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Every day, we ask our feet and lower limbs to carry and support our body. No wonder the lower limb bones are the strongest and biggest in the body.
With 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than a hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments, our feet and ankles are strong and complex. They are also vulnerable to injury.
The foot has three parts:
- The ankle and heel form the hindfoot or rearfoot.
- Using eight bones, the midfoot creates the arches which act as shock absorbers. It is connected to the back and front by muscles and plantar fascia. The top is called the instep; the bottom is called the sole.
- Ten bones form the forefoot which are the toes, called phalanges like the bones of the hand.
What can go wrong?
Problems with our feet can be caused by several things:
- Injuries and overuse: sprained ankle, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis;
- Infections: athlete’s foot, planter warts;
- Structural changes: bunions, ingrown toenails; and,
- Genetic disorders at birth: club foot.
Wearing well-fitting and comfortable shoes is one of the keys to keeping healthy, happy feet, but every day we walk on unforgiving pavement or simply stand for hours.
The two most inappropriate shoes to wear are:
- Tight, ill-fitting shoes; and,
- High heels.
Poorly-fitting shoes can change the normal alignment and movement of the ankle and foot — and it can cause permanent damage. High heels are probably the best example of this.
Unfortunately, even switching to better-fitting shoes later in life will not completely prevent foot and lower leg problems if you wore the wrong kind of shoes in your youth. But it’s better late than never.
Movements and Massage May Help
Many foot problems can be soothed with simple movements or massages. These can be done at home — usually without shoes.
Standing or Walking:
- Heel/Toe Rock: Stand on your toes and remain there for 30 seconds. Then stand on your heels. Go back and forth, either rapidly or slowly. This can be done with or without shoes. You can also turn this into a simple heel/toe rock.
- Heel/Toe Walk: Walk on your toes. And then walk on your heels.
- Outside/Inside Walk: This one’s a little more tricky! Walk on the outside of your feet, or the inside of your feet. If you are the least unstable, stay close to a wall or chair which you can hold on to for support.
- Picking up marbles: ￼Place a few marbles on the floor. Pick them up with your toes and place them in a bowl. Try to do ten with each foot. 2
- Icing: Put water in a plastic bottle and freeze it. Place a towel on the floor and sit in a chair. Roll the iced plastic bottle under your foot, providing a nice way of icing the bottom of your foot.
- Ankle Rotation: Extend the leg out in front of you and simply rotate the ankle gently first one way and then the other.
- Point & Flex: Extend the leg out and point and flex the toe. Hold each position for several seconds before moving to the other.
- Plantar Fascia Massage: Hold your foot in one hand and pull back the big toe. With the other hand, use your thumb to trace along the plantar fascia at the bottom of the foot. Repeat as often as you wish.
- Massage: Roll something under your foot: marbles, several small balls, one small ball, an empty plastic bottle. This provides a gentle massage.
- Toe Stretch #1: Place feet on floor. Press down as much as you can with your entire foot. Then raise the toes up and hold. Repeat 10 times.
- Toe Stretch #2: Place a wide rubber band over each of your big toes and then pull to the sides, away from each other. Keep the feet straight and level with each other. Hold for a few seconds; repeat as often as you wish.￼
- Toe Stretch #3: Sit in a chair and place your feet on the floor. Then lift up the heel, pressing down with your toes. Straighten out the toes and point to the floor, then bend toes back.
- Toe & Foot Stretch: While sitting in a firm chair, extend your legs out and wrap a towel around your foot and pull the foot towards you with both hands on the towel. You can also do this with a resistance band.
Podiatrist or a Pedorthist?
If you are wearing good shoes, massaging your feet, and doing simple exercises, but still having problems, you may wish to see either:
- a podiatrist, who specializes in the treatment of the feet, or
- a pedorthist who specializes in the use of modification of footwear to treat problems related to the lower limbs.
If you are dealing with a serious and/or painful issue — such as plantar fasciitis — you may want to consult your doctor.
Other articles in this series about muscles are:
- The Abdominals
- The Adductors and Abductors: Muscles in the Thigh
- The Deltoids: The Shape of the Shoulder
- The Erector Spinae: The Spine Muscles
- The Forearm, Elbow, and Wrist
- The Glutes
- The Hamstrings: Back of the Thigh
- The Hip Flexors
- Latissimus Dorsi: The Lats
- The Lower Leg: The Calf and the Shin
- Muscle Cramps and Other Injuries
- Muscles of the Head
- The Muscular System: How it Works
- Opposing Muscles
- Pectoralis Major and Minor: The Pecs
- The Quadriceps: The Front of the Thigh
- The Trapezius and the Rhomboids
- The Upper Arm: The Biceps and the Triceps
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.