Appropriate foot exercises, along with natural foot products, can help restore or rehabilitate your foot by stretching tight muscles and strengthening weak ones. Here are some of the top exercises you can do at home to help rehabilitate your feet and toes:
Helpful For: Reducing bunions, improving foot and toe circulation, relieving plantar fasciosis, strengthening your medial longitudinal arch (i.e., your main foot arch), and improving general weight distribution, gait, and balance.
The Big Toe Stretch is designed to move your first toe into a more abducted position, or a position farther away from your foot’s midline. Gently pull your big toe away from your other toes while applying counter-pressure on the inside aspect of your first metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint (i.e., at the base of the big toe, where the bump is). This exercise can be performed multiple times each day.
2. Ball Rolling Exercise
Helpful For: Restoring proper foot tissue tone and reducing any tenderness in the sole of the foot.
This exercise involves rolling a ball under your foot to release any plantar fascia adhesions. You can use larger, softer balls (e.g., a tennis ball) if your feet hurt, or smaller, harder balls (e.g., a golf ball) to get more focused pressure. Simply roll the ball from side to side and back and forth underneath your foot. The sensation should feel pleasant, like a massage, and not painful. This video also presents several other tips or strategies for keeping your feet healthy at work.
3. Toe Extensor Stretch
Helpful For: Ball of foot pain, crooked toes, plantar fascia pain, and rebalancing the pull of foot and toe tendons that have long been exposed to conventional footwear (with its heel elevation and toe spring).
This exercise stretches your toes into plantar flexion—a movement in which the toes are flexed downward, toward the foot's sole—at their MTP joint. It is most easily performed when you are sitting on a chair or stool. From a seated position, extend one leg back behind your body and place the tops of your toes on the floor. This should bend your toes at their MTP joint (i.e., at the location of your toe knuckles). Gently press the front part of your ankle down toward the floor and feel the stretch across the top of your foot and the front part of your lower leg. It is possible to stretch both feet at the same time. This exercise targets the (usually tight) tendons that are responsible for extending the toes.
4. Intrinsic Foot Muscle Exercises
Helpful For: Reducing hammertoes, decreasing tension on the plantar fascia, improving toe dexterity, and increasing foot arch strength (Hacky Sack Grab Exercise) and improving foot arch strength and enabling natural arch support (Short Foot Exercise).
Two unique exercises that target the intrinsic foot muscles are demonstrated in this video: The Hacky Sack Grab Exercise and the Short Foot Exercise. The Hacky Sack Grab Exercise targets your intrinsic foot flexor muscles and is best performed after you have gained flexibility in your MTP joints. Use a small ball, hacky sack, or rolled up towel to perform this exercise. Place your hacky sack on the floor and, with your heel planted, grasp the hacky sack with your toes and pull it toward your body. This exercise can be performed either as a static hold or in repetition form.
The Short Foot Exercise is an isometric exercise that's performed by placing your entire foot flat on the ground and spreading your toes. Keeping your toes as straight as possible, grasp the ground with the sole of your foot to flex your intrinsic foot muscles. The movement, though subtle, should lift your main foot arch and help you build natural arch support.
5. Hammertoe Stretch & Mobilization
Helpful For: Reducing hammertoes and rebalancing the pull of foot and toe tendons.
This is a two-part exercise that can be used to help rehabilitate hammertoes. The first part of this exercise involves performing the Toe Extensor Stretch (see above). This stretch can be held for 20 to 30 seconds, and it's intended to restore normal tone in the toe extensor muscles and tendons. The second part of this stretch is a mobilization exercise that involves pulling up on the very end of your toe to help reestablish proper length in a specific toe flexor tendon. It's important to feel a gentle release or a reduction in tension before moving from step 1 to step 2.
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Dr. Robyn Hughes is a naturopathic physician, or ND, with a special interest in natural foot health and sports medicine. After completing medical school at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon, Dr. Robyn trained extensively with renowned sports podiatrist and natural foot care specialist, Dr. Ray McClanahan. Dr. Robyn is the Director of Medical Education for Correct Toes, a co-founder of NaturalFootgear.com, a freelance health writer, and a regular speaker at foot care teaching events. Dr. Robyn lives in Asheville, NC, where she’s an avid road cyclist, trail runner, and yoga student.