Articulating the Ankle: Improving Mobility To Point & Flex Your FeetAre you searching for the right exercises for healthy feet? Are your calf muscles tight? Do you ever have heel pain? Do you hop around with toe cramps? or arch cramps? Are you plagued with Plantar Fasciitis problems? Are you still searching for foot care solutions that work well for your tired, achy feet?
Healthy Feet and ankles are not just for ballerinas!Whether you walk, run, dance or just sit behind a desk all day, how much we use, or misuse, our feet can contribute to challenging foot problems and more. Of course if you’re dealing with an acute injury consultation with your doctor or podiatrist should be your first stop. But if you’re trying to find the strategies and solutions that can help get you back to health and keep you poor feet out of trouble, it may be time to pay a little more attention to your ankles, arches and toes on a very regular basis. Tendons, ligaments, fascia, muscle and bone are all connected. This network of our structure has to be in balance for us to enjoy healthy, pain-free movement. Ligaments connect bone to bone, tendons connect muscle to bone, fascia is the supportive matrix for muscle, and muscles move bones. If our muscles are too tight, movement is restricted, and more stress is placed on the muscle, fascia and tendons which can lead to Achilles tendon problems, heel pain and plantar fasciitis (just to name a few potential issues since we’re discussing the feet.) If our muscles are too weak, especially along the soles of the feet – there’s a very good chance that as soon as we start to contract a foot muscle it will cramp or lock up in a spasm! Not much incentive to engage our muscles, so we avoid any movement with the ankle, foot or toes that might cause the muscles to cramp. The result of never contracting a muscle… It will get weaker and weaker, and will cramp quicker and more severely if you do anything that requires its use! The result of not enough stretching… Restricted mobility and muscles that are too tight. Then, one day they will “accidentally” get stretched farther than they can comfortably go and – rip, tear, strain, and voilà an injury! So how do we balance the work of the muscles along the soles of the feet with an effective stretch to keep the calves, arches, heels and ankles happy? By practicing a simple point and flex action with the feet. While it may seem like an incredibly simple exercise, there are a few finer points to take notice of that will ensure you’re getting all the benefits you need from this easy, but effective foot fitness exercise. If you happen to be practicing your point and flex exercise and are also feeling a stretch along the back of your thigh (the Hamstring muscles) there is even more of a reason to be doubling up your efforts to do this daily. Stiff ankles and tight calves and heels can also lead to lower back problems. Practice pointing and flexing your feet and not only will you be helping your feet feel better, but you’ll enjoy great benefits all the way up to your lower back!
How to Effectively Stretch the Calves and Strengthen the Soles of the Feet – Point & Flex ExerciseYou can practice pointing and flexing your feet in any position, seated, laying down, both legs at the same time, one leg at a time or with the help of a strap or theraband… There are lots of options for variety and challenge to target all the muscles of your feet, legs and hips. Today, lets do a Seated Point & Flex exercise.
- Start in an L-Sit position. (If you’re hips and hamstrings are tight sit up on a box or phone book to be able to achieve a tall back position. You can even sit on a box with your back supported against a wall!)
- Keeping the legs straight, but not locked, reach both heels out away from your body to “Flex” the ankles. Try to avoid pulling back with the toes to flex. Keep the toes relaxed and lead from the heel to hinge the foot into the flexed position.
- Hold the flexed foot and breathe. Take 3-5 breaths and see if you can reach farther through the heel to deepen the flex on each exhale.
- To transition to the pointed position, begin by pointing the foot to move the ankles as far as possible in the other direction.
- Once the ankles have reached their endpoint, use the muscles along the sole of the foot to point the toes. Inhale to continue lengthening out through the top of the foot, exhale to deepen the contraction under the sole of the foot to point the toes. Take 3-5 breaths.
- Then release the toes, and begin reaching out through the heel to hinge the ankle into the flexed position to repeat the exercise.
- Continue to flex and the point for 5-10 repetitions.
- There is a difference between flexing the foot by leading with the toes pulling back, and flexing the foot by reaching out through the heel. Be sure to hinge by leading with the heel to lengthen and stretch the calf, Achilles and arch of the foot.
- The less the toes pull back, and the less the front of the ankle “grips” the freer the hinge will be and the better stretch you’ll get.
- Watch your foot alignment; be sure the big and little toe sides of your foot pull back evenly.
- When you point, strive to lead by lengthening the top of the arch and foot out and away from the body.
- Avoid pointing by pulling the heel back towards you.
- When you point the toes, feel the muscles under the front of the arch move the toes, and continue to limit the amount of “pulling” back you feel with the heel.
- Watch your foot alignment; be sure the line from the toes to the ankle, to the knee is good.