You probably don’t see a whole lot of athletes spending time in the gym focusing on strengthening their feet. However, research has shown that exercises targeted at strengthening the feet can help prevent and treat a number of different foot conditions, such as plantar fasciitis, metatarsalgia, tibialis posterior tendinopathy and hallux valgus (bunions).
Why is a strong foot so important?
The intrinsic muscles of the feet help with stability, shock absorption, balance, arch support and foot mechanics. If there is a weakness in these deep muscles, then other structures will take the extra load, which subsequently lead to injuries not only in the feet, but also up the lower extremity, as biomechanics of the whole leg are altered. For example, weak intrinsic foot muscles can lead to over-pronation of the feet, which results in the leg rotating inwards, putting strain on structures of the hip and knee, potentially causing injuries to these areas.
Luckily, you don’t have to devote a whole training workout just to your feet. Research has evaluated EMG muscle activation of the intrinsic foot muscles during a number of different foot exercises in order to determine which exercise is the most beneficial. The key exercise across a number of different studies is the “short-foot exercise.”This exercise has been widely studied and has been supported in the research for the following conditions:
- Preventing foot/lower extremity injuries in runners;
- Decreasing pain and disability due to bunions;
- Prevention and treatment of plantar fasciitis;
- Decreasing the risk of falls in the elderly
- With even weight on both feet, place a business card under the first metatarsal head and slide the card back towards your heel as you lift the inside of the foot (in order to raise your arch)
- Be sure to keep the weight on the metatarsal heads where the business card is placed – not through the toes; you should be able to lift the big toe up and down.
- Hold the position for 10 seconds, relax and repeat for 10 repetitions and 2 sets.
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The short-foot exercise is initially done in a seated position and can be progressed to more challenging positions, such as standing, balancing on 1 leg and eventually while doing functional activities such as squatting. Research has shown that doing this exercise daily for 4 weeks improves postural control of the foot, specifically preventing over-pronation, as well as improving balance and proprioception.
If you have been suffering from foot pain that won’t go away, contact Sheddon Physiotherapy and Sports Clinic and a therapist can help get you back on your feet.