Foot pain can be a very serious matter, especially if you work on your feet all day. There are many different types of foot pain — high- and low-arch issues, tendinitis, heel spurs, ankle sprains and, most commonly, plantar fasciitis. Of all the structures in your body, your feet probably take the most beating.
It is possible and greatly beneficial to strengthen your feet and ankles in order to prevent any debilitating injuries that could result later on. If you already have foot pain, some of the prevention techniques could still help, but you should talk to your doctor beforehand.
Weakness and tightness seem to be the cause of most injuries I have seen, and usually both of these factors are present to cause injury. To prevent these issues, strength training and stretching must be performed at least a few times each week. Stretching can be done every day. Two crucial strength-training exercises for the foot are calf raises and toe raises.
Calf raises are exercises in which you lift the heel off the ground by pushing down on the balls of your feet. You can do these while standing or sitting. By simply standing on the balls of your feet, you will be working the calf muscles behind the lower leg. Lifting off your heels 10 to 20 times should work the calf muscles appropriately. When sitting, you can add weight to your lap with the use of the seated calf-raise machine and do the same motion with the ankle. These machines will often allow you to drop your heel lower to allow full range of motion in the ankle joint.
Toe raises can be done by just raising and lowering the ball of your foot. To add resistance, you can either use exercise bands or position a weight to the top of your foot. There is an easier way, however. By lightly walking on your heels for 10 to 20 steps you will be working the same muscles. The best place to do this is on a soft carpet without your shoes on. You should feel a slight burning in the front of your shin in the tibialis anterior muscle, which should always be strengthened in conjunction with the calf muscle.
The best way to stretch the ankle and foot is to use a stairway. By standing on a step, allowing your heels to hang over, you will be in a prime position to stretch your calf muscles. While holding onto a railing, slowly let your heel drop lower than your toes. Only the balls of your feet and toes should be in contact with the step. Your body weight should be enough to feel a stretch in the calf muscles. If you don't feel a stretch, try doing this on only one foot at a time. Try to relax the calf muscle, and hold this position for 30 seconds. Doing this will release pressure on both the Achilles tendon behind the ankle and the fascia underneath the foot.
There are many more structures affecting the foot and ankle than just the calf and tibialis anterior, including several smaller muscles and ligaments surrounding the ankle and foot. To get at these, it is sometimes best to work them all at once. You can do this while letting your feet hang off the bed and moving your ankle in different directions while pretending to write the alphabet in cursive with your toes. This will ensure that all the muscles around your ankle and foot are being used. This exercise will also increase coordination in the muscles.
Your feet and ankles can play a subtle, yet extremely important role in your overall fitness program. And if this role is compromised, many other exercises will be difficult to carry out, such as running, walking, stepping and squatting. Without these abilities, staying in shape will be much harder. Although this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding foot and ankle exercises, these basics can help most people avoid or resolve foot discomfort.
Ted Santaniello, CSCS, is a certified personal trainer working at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh. For more information, call him at 324-2024.