When people think of parts of their body to focus on during strength training, the foot and ankle are not usually at the top of the list. And yet with 26 bones, more than a dozen muscles, and countless nerve endings, the foot is a complex region of your body that you shouldn’t forget about in your exercise routine. The foot is often neglected from a muscular perspective but as a podiatrist, I like to remind patients of the importance of developing muscle strength in this part of the body.
Foot and ankle injuries are among the most common injuries in the general population, which isn’t surprising given that foot and ankle support your entire body weight and serve as the base for almost all movement.
Our intrinsic foot muscles, which are the muscles that generally span the arch on the underside of the feet, are sandwiched in four layers from just underneath the plantar fascia on the bottom to the bony underside on the top. From an evolutionary perspective, these muscles were once the engaged units that provided dexterity to our primate ancestors, which allowed them to use their feet as a functional tool.
Today, most modern humans have done almost everything in their power to make the foot as weak as possible. From shoe wear that constricts function, to walking surfaces that are hard and flat, we have turned our feet into structures vulnerable to overuse injury.
Podiatrists have traditionally used orthotics to heal foot ailments. These may help as they effectively adapt your foot to the hard flat surface you likely exist on much of your life, but they can also limit the true potential of your foot.
A strong foot is a foot that is more robust to the challenges it faces on a daily basis. Our feet can take three to four times the weight bearing load of our bodies. This load strain can be focused towards certain areas of the foot and ankle, making overuse injuries possible, if not likely.
Proactively adding some foot and ankle strengthening exercises into your routine can be a good way to prevent injuries from developing. Some basic exercises to start with might include toe curls with a towel looped around the foot, seated heel and toe raises or balance exercises where you stand on one foot at a time. There are many more ways to incorporate foot strengthening into your daily life but give these a try to start. Many people that do this effectively create a stronger foot that is resistant to overuse injury, bunions, hammertoes, and foot arthritis.
If you are interested in discussing how foot strengthening may be right for your individual foot problem, or if you have started and need help or direction, reach out to your podiatrist who can help you tailor a plan specific to your needs.
Dr. Dennis Claire is a podiatrist at From the Ground up Podiatry in Stratham. He is avid athlete who takes part in backcountry skiing and endurance events and has a special interest in pediatric podiatry, sports injuries, and rehabilitating from injuries of the foot.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Developing foot and ankle strength can help prevent injuries