6 Tips for Strong, Pain-Free Feet
Don’t Let your feet be late to the party!
It’s no wonder that with the recent switch to social distancing, people are walking more than they have before. The spring weather is a welcome change yet as with anything new, our feet are not used to this new demand on them resulting in an increase in complaints of foot pain. You may be asking yourself, “my feet are made to walk, so why am I now getting foot pain?”
Let me explain: your feet are the foundation of all your movement. They not only support your weight, but allow you to stand, walk, run, or simply carry out your daily activities. They must constantly change to the ground conditions and adapt quickly to avoid injury on uneven surfaces. Each foot is a complex system of 28 bones and 30 joints, in addition to more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments that provide support, balance, and stability.
Modern shoes tend to be too narrow for us to properly use our feet and toes, so these muscles get weak and lead to all kinds of foot pain. Imagine that your feet were blocks of wood – every time you stepped on an uneven surface, your entire body would topple over because your foot muscles cannot work to balance you. This is also comparable to wearing a cast on your foot; your toes cannot work, so the muscles get weak, atrophy, and become useless, flattened flippers.
Why is this a big deal? Weakened feet lead to all sorts of pain – neuromas, neuropathy, plantar fasciitis, hammer toes, bunions, and just generally sore, achy feet. The pain is a signal that tissues are not healthy and need some attention. The good news is that there are some easy changes you can make in addition to a few exercises that can reverse the pain and re-balance your feet.
Add more barefoot time to your life.
That’s right, simply take off your shoes and socks more often and walk around…in the park, in the house, playing with the kids, etc. Maybe commit to a Barefoot Sunday in which everyone agrees to put their shoes away and go barefoot when possible.
Use toe separating devices to help spread your toes after being squished in your shoes all day.
Start sitting down, then progress to standing as it gets easier. Begin with your whole foot flat on the ground. Try lifting just the big toes off the ground while the little toes stay flat. Repeat 10 times. Then try to lift the little toes while keeping the big toes down. Repeat 10 times. Then try to make a wave motion with your toes by lifting one toe up at a time, followed by the next, then the next. Reverse the wave motion in the opposite direction. Repeat each direction 10 times. Practice this for 5 minutes a day. It takes patience and practice to master this one! It took me a few months to get the coordination and brain power to will my toes to move independent of one another.
Stretch the top of the foot.
Most shoes have raised heels and place our toes in a lifted position. This causes the extensor tendons on the top of the foot to shorten and become tight, while the tendons on the underside of the foot get overstretched and weak. This contributes to such conditions as plantar fasciitis, hammer toes, weakened arches (flat, pronated feet), and toe capsulitis (a common condition of the second toe due to excess pressure on the ball of the foot leading to joint inflammation).
Here’s how to do the Toe extensor stretch:
You can do in sitting, standing or kneeling with the goals of pointing your toes down and stretching the top of your foot. You may feel cramping with this one, but stick with it. Cramping never killed anyone and it will subside with time.
Roll the bottom of your foot with a lacrosse ball or tennis ball
This mobilizes the soft tissues on the bottom of the foot (aka. Plantar fascia). This can be done in sitting or standing with the goal of applying body weight pressure to the bottom of the foot in search of hot tender spots. Roll the ball from the heel all the way to the ball of the foot. Spend a few minutes working up and down the arch and around the foot releasing the tension in these tender areas. You will find that the pain and tightness subside with time and pressure. Once one area is worked out, move to the next.
Try doing short foot exercises.
As we said earlier, the muscles on the bottom of the foot (the foot intrinsics) can easily get weak and lead to pain so it’s super important to re-strengthen them. This exercise essentially works the core muscles of your foot, helping with stability and structure. When done correctly, it can also help strengthen the arch muscles. The best part of this exercise is that it can be done while sitting at a desk or watching TV. First, Pull all your toes down and in (without having them leave the ground). Next, contract the arch muscles and lift the arch up without crunching the toes for 3 seconds and then release. Pay attention to keeping the base of the big toe and ball of the foot flat on the ground - do not lift them. Repeat this for 1 minute, 3 times per day, 3 days a week.
To initiate a good foot care routine, check out this 10 minute video of exercises you can do to avoid foot pain, improve your balance and build overall strength in your feet and legs.
Thanks for reading!
Lauren Sok PT, MPT
Fearless leader and mother of the team, Lauren took the leap to found Functionize in 2015 after nearly 20 years in conventional physical therapy practice with the ultimate goal of creating a new legacy for her family and her colleagues.
Finding energy in helping others and joy in watching them succeed, Lauren embraces childish enthusiasm and overt optimism in the face of entrepreneurship. Despite doubts and challenges, Lauren braved starting a cash-based physical therapy practice at a time when private-pay was a novel concept in the healthcare industry.
Raised in a small, blue-collar town in Pennsylvania, Lauren grew up with her parents constantly encouraging and enjoying an active lifestyle; as a result, she grew up watching them age with grace and agility, which became a prime motivation for her to help others do the same. Lauren came to learn that a proactive approach to health and wellness is the key for living your fullest life. The first in her family to go to college, Lauren laid the foundation for Functionize in hard work and determination.
To create the dream team, Lauren carefully curated a culture comprised of dynamic, invested and innately curious experts in relentless pursuit of providing best-in-class care and a customized approach for each individual patient.
Lauren’s intention is for her clients to feel they have a coach, partner and friend in Functionize. Her goal is to ensure every person who comes into the Functionize fold leaves with the education, support and empowerment to regain control over health and optimize wellness. Ultimately, she is dedicated to disrupting the current approach to healthcare for one that focuses on humans as a whole as opposed to the sum of symptoms.
Today, Lauren lives in Dunwoody with her husband, Kevin, teenage twin boys, Ethan and Austin, and spunky daughter, Sienna. When she is not running between sporting events, networking socials, supper clubs, carpooling, and school volunteering, Lauren enjoys traveling, running, a lazy day on the beach, OrangeTheory Fitness, and exploring the food and events in Atlanta, GA.