5 exercises from a physiotherapist for healthy feet

Flat feet, heel spurs, bunions. Did you know that you can solve all of these problems with the right exercise? Physiotherapist Lukáš Klimpera has prepared 5 easy exercises for healthy feet and legs just for you. You’ll also learn how the most frequent foot problems occur and how to benefit your feet with simple exercises.

Exercise at home, at work, or wherever you like. You’ll soon see an improvement. And your feet will thank you for it.

1. Exercise for bunions: Teach the brain to sense the foot’s muscles

How do bunions form? By constricting the foot in narrow shoes. The big toe is crammed into the shoe, making it non-functional, constricting the muscle and ligaments on the inner side of the toe. Contrary to this, the muscle on the outer side of the toe loosens. 

But there’s good news: Bunions can usually be cured through exercise. It’s enough to free the feet from narrow shoes and show the brain that it can utilize the foot muscles. 

Here’s how: Use your hand. With a moderate, careful movement, you’ll awaken the proper muscle. 

  1. Very gently and carefully place initial tension on the big toe – for a short moment, push it into an even more deviated position, once over the other toes, then once under them.  
  2. Try to straighten it

If you manage to make even a small movement, you’re on the right path.

Not able to straighten the big toe without using your hand? Try to wake it up by rubbing it. Through stimulative rubbing (scientifically called “exteroceptive stimulation”), you’ll increase muscle tension.  You’ll kick-start it, and the brain will begin to sense it. And the more it senses it, the better control it will have over it. 

With bunions, the weaker muscle is the one on the outer side of the big toe. That’s why you should rub the foot from the inner side.

2. Exercise for flat feet: Activate the arch and ankle

Many people claim to have flat feet. But in up to 70 % of cases, their arches are completely fine.  The problem lies elsewhere: A collapsed ankle. When the ankle is everted inwards, the arch looks flat. But, once you straighten the ankle, the arch is renewed. 

While the ankle causes collapsed longitudinal arches, the toes are responsible for collapsed transverse ones. When they’re active, an arch is created. 

So how can we best improve “flat feet”? It’s simple: Activate the feet and give them room for natural movement. 

Try this simple exercise: 

  1. Stretch out the toes and relax them again. 
  2. Curl your toes into a ball. 
  3. Make circles with the ankles from side to side. 

Shortening and elongating the foot will also help: 

  1. The heel stays in place as you pull the toes towards it. Then relax. 
  2. The toes stay in place as you pull the heel towards them. Then relax. 

These exercises will help you activate the feet, including the ankles. The position of the ankle is also important, and we’ll discuss this below.

3. Exercise for heel spurs: Look for the center

Did you know that the bones of the human body readjust throughout our whole life according to how much load we place on them? This is also how heel spurs form. They’re an adaptation to the uneven burdening of the foot.   

Acute cases require special treatment, but exercise in more moderate cases will stop the problem from advancing and prevent it from coming back after treatment. 

Here’s how: Find the proper position of the foot and stabilize it. 

  1. Lean the foot on the heel to the left and right. 
  2. Sense where both extreme positions are. 
  3. Look for the middle-centered position. It’s usually between both extremes, where you feel full contact between the heel bone and the ground. In this position, the ankle is also centered, as we’ll show later. 
  4. Once you find it, start putting weight on the foot in this position. Stand on one foot and take a step. Try to put your foot on a step and then step down.
  5. While moving, continue to check the position of the heel and the whole leg. Toes, heel, ankle, knee – everything has to be aligned.

4. Exercise for the ankle: Find a centered position

The most frequent problem tends to be everted ankles. When the ankle “collapses” inwards, the contact of the joints’ surfaces changes; the joints are subjected to excessive wear and the risk of arthrosis heightens. In addition, a weakened ankle can’t react in time to a hole along your path, leading to the risk of injury. 

So how can we help the ankle? Maybe you’ve thought: Buying firm shoes and binding the ankle will work. But that’s exactly the opposite of what the ankle needs. In shoes like that, it’s as if the ankle were in a splint; the muscles aren’t engaging and they grow even weaker. 

Select spacious shoes with a free ankle. Then find the correct, centered position for the ankle. In this position, the ankle links up wonderfully with the whole foot and up to the knee axis.

How to find the centered position: 

  1. Stand up on both feet. 
  2. Turn the ankle inward as far as it will allow you to. 
  3. Turn it outward in the opposite direction in the same way. 
  4. Look for the center – it will be somewhere in between these positions.

In this position, try: 

  1. Engaging both feet in a way that makes you feel like they’re carrying you. 
  2. Standing on one, then the other foot. 

By doing this, you’ll engage the centered ankle into the context of the whole body.

Reading tip: The best shoes for hiking? They’re definitely not hiking shoes.

5. Exercise for the knees: Practice the proper knee position

The next time you’re waiting for a bus, notice how the people at the stop are standing. Most of them have their knees “locked” (i.e. hyperextended) backwards – and they’re setting themselves up for problems. In this position, the knees are exposed to wear unevenly, the brain establishes unnatural muscle tension, and this spreads throughout the body. 

How to find the correct knee position?

The knee should be neither bent too far forward nor too far back. Its ideal position is literally somewhere in-between. You can find it easily when you slowly and gently bend and straighten the knee joint. At a certain point during this movement, you’ll feel that you’re exactly in-between.

It’s important for the knee to be aligned with the axis of the whole leg. This is in order to avoid the axis at the knee from veering to either side. Try sitting down on a chair. Sounds simple enough, right? Make sure you’re sticking to the correct steps while you’re doing it. 

  1. Find the correct position of the knee as we’ve explained above. 
  2. Try sitting down on a chair. 
  3. At the same time, keep the knee in a centered position – in one line with the axis of the leg. 
  4. Slowly stand up and continue to check the position of the knees.

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