammer toe, and plantar fasciitis," says Los Angeles–based podiatrist Albert A. Nejat, DPM, FACFAS. "Stretching the feet, but mainly the calves and hamstrings, can be very beneficial in reducing hyper-pronation and other issues."
Since movement and stretches are one of the best ways to soothe stiff, sore feet , try doing these quick foot and toe stretching exercises about three times every day to keep them healthy. (While you're at it, considering working some other stretching into your routine—these lower-back stretches are a great place to start.)
Standing Calf Stretch (or Runner's Stretch)
One of the best stretches for your feet is actually a basic calf stretch. "There are two calf muscles—the soleus and the gastroc—that meet at the ankle to form your Achilles tendon, and they’re responsible for the movement of your foot," says Jane Andersen, DPM, North Carolina–based podiatrist and American Podiatric Medical Association spokesperson. "These muscles are notoriously tight, so the best way to loosen them is with your classic runner's stretch, ideally after exercise when your muscles are warmed up."
How to do it:
Face the wall and lean your hands against it. Stagger your legs: Keep the front leg bent and the back leg stretched straight behind you. Try to press and lower the heel of your back leg down toward the ground until you feel a good stretch in your calf. Dr. Andersen recommends holding the stretch for 30 seconds on each side to get a deeper stretch. This stretch can be done as part of your post-workout routine or on its own (even while brushing your teeth or waiting for your tea to steep).
Toe Spread Stretch
"There are intrinsic muscles in your feet that move your toes, in between the metatarsal bones, and that keeps your toes from becoming contracted, which can ultimately develop into hammer toes," Dr. Andersen says. "As you age, those muscles between your toes get weaker, so stretching them can slow down deterioration."
How to do it: Think of your foot like a hand, and spread your toes apart like you would your fingers, opening them and bringing them back together with control. Aim for 8 to 10 stretches (toes out and in again is one count) two or three times a day.
Seated Calf and Hamstring Stretch With Strap
If you often wake with stiff legs and feet, try this exercise first thing in the morning—even before getting out of bed.
How to do it: In a seated position on the floor or bed with legs extended, “loop the mid-portion of a non-elastic strap on the bottom of your right forefoot. You can use a leather belt, yoga strap, or even a towel," Dr. Nejat says. Keeping a slight bend in the right knee and your back straight, gently flex the right foot, pulling the toes “up until you feel a pull in the back of your calf. Hold for about 20 seconds on each side, and try not to bounce the leg."
Slowly bend and extend the right knee for about 20 seconds.
Finally, with right leg extended, hinge your torso gently forward toward your knees to get an extra stretch in the right hamstring too .
If you take consistent care of your feet and toes with easy stretches like these, you can undo some of the aches and pains that often come with activity and age, keeping your feet healthy (and damage-free) for years to come.
Mount Sinai, Plantar fasciitis . Accessed November 13, 2022.
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