Chronic foot pain can be one of the more difficult problems that individuals have to deal with these days. It’s all but impossible to avoid using your feet, they’re literally the part of your body that connects you to the ground and all of your body weight rests on. A typical solution for these problems tends to be getting a shoe with more support and padding to protect your foot and wrap it in a cushion, or to install insoles into your shoe that are supposed to create additional support by replacing the things your feet should be doing for themselves like creating an arch. It’s time we ‘take a step back’ from this approach and examine the function of our feet and what a long term solution to foot pain might be.
If you think about what your feet do and the amount of stress you put on them every day, from standing and walking on them, to the types of shoes we wear such as high heels, you might first think that they do in fact need as much protection as you can give them. But the reality is we will always put a lot of strain and pressure on our feet, so maybe a better solution would be to make them as tough and strong as possible in order to handle all that abuse. Because the truth is that when you have pain somewhere, 9 times out of 10 the main solution is going to be that some muscle needs to get stronger. And yes, your foot can be made to be strong.
First things first though, if you’re experiencing foot pain you need to start off by reducing that pain in order to work on foot strength. We have put together a straight forward, 4 step approach to reducing and eventually eliminating foot pain that can be used in conjunction with foot strengthening techniques. Since foot pain is generally caused by weakened and bound up muscles in the foot along with muscle tension in the general area it’s best to start off by reducing the muscle tension in the surrounding area in order to give a little extra slack to the muscles in your foot for when you start directly working on them.
The first thing you want to do is address any tightness in your calf by going after it with a foam roller. The calf connects to the Achilles Tendon which then attaches to your heel, leading into all the tendons and muscles of your foot. Do a thorough job of exploring your entire calf muscle on the foam roller looking for tight spots, from the bottom all the way to the top and from one side to the other. If you find any tight spots roll around right on that area while flexing your foot up and down until the muscle begins to loosen up a bit.
From here you now want to go after any tight or bound up muscles in your foot by rolling out the bottom of your foot on a lacrosse ball or tennis ball. A frozen water bottle will also work. Just like with your calf you’re looking for any excessive tension or tight spots with the ball. Move slowly through both edges of your feet as well as the front of your heel and the ball of your foot, all the while flexing and extending your toes. This will accomplish two main things; breaking up any muscle tension or muscle fibers that have gotten “sticky” and aren’t sliding very well, and also encourage blood flow into the area. Tight muscles means that blood flow is being restricted, which can prevent the muscle from healing fully.
I recommend following all of this up with a good calf stretch just to simply reinforce what you’ve done so far toward encouraging healthy calves and feet without excessive muscle tension. I think it’s helpful to note that there are two main muscle groups in your calf that you want to be stretching. The upper part of your calf will get a stretch if you keep your knee locked out during the stretch in the video, and the lower part of your calf, which connects to the Achilles, will get stretched if you do the stretch with a slightly bent knee.
Once you’ve done this and have hopefully reduced some of the foot pain you feel it’s a good idea to activate the tibialis, the muscle on the front of your shin. This muscle is involved with connecting to the tendons in the foot which help your foot maintain a natural arch. As you can see in the video this is a very simple exercise that does not require any weights, just some type of resistance that you can flex your foot into in order to activate and ultimately strengthen the muscle on your shin, the tibialis. Follow this up with basic glute activation to ensure that the main muscles of your hips are fired up and ready to move you around.
From here you’re off to the races with foot strengthening exercises. A basic towel grab with your toes will help activate the muscles of the foot and get them on the road to being stronger and more resistant to pain brought on by weakness. Single leg exercises like a single leg squat or balance reach will also go a long way toward strengthening the muscles of your foot while they get better at balancing you. And if you’re looking to work extra hard you can try combining the two by performing a single leg balance reach while doing a toe grab with the towel.
I strongly encourage you to get more comfortable with working on foot strength rather than trying to protect them from the harsh reality that is being a foot. Try walking around barefoot for half a day once a week, flexing your toes as you walk around. Over time your foot pain will subside and you will begin noticing a distinct difference in the way you feel and move through your feet.