Most people hit the gym for big muscle gains, increased endurance, weight loss or improved flexibility. But often we forget about a critical aspect of our physical health—our feet, the part of the body that carries us everywhere. Here's how to lend some attention to all the foot muscles that go unappreciated, yet do so much for us daily.
Without proper care, a variety of things can go wrong. The following are a few of the most common foot injuries:
Plantar fasciitis: This common foot injury occurs when the connective tissue in the bottom of the foot develops very small tears and inflammation due to excessive use and stretching. Pain persists through the arch of the foot and heel, especially right out of bed in the morning. This condition may start out as a strain, but without immediate attention it can develop into long-term plantar fasciitis.
Turf toe: This injury can affect athletes of all kinds, not just those playing on turf as the name suggests. When the big toe is hyperextended too frequently, such as with explosive jumping movements, this type of ligament sprain can occur. The big toe joint aches with significant pressure or movement.
Achilles tendinitis: Achilles tendinitis is an overuse injury most common in people who do not regularly participate in high-intensity sports, or who increase their workout intensity too quickly. The primary symptom is pain on the back of the ankle and heel, running up the calf. The area becomes tender and in prolonged cases can become severely painful.
Metatarsalgia: Repetitive high impacts to the feet can cause this injury in which the ball of the foot becomes painful and inflamed. The joint between the phalanges and metatarsals is where running and standing exercises hit hardest.
What to Do
Meeting with a specialist to examine your gait profile (an analysis of the way your weight distributes onto your feet) and how it affects your pronation (tilt of your feet) can help you choose the best exercises and shoes to prevent injury. But here are a few tips to help keep your feet happy:
Simple tasks such as picking up coins, marbles or other small objects from the floor can help develop motor control in the smaller muscles of the feet.
With just your toes and the balls of your feet on a step, lower your heel down below the ball of your foot. Hold for 10 seconds. This position stretches calf muscles as well.
Balance on one foot on level ground with your eyes closed for one minute. If this task becomes easy, try it on an inclined board or BOSU ball for additional strengthening. This balancing exercise strengthens stabilizing muscles in your feet while also working your core muscles.
Roll It Out
After a tough foot workout, use a frozen water bottle under your foot to ease out muscle tension and decrease inflammation simultaneously. A golf ball or tennis ball can be used as well.
Using an exercise band for resistance is one way to strengthen feet. Hook one end of the band around a stable item, and hook the other onto the top of your foot in a taut position. Keeping legs straight, pull your toes toward your body in slow repetition.
Pay attention to how your feet respond to physical activity, and adjust your exercises accordingly. Prolonged mistreatment or negligence of minor injuries can lead to extensive problems. Start improving your health today from the bottom up. Learn more about injuries at webmd.com and exercises at runnersworld.com.