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How to Make Sure Foot Pain And Ankle Pain Don’t Slow You Down

Foot problems—from foot paint to ankle pain—often begin with neglected feet. Here are the exercises that will help you build strong feet.

You wouldn’t build a gorgeous new house on a flimsy foundation, or purchase a sports car and expect to drive it on flat tires. By similar logic, putting in all the work to get a super-fit body while ignoring the base it stands on is like, well, shooting yourself in the foot. Besides, foot problems—from foot paint to ankle pain—often begin with neglected feet. No dad has time for that.

Now, strong toes and rock-solid arches aren’t something you discuss with your friends, the way you might talk about a killer biceps workout. But that doesn’t mean you can afford to neglect them. Eight in 10 people have experienced some form of foot pain in the last year. The antidote isn’t less activity, or even better shoes (although that would help—surveys suggest more than half of us stand all day in shoes that do not fit). The solution is better fitness. And we’re here to help.

Start with these exercises:

Toe spread. You can spread your fingers, your arms, and your legs. But when it comes to your toes, your mobility is likely pretty limited. You can change this (and you should, as more dexterous digits improve balance) with practice. Start sitting in a chair, feet flat on the floor. Spread your toes as far apart as you can and hold for five counts. Relax. Repeat five times.

Toe scrunches. Sit on a chair, place a towel flat on the floor and place your foot flat on the end closest to you. Pressing down into the towel, scrunch up your toes so that they bunch up the fabric beneath them and inch it toward your chair. Relax your toes and spread them out again; repeat. Continue scrunching and releasing your toes until the entire towel has been bunched up in front of your chair. Spread the towel out again and repeat on opposite side.

Toe roll. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Lift your heels off the floor, pressing the balls of your feet into the ground. Hold for five counts, then continue to raise the back and middle of your foot off the floor, until your weight rests on the very tippy top of your toes. Continue the rolling motion over the top of your toes until they tuck slightly beneath your elevated foot. Rest here, feeling a gentle stretch across the top of your foot up to your shins. Release. Do five times.

Pick-up game. One of the best ways to build your foot muscles, while also tidying up the house, is by using them as you would your hands. Start by emptying a container of small objects on the playroom floor (marbles, checkers, miniature action figures, crayons). Sitting in a chair, try to pick up the objects one by one using your toes, and placing them in a nearby basket.

To Barefoot, Or Not to Barefoot, That Is the Question

  •   The whole minimalist shoe phenomenon of a few years ago kicked off a major trend in the world of running; specifically, barefoot running, which is basically what it sounds like. Believers reported stronger feet, more efficient strides, and improved fitness. The medical community, however, voiced caution, documenting an increased number of foot and lower limb injuries due to a lack of foot support while running.
  •   Our advice? Split the difference. Run with shoes whenever you can, and ditch the shoes for running on the beach. The soft sand cushions your landing, lowering odds of an impact injury, and feels just right between your toes. The result: a much better workout, both aerobically and strength-wise—and fewer injuries.