Our feet take a beating every day and go largely unnoticed unless we cash in on a birthday pedicure or stub a toe while walking barefoot. Each of our feet has 26 bones (14 of those are in your toes), 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. They are our foundation, shock absorber and pedal power.
Even with the complex and astonishing job they do for us, we still ignore them. Misalignments in our feet or ankles can lead to knee problems, low back pain, even headaches, so let’s take a minute to appreciate our feet!
Here’s a quiz to help focus your attention on these unsung heroes.
Which of the following statements is true?
a) Most of us should aim to take 10,000 steps per day. The force of this number of steps is equal to several tons.
b) The average person walks close to 110,000 miles in their lifetime.
c) Women are more likely than men to have foot problems.
d) A 2 1/2-inch heel puts a 75% greater load on the forefoot.
e) Walking in the best exercise for your feet.
How’d you do? If you said they’re all right, you scored 100%!
Here are some daily exercises that lead to strong, healthy and aligned feet – without the bark or the bite!
Foot Fascia Release
Stand with feet hip distance apart. Shift your weight to your left foot. Keeping your right heel on the floor, raise the ball of your foot and curl your toes into a foot fist. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Release the squeeze and lift and spread your toes widely. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Lastly, stretch through your inner foot like you’re stepping on a gas pedal. Hold 3-5 seconds, then release. Repeat this exercise 3 times for each foot.
Want to see if it really works?
Stand tall with your feet hip distance apart. Without leaning back from your hips, tilt your chin up as far as it will go and gaze at the ceiling as far back as you can (pick a spot on the ceiling that you’ll remember). Do the Foot Fascia Release exercise 3 times on each side. Stand tall again, tilt your chin back and see how far back you can see.
Point and Flex Your ABC’s
Sit in a chair and extend your right leg forward. Point and flex your foot several times as a warm-up, then begin to paint the alphabet using your toes like the tip of a magic marker. All the way from A to Z and it doesn’t matter if you write in capital letters! Repeat with the other foot.
Drop a small towel or washcloth on the floor and pick it up with your toes. Hold it tightly for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 5 times each foot.
Collapsed arches, or flat feet, aren’t a bad thing but sometimes we’ll have pain from exercising especially if we have no arch support.
Stand with feet hip distance apart. Press down through the four corners of your feet (ball of your foot, inner heel, outer forefoot, outer heel). Without curling your toes, squeeze your heel toward the ball of your foot and vice versa creating a lift to your inner and outer arches. Hold 5-10 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times each foot.
Keep the Achilles tendon (at the back of your heel) open and relaxed.
Sit in a chair with one leg extended in front of you. Wrap a towel or flexible exercise band around the ball of your foot. Pull back on the towel or band until your arch feels like it’s stretching. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 5 times each foot.
Careful, this one isn’t easy. Creating space between your toes is helpful for hammertoes (your toes curl under without effort) and bunions (the side of your big toe sticks out painfully).
Begin seated and hold one of your feet. Massage it strongly with your thumb and finger pads, around the inner and outer arches, toe ball pads, and down the center of the bottom of your foot (it will be quite sensitive here but keep going). Now, insert your left fingers between your right toes (index finger between your big and 2nd toe, middle finger between your 2nd and 3rd toe, and so on). Snuggle your fingers and toes tightly together, all the way to the crevices in between. Rock your toes back and forth, in a circle. When finished, look at your feet side-by-side and notice any differences in the coloring and softness and the space between your toes. Repeat with the other foot.
The Icy Massage
Last but not least, an icy massage is often the Rx for inflammation caused by biking, running, or standing too long on one spot. The ice serves to reduce inflammation and the rolling massages the fascia.
Option One: freeze a golf ball for a few hours and while seated, roll the ball under each foot.
Option Two freeze a small plastic water bottle that’s filled nearly full (to allow for expansion). With a socked foot, roll the water bottle back and forth under each foot for several minutes.
Note: I wrote this message for the online evidence-based nutrition education program DASH for Health, a team I’ve been a part of for 10 years now! DASH for Health is based on the well-reviewed dietary approach, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and when followed appropriately, DASH for Health yields significant results in reducing blood pressure and weight.