Walk Healthy: Improve Foot Fitness & Reduce Foot Pain
Posted Feb 17 2012 10:57am
Here are three simple foot fitness tips and foot-care exercises to help reduce foot pain and free up the ankle joint for improved mobility. Increase calf flexibility for better gait mechanics and discover the benefits of better health with improved foot action when you walk.
Do your feet ever hurt? According to the APMAmost Americans have experienced a foot problem and half say that they have foot pain at least some of the time. Yet taking care of our feet ranks lowest on the list of body parts that we see as important to maintaining health and wellness. Not only does foot pain impact and limit activity including walking, exercising, and standing, but people with regular foot pain are more likely to also suffer from additional health issues including: back pain, knee pain, other joint pain, increased weight, and heart problems.
If your feet are really hurting, ignoring the issue is not the wisest decision you could be making. Seeing a podiatrist for an foot-care evaluation would be a great place to start. Once any serious medical conditions have been addressed, then starting to take better care of your feet on a consistent and regular basis can be an excellent way to improve your overall health and fitness.
Our feet are the basis for good posture. If our feet hurt, chances are we are shifting the rest of the body out of good alignment when we sit, stand, and walk. Poor body alignment when you are standing still only gets worse when you start moving, because you’re going to still be holding yourself in bad alignment. Movement now only reinforces these poor muscle habits, putting more stress on every joint from your toes up!
One of the things I see frequently with my new Pilates clients is stiff ankles and limited calf muscle flexibility. Stiff ankles usually lead to knee pain or hip problems, and tight calves are an immediate red flag for potential low back pain.
As a society in general we are sedentary(Sit at work all day, sit in front of the TV in the evening).Our gait (the mechanics of walking efficiently) has been compromised by the fact that we spend so much time with our hips flexed. Because the muscles in the front of our legs are tight, it starts to limit how far the leg swing behind the body for our stride. Getting the legs to the back when we walk helps to strengthen the hips, and lower back. The leg to the back also works the foot and ankle through a full range of motion to propel us forward.
Not only does a short stride weaken the hips and lower back, but taking small steps also limits how much the ankle flexes and extends. Our muscles only get stronger in the range of motion they work in. If the ankle doesn’t work through a full range of motion when we walk, over time, the brain accepts the limited range as the way we are supposed to use the ankle and stops sending a message to your feet to move through a full range of motion.
Ankle Circles – Sit or lay down on your back. Hug one knee to your chest and do slow, large range of motion circles of the foot from the ankle. Be sure that the shin bone stays still while moving the foot. Make the circles go evenly to the inside and outside, with a nice point through the bottom, and a strong reach through the heel to flex the ankle. Ankle circles can help work and release the muscles of the lower leg to improve ankle mobility so that flexing the foot is easier for a more effective calf stretch. Do 5-10 Circles each direction.
Point & Flex – Sit with both legs extended forward, or lay down on your back with both legs straight up to the ceiling. With both legs straight, point your ankles, then toes like a ballerina to stretch the top of the foot and strengthen the arch. Then, relax the toes and start reaching the heel to the ceiling to flex the foot. (like you are standing on the ceiling) Note: if you flex the toes back instead of reaching the heel up, you will be jamming the toes into the foot, and jamming the foot into the ankle – which will restrict ankle mobility. Keeping the toes relaxed and initiating the flex from the heel will help to open the ankle joint for freer movement and a better calf stretch.
Increase your Stride Length when You Walk – Learning to walk with a longer stride will have you working through the foot in a full range of motion. From a flexed foot reaching through the heel to heel strike the ground in the front, to rolling through the foot from the heel to the ball of the foot mid-stride, to pointing the arch standing on the ball of the foot with the leg in back, to finally pushing the toes to a point to propel you forward. Then the leg swings through, the heel reaches away, and it all starts over again!
Remember, if your feet are really hurting, it’s important to have them checked out by a qualified health professional (doctor or podiatrist) before you start increasing your activity or adding new foot care exercises to your daily routine.