Foot stretches keep feet and toes in check and pain-free—and help the rest of your body stay strong too
Your feet are the foundation to your entire body. So when they’re not feeling great, everything suffers—your calves, knees, hips, and even back and shoulders can be thrown off. And just walking around all day puts a lot of wear on your tootsies, especially if you shod them in not-so-great footwear (we’re looking at you, heels and flip-flops) or give them a pounding during your workouts. (Hey, comfy kicks are trendy, so take advantage—check out all the Stan Smiths, Slip-ons and More Casual Sneaker Styles We’re Loving Right Now to give your feet some relief.)
Stretching your feet, the same way you stretch out the rest of your body, is essential, says Emily Splichal, a podiatrist and author of Barefoot Strong. “The most powerful release anyone can do is to the bottom of the foot,” she says. There are 18 muscles and tendons, as well as connective tissue that criss-crosses over the sole of the foot, Splichal explains. When these bands get too tight, it can cause pain in your feet, Achilles tendon, and calves. Splichal recommends “releasing” the bottom of your feet by using the Yamuna Foot Wakers ($50, amazon.com), but notes that frozen golf balls can work as well. Just sit down, place a frozen golf ball under your sole, and roll your foot over it from heel to toe and side to side, applying as much pressure as feels comfortable.
Splichal suggests stretching your toes too. “Lots of shoes have narrow, tight, or pointed toe boxes, which can cause your own toes to become cramped.” Even flip-flops can cramp up your toes, since you scrunch them as you walk to “hold on to” the sandal. To separate them again, you can use a toe separator like YogaToes ($37, amazon.com). Or Splichal suggests taking a rubber bracelet (like the yellow LiveStrong bracelets) and looping it around each toe to do the same thing.
Also important: loosening up your lower calf muscles, says Brian Hoke, a sports physical therapist for Vionic Shoes. This is especially essential if you often wear heels, which shorten the calf muscles and can cause serious pain and cramping. “A common mistake is to allow the arches to fall while stretching the calf muscle,” notes Hoke. “It causes stress that can aggravate foot problems, like plantar fasciitis.”
To prevent this, while doing a normal straight-leg calf stretch, Hoke advises lifting the arch in your back foot, putting more weight on the outer three toes, and lifting your big and “index” toe upward to raise the arch even more. Then lean all your weight forward and hold for about 15 seconds on each side. Try stretching your calf like this every morning after getting out of bed. (Your toes tend to point down at night, especially if you sleep on your stomach, which can tighten the calf muscles.) And use the golf-ball trick every night after getting out of your shoes, or any time your feet feel achy. The rest of your body will thank you. (Your fancy footwear isn’t the only item in your closet giving you grief—your favorite fashion choice may be one of 7 Health Dangers Hiding in Your Closet.)