Foot health – Practice before pain

Foot health: practice before pain - Close-up of slim legs of female over blue sky enjoying summer

We tend not to think about all the work that our feet do until we experience foot pain.  Keeping our feet healthy and part of our exercise routine is a great way to prevent injuries and keep active over time.  Think of all the activity you put your feet through on a daily basis.  They bear most of the weight (figuratively and literally) of our daily movement and provide the connection point for several muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones.  Take the time to show the unsung hero of your daily movement some love and try a few exercises.   Here are few ways to focus on your feet, to keep you on your toes.

Toe raise, point, and curl

Sit in a straight-back chair with feet flat on the floor. Raise the toes toward the shin and slowly lift off the ground till just the heel is left on the ground.  Hold for five seconds.  Point toes straight and slowly lower foot to be flat on the ground from toes to heels.  Hold for five seconds.  Curl toes under and slowly draw up the arch of the foot, leaving the toes and heels on the ground.  Hold for five seconds.  Finally, lift the heel slowly off the ground until resting on the curled toes, and hold for five seconds.  Repeat five to ten times.

Toe splays

Sit in a straight-back chair with feet flat on the floor. Spread your toes as far apart as comfortable and hold for five seconds before relaxing.  Repeat five to ten times.  Additionally, much like playing the individual keys on a piano, spread your toes as far apart as possible and lower one toe to the floor at a time starting with the pinky toe, working inward toward the big toe.  Feel free to reverse and start with the big toe.  Repeat five to ten times.

Toe curls with a towel

Sit in a straight-back chair with your feet flat on a hand towel, resting on the floor. Use the short end of the hand towel, and start with toes just over the hand towel.  Start to curl the toes under and scrunch the towel up under you, continuing to move along the towel until it is almost pulled completely toward you.  Do with each foot one to three times.


The moves above will work to strengthen some of the muscles of the foot and ankle, but it is also good to make sure to stretch the area as well.

Sit in a straight-back chair with both feet flat on the floor.  Start with one foot, and pick it up to rest the ankle on the opposite thigh.  Gently use your fingers to hold the big toe and stretch by pulling the toe to the underside of the foot, and then up toward the top of the ankle.  Hold for five seconds and repeat three to five times.

Next, grab all of your toes and make a similar motion of folding toes forward toward the bottom of the foot, and then pulling back as toes point to the top of the foot.  Hold for five seconds at ends, and repeat three to five times.  Repeat on each foot.

Tennis ball

Sit in a straight-back chair with feet flat on the floor. Under one foot, place a tennis ball at the heel.  Roll the ball around under the foot, massaging the foot.  Roll forward to the toe, back the heel, side to side, whatever feels best, being sure to roll slowly and press lightly into the ball.  Change pressure as needed, and avoid high pressure in tender or painful areas.  Roll for 30 seconds and repeat on each foot.

Before starting any new exercise routine, it is always good to check in with a doctor and start slow.  Be sure to add a short warm-up period before any workout, and, at any point, be sure to stop the exercises and check with a medical professional if symptoms worsen or you experience pain.  Aim for adding in a few foot-specific moves three to four days a week, or even every day if it is working for you.

Kimberly Burke is the director of the Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University, an outreach program through the Department of Health and Exercise Science. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members, while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more see the Adult Fitness Program website.