The function of the foot is extremely important to the overall musculoskeletal function of the body.  The foot is the base of support for most everyday activities. Like a game of Jenga, if the base is not solid, the entire structure will lean, wobble, and eventually collapse. If the musculature of the foot is not properly functioning, many structures both locally and globally will be affected. The intrinsic muscles of the feet can become deconditioned over time due to ill-fitting shoes, tight socks, and even some orthotics.  Due to cramped spaces and the inability of the joints to function in their natural range of motion, our brains lose the neurological connection to the muscles of our feet, causing compensations. Luckily, neuroplasticity (the ability of our brains to change the neural circuits to our bodies) dictates that it is possible to improve and even reverse chronic instability of the foot, and thus joint pathologies and pain. This article will show you exercises to improve foot strength!

 

Common Injuries Of The Foot

In order to better grasp the ideal exercises to improve foot strength, let’s review the most common injuries of the foot and how they can create strength deficits in the foot and ankle complex. Below we highlight a handful of the most common injuries to the foot!

 

Learn How To Maximize Your Foot and Ankle Health

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Whether your goal is to decrease discomfort, improve walking ability, or prevent future foot & ankle injuries from happening you’re in the right place!

 

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis is usually characterized by foot and heel pain that is worse in the morning or following exercise. This phenomenon occurs when the musculature that attaches to the fascia at the bottom of the foot is overstressed and not balanced by the surrounding foot musculature. It can be a difficult condition to fully resolve, as the prognosis may up to 8-10 months. This fascia, which is a type of connective tissue, runs along the bottom of the foot, starting at the calcaneus bone (heel) and eventually inserting up towards the toes. It naturally is under constant stress throughout the day for many individuals (which is ok unless it is too much), especially those who have physically demanding jobs of being on their feet for long periods of time.

Currently, higher-level evidence supports interventions that include night splints, anti-pronation taping, orthotic prescription if deemed necessary, and specific exercise. In this article specifically, we will show you ways that you can strengthen your foot muscles, that ultimately can help.

READ: PLANTAR FASCIITIS [P]REHAB

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Claw toes, Hammer toes, and Hallux Valgus (bunions)

Claw toes, Hammer toes, and Hallux Valgus are deformities of the foot that don’t necessarily come with symptoms. These deformities are typically caused by abnormal stress and movements as well as muscular imbalances in the foot, which usually happens over time due to ill-fitting shoes. These deformities can potentially lead to instabilities in the foot and local or global injuries over time.

 

Claw Toes

claw toes exercises to improve foot strength the prehab guys

Check your feet: claw toes are characterized by an extended metatarsophalangeal joint, and flexed proximal and distal interphalangeal joints. A reason for this deformity could be a weakness in the extensor digitorum musculature and other surrounding intrinsic foot muscles. A study by Garth and Miller [1] concluded that runners with shin splints may have overuse of the flexor digitorum longus muscle which is associated with mild claw toe deformity.

 

Hammer Toes

hammer toes exercises to improve foot strength

Check your feet: Hammer toes are characterized by extension of the metatarsophalangeal and distal interphalangeal joints and flexion of the proximal interphalangeal joint. A reason for this deformity could be a weakness in the extensor digitorum brevis muscle and other surrounding intrinsic foot muscles.

 

Hallux Valgus

hallux valgus exercises to improve foot pain the prehab guys

Check your feet: Hallux valgus is characterized by a deviation of the big toe toward the second toe. This deformity gives a mechanical advantage for the flexor hallucis longus, which can encourage compensation and increase the deformity further. This deformity can be due to a weakness of the abductor hallucis muscle. Check your ankle dorsiflexion and big toe extension, limitations here can cause you to walk with your feet turned out,  further exacerbating this issue.

These deformities can be caused by a weakened foot which can have a cascading effect. Take the example of a runner with claw toes and shin splints. This runner experiences chronic irritation of the shin muscles due to compensation for weak intrinsic foot musculature. This inflammation around the shin could cause dysfunction to the musculature surrounding the knee. When the muscles surrounding the knee aren’t strong, passive structures like bone and cartilage can become compromised and damaged, causing injury and pain. This cascade of inflammation and pain, then compensation, then structural damage can continue all the way up the chain.

 

More Quick Tips For Strengthening Your Feet!

 

Exercises To Improve Foot Strength

Here are 4 great bang-for-your-buck exercises!

Forewarning: many times these exercises are difficult to perform due to the weakened neurologic connection to the muscles. Keep trying and they will improve as the neural circuits to your foot improves. If these exercises are too difficult you can use your hands to stabilize the toes that aren’t designed to move, allowing you to better move the desired toe.

 

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4 Little Toes Lift

This exercise targets extensor digitorum brevis and longus.

4 little toes lift exercise the prehab guys

For this exercise keep the big toe driven down into the floor while lifting the other toes up towards the ceiling. The key here is to keep the arch of the foot strong for this exercise, don’t allow the foot to roll in while lifting the small toes up. This may give you a false sense of toe elevation here.

 

 

Big Toe Lift

This exercise targets extensor hallucis brevis and longus

big toe lift exercise the prehab guys

For this exercise raise your big toe while keeping the other toes flat on the floor. Don’t allow the foot to roll out as you perform this, this may give you a false sense of big toe elevation. Also, avoid scrunching the little toes as you perform this. The more you practice this the better you will get at isolating the big toe and the greater the range of motion you will be able to go through.

 

 

Big toe abduction

This exercise targets abductor hallucis.

big toe abduction exercise the prehab guys

This exercise is probably the most challenging of the bunch. While keeping the little toes relaxed, bring the big toe in towards the midline of your body and back. Avoid allowing the foot from collapsing in or pronating, isolate this motion to the big toe!

 

 

Short foot Exercise

This exercise targets the quadratus plantae, and other intrinsic flexors. What you want to focus on is bringing the base of the big toe and heel together, this is achieved by arching the foot! Don’t curl the toes to achieve this, keep the toes flat on the floor, the motion should be coming from the arch of your foot.  This is the fourth and final of the exercises to improve foot strength!

short foot exercise the prehab guys

Hope you enjoyed the 4 exercises to improve foot strength.  Try these out and let us know what you think!

 

Check Your Shoes

A simple trick to ensure your toe box is the correct width is to remove the insert of your shoe and place your foot on top (do this without socks on). If your foot spills outside the borders of the insert, your shoes are too narrow. Ideally, your foot lines up almost perfectly with the border of the inserts. Too much space between your foot and the border could result in your foot sliding around in your shoe.

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Incorporate More Barefoot Activities

In addition to exercises that improve foot strength, if you are interested in increasing the stability of the foot, McKeon, Hertel, and Bramble [2] suggest incorporating barefoot activities into your routine. This could be as simple as going to a yoga class, walking around the house barefoot, or even running barefoot.

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runners knee the prehab audio experience exercises to improve foot strength

The body of evidence found significant stability improvements in the foot after a four-month barefoot walking and running program. As a PT, I suggest easing into a barefoot routine if you are not used to being barefoot. Start with small bouts of foot training, like walking around the house barefoot, and increase the time and intensity as tolerated. Like any training, if the stimulus is too intense, the body will respond adversely.

 

Take Control of Your Foot & Ankle Health

foot and ankle prehab program the prehab guys exercises to improve foot streength

The Foot & Ankle complex connects your leg to the environment. It acts to translate and accept forces from the leg to the ground and from the ground to the leg. Whether your goal is to decrease discomfort, improve walking ability, or prevent future foot & ankle injuries from happening you’re in the right place!

 

REFERENCES

  1. Garth, W. P., & Miller, S. T. Evaluation of claw toe deformity, weakness of the foot intrinsics, and posteromedial shin pain. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 17(6), 821–827.
  2. McKeon PO, Hertel J, Bramble D, et al. The foot core system: a new paradigm for understanding intrinsic foot muscle function British Journal of Sports Medicine 2015;49:290.

 

About The Author

Shannon graduated with her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Kansas, then received her Specialist certification in Muscle Activation Technique. She owns a cash-pay physical therapy practice called Levo Wellness in Durham, North Carolina. She specializes in improving and resolving joint pain by identifying and correcting muscular imbalances.

Follow Shannon on Instagram @dr.shannon.dpt for more fitness, physical therapy, and yoga hacks and tips.

 

 

 

Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.

About the author : [P]rehab

18 Comments

  1. S September 24, 2019 at 4:10 am

    ?!?

  2. Cynthia Akey September 24, 2019 at 4:40 am

    Looks like you forgot to post the article.

  3. Lars Peterson September 24, 2019 at 5:35 am

    Can’t find “4 exercises to improve foot strength” – I clicked on the link from the newsletter. Thanks

  4. curtis borchardt September 24, 2019 at 5:54 am

    Looks like the article is not showing up. I am only seeing the tags!

  5. Christina Alessi September 24, 2019 at 6:16 am

    Interested in reading your foot strength blog.

  6. Mr Josh Pitman September 24, 2019 at 6:53 am

    Page not working on desktop gents!

  7. Emma Heath September 24, 2019 at 11:55 am

    Hello

  8. Dee Grant October 26, 2020 at 2:04 pm

    I was in tears reading this. I have so many issues with my feet. I have drop foot, a rolling ankle, flst feet, and a bunion..I have been to specialists and orthotists and podiatrists. They keep saying stretch your Achilles. Reading your article I realise there is more I can do. Thank you so much. Starting then now to see if my brain can remember. My smaller toes dont move at all.

    • arash maghsoodi October 29, 2020 at 2:55 pm

      This is great to hear! Stay consistent with whichever program you decide to go with. We have a foot program as well Dee! wishing you good health.

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