By Becky Bond: Owner – Becky Boo Yoga
Runners– particularly road or long distance.
Anyone who spends most of their day on their feet- carers, caterers, construction etc.
MAY be helpful to those with “flat foot” or plantar fasciitis, under medical supervision.
These exercises are designed to:
Release tension in the feet and ankles
Strengthen the muscles and connective tissues which support the arch of the foot
Improve range of motion and quality of movement through enhanced proprioception (awareness of positioning and efficiency of movement) and interoception (awareness of touch, pressure, pain).
The 52 bones of the feet make up approximately a quarter of the bones of the body.
The two heel bones (calcaneus and talus) are designed to receive and bear weight and are (usually!) the first to strike the ground during walking or running.
FACT: When running, the pressure through the feet can actually be up to four times your body weight!
The five bones of the mid-foot have evolved to make the tiny adjustments needed to keep us balanced during walking, standing and balancing- imagine walking bear foot through grass or sand.
FACT: There are approximately seven thousand nerve endings in each foot, which act to constantly relay information to the rest of the body.
The long bones of the mid-foot radiate the energy of each step away from the heel to be dispersed by the toes, which are also weight bearing and provide “lift off” when walking.
The arches of the feet are lifted from above mainly by the tibialis posterior: a deep calf muscle that attaches to the highest point in the foot arch, and to the long bones of the three middle toes.
From below, the arch is supported by the plantar fascia. This tissue connects the intrinsic muscles of the feet to the bony parts they intend to move. Plantar aponeurosis is strongly related to the achilles tendon, and pain in the heel can be a symptom of plantar fasciitis.
1) Legs up the wall pose (viparita karini) with joint mobilisation.
We begin the exercises by literally taking the weight off our feet.
Find a place to lie on your back, bring your knees into your chest and extend the legs into the air. All the better if you can do this against a wall in so called “legs up the wall” pose! There is also the option to support the hips with a pillow or folded blanket for additional comfort. This pose is great at the end of a long day, or before bed, regardless of what you have been doing!
This pose is very nourishing on its own: it reverses the relationship between the thigh bones and the pelvis, allowing the heads of the femurs to rest in the hip socket; here, gravity assists in venous return (improved circulation) and lymphatic drainage. Maybe you want to take a few breaths here.
Begin by having a good look at your feet and toes.
Start to move just the toes- stretching them all out and then scrunching them tight a few times.
Then start to alternate between pointing and flexing the ankles.
Start to roll the ankles, in the same direction, in opposite directions, inwards and outwards. Encourage the flow of synovial fluid and circulation to the ankle joints, and all the articular joints of the feet.
When you are ready, hug the knees back into the chest, roll to your right and come to a seated position.
2) Shaking hands with your feet.
1-5 minutes each side
(NB If you are short on time, it is more important to practice this regularly than one off long holds.)
Depending on your flexibility and comfort, this next exercise can either be done sat on the floor or on a chair.
Bring your right shin to rest across your left thigh- the ankle and foot should be free to move.
Next, interweave the fingers of your opposite (left) hand between your toes so the webbing of your fingers and the webbing of your toes touch. (If you have never done this before it will feel pretty weird- and a little uncomfortable!)
Gently squeeze between the webbing of your toes with your fingers, then squeeze between the webbing of your fingers with your toes.
Squeeze both the fingers and toes as hard as you can tolerate and hole for five deep breaths. Slowly relax your grip and loosely move the foot in all directions.
When you’re ready, release that foot and place your feet next to one another- notice the difference between the sensation, arches and responsiveness- this is improved proprioception and interoception!
Now do the other side!
3) Wide legged standing forward fold (prasarita padotanasana)
This wide legged forward fold should be part of every runner’s cool down stretch and is an excellent opportunity to lengthen and strengthen the tibialis posterior, which supports the inner arch of the feet.
When this muscle is short and overstretched, most of the weight rolls to the outer edge of the feet and the feet may turn in, as in a “pigeon” toe stance. When this muscle is short and weak, the arches are fallen, and the weight rolls to the inner edge of the feet. We will look at lengthening and strengthening it now.
To begin, step the feet wide apart and parallel. Avoid the common tendency to turn your feet out too much, which tightens the lower back and limits mobility in the pose. With a micro-bend in your knees and keeping the spine long and straight, fold forward at the hip joints and, if possible, touch the floor with your fingers- or place your hands on blocks or a stool.
For most people, this pose is a satisfying stretch for the hamstrings and adductors (the inner thigh muscles that bring the thigh bones together).
Take a moment to look at your feet and knees in prasarita padottanasana. Are your arches collapsing and your knees turning inward—or are you turning your feet out to help you bend forward? In either case, reposition your feet so they point straight ahead, keeping an imaginary line from your kneecap over the middle of your ankle (over your second toes). If your arches are collapsing, if your kneecaps roll in, or if your inner thighs feel too tight, bend your knees more.
- Root down through your inner heels and the balls of your big toes.
- Lift your insteps.
- Firm and lift the inner thigh muscles, as though pressing the back of the legs into the space behind you.
- If you can, slowly straighten your legs, without locking the knees, contract your front thigh muscles (the quadriceps)
- Press into the floor through the centre of your heels. This will protect your hamstrings while helping with the above two actions of engaging the inner thighs and quadriceps.
- Avoid rotating, twisting or inverting the foot inwardly.
- Avoid rounding the lower back.
4) Tree pose (Vrksasana)
1 minute each side.
This exercise will challenge your balance and re energise all the intrinsic muscles and connective tissue of the feet and help to strengthen and stabilise the ankle.
Begin by rolling up your yoga mat or a towel- how much you roll it up will depend on the size of your feet and how high your arches are. You need to be able to have your heel and ball of the feet on a flat surface, so that just the arch is supported.
Stand with both feet over the roll and when you are ready bring on foot to the inside of your standing leg, either on the calf or thigh, NOT THE KNEE JOINT. If you feel unsteady have a chair to hand to help you balance.
- Pay attention to all the small stabilising actions of the bones and muscles in your standing foot to keep you balanced.
- Keep your big toe on the floor and press through the mound of your big toe.
I hope you enjoyed these exercises! Practice regularly with a sense of curiosity and patience.