Home gyms are now more popular than ever, but most people tend to focus on working out their arms, shoulders, cores, and legs. Have you ever thought, however, to incorporate a few foot and ankle exercises on leg day? If you want to avoid heel pain, sports injuries, or potential surgical procedures thanks to other injuries, it’s important to strengthen your foot and ankle. Here are 8 at-home exercises that you can add to any weekly routine:
Stretching the Toes
The jury is still out on if you should stretch before or after a workout, but the practice of stretching is key to better overall flexibility. This is especially true for toes! Stiff joints are far more likely to experience aches, pains, and even strains when bent in an awkward manner. The following stretches will loosen them up in no time:
- Tight or pointy shoes put stress on the big toe. Start in a seated position with both feet on the floor. Place one foot on the thigh opposite to it. Grasp the big toe and bend it upward, downward, to the left, and to the right, for 5 to 10 seconds each.
- Tight shoes can also lead to hammer toe. Start in a seated position with both feet on the floor. Place one foot on the thigh opposite to it. Gently pull each toe for 5 to 10 seconds.
Working the Soles
The soles (or bottom) of the feet are prone to injury and inflammation due to the fact that they are constantly under stress from walking, running, and all other types of physical activities. Try these two exercises to ease any pain you may be suffering from:
- Want a relaxing at-home foot massage? Find a tennis/golf ball and a chair to sit on. Place the ball underneath your foot and apply pressure downward. Slowly roll the ball back and forth to start. Next, roll the ball side to side. If your foot is already inflamed, a frozen water bottle is a soothing alternative option.
- Walk around in the sand barefoot by making a sandbox in your own backyard. As you walk, your feet will sink down and you will notice that it takes more effort than normal to lift them back up. Since sand is a difficult surface to navigate, your muscles will start to feel the burn after just a few steps!
Strengthening the Heels
Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain. By strengthening the plantar fascia between your toes and heel bone early, you’ll be far less likely to experience this type of inflammation. Also connected to the heel is the Achilles tendon, which can become quite inflamed after strenuous activities as well. Here are a few exercises to improve each, along with the heel:
- While standing on a slightly raised surface, like a step, carefully shuffle your feet backwards until your heels hang off the back. Using the balls of your feet, thrust your heels up and then lower them back down slowly.
- Stand up straight and place your palms flat on the wall. Step back with one leg, making sure to keep it straight. Bend your knee in the opposite leg and keep both heels in contact with the ground. Lean forward from your lower body until you feel a good stretch in your Achilles tendon.
Stabilizing the Ankles
Ankles allow the feet to move in a few different directions – up, down, and side to side. If you find yourself sitting more often than not, however, you may be dealing with stiff joints and ligaments that can lead to sprains and strains.
- Flexion and dorsiflexion are simple actions you can make to help stretch out your ankles. All you have to do is use them to point your toes to the floor (flexion) and back up towards your body (dorsiflexion). The best position to be in for these stretches is seated on the floor with your legs in front of you.
- While there are plenty of bands available at the gym, you will have to get creative at home to add some resistance. Find a towel, sit on a chair, and raise your foot and ankle. Grab the towel with both hands, leaving a space in the middle. Place your foot and ankle in that space, with the towel underneath your sole, and pull the towel back. Point your toes to the floor for a few seconds and return it to center. If you tie one end of the towel to the leg of a sturdy table and the other end to your foot, you can also try pointing your toes back up towards your body with resistance.
Injured? Consult a Podiatrist!
All of these exercises are great for strengthening your foot and ankle, but injuries are never 100% preventable. If you’re experiencing pain due to an injury, consult with one of our knowledgeable doctors at The Foot & Ankle Center. We have the ability to pinpoint the source of your pain and recommend treatment during an appointment, which you can request online today!