Finding Relief: Effective Exercises for Alleviating Foot and Ankle Pain

by Helsinki

Stretching Exercises

The first stretch is very simple. Cross your leg and place the affected foot on the knee of the other leg. With this hand on the bottom of the foot, pull the toes back towards the shin until you feel a stretch in the arch or heel of the affected foot. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat this 20 times.

The second way to stretch the calf is by using a belt or a towel. This is best done on a floor with the knees bent. Hook the belt around the ball of the foot and keeping the leg straight, pull towards you. The most important part of this stretch is the pull being straight. Hold for 10 seconds and do in sets of 20. Both of these stretches should be felt in the midsection of the leg, the first stretch will focus more on the lower portion near the Achilles. These stretches for the plantar fascia are best done after a light walk or jog, to warm the muscles.

Calf stretching is an effective way to stretch the entire leg. To perform the wall push, stand approximately 2 feet away from a wall. While facing the wall, lean forward against the wall keeping the back leg straight and the heel on the floor. Hold this for 10 seconds and do this in sets of 20.

You may not have given much thought to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your ankles and feet, and the role they play in your everyday life. Regular stretching exercises can be beneficial to the overall health of your feet. Stretching your feet can prevent many common foot problems that affect an alarming number of people. Performing a wide range of exercises can help alleviate discomfort stemming from different sources. Pain in the bottom of the heel and the arch are commonly related to inflammation of the thick band of tissue on the bottom of the foot known as the plantar fascia. Calf muscle inflexibility is a common cause of plantar fasciitis. This essay will show you different exercises that can help decrease the tightness that causes this discomfort in the heel, as well as stretches for the plantar fascia itself.

Calf Stretches

Stand facing a wall with your hands flat against the wall at about eye level. Put one leg about a half step behind your other leg. Keeping your back heel flat on the floor, bend the front knee until you feel a stretch in the back leg. Do not move the back foot until the stretch is completed. The further you lunge the back leg back, the greater the stretch. Hold this stretch for thirty seconds and repeat with the other leg. This stretch also works both the upper and lower calf equally and effectively if done properly.

If loading the upper calf, the heel should be propped up off the ground. Keep your arms extended throughout this exercise and make sure not to arch your lower back. Do not twist the foot being stretched; keep it pointing in the same direction as your hips. Hold this stretch for thirty seconds and repeat on the other leg. This completes one set. You may perform this stretch with the other foot forward, changing the focus of the stretch to the lower calf. This is the best stretch for flexibility of the calf muscles and the most effective treatment for plantar fasciitis.

Plantar Fascia Stretches

One of the best ways to effectively stretch the plantar fascia is to acquire a frozen 350ml water bottle. You should then sit on a chair and place the frozen bottle under the arch of the affected foot. Roll the frozen bottle back and forth, allowing the cold to penetrate the sole of the foot. This may be uncomfortable at first, but you will find that the cold quality is very soothing. Do this exercise for 20 minutes at a time, 2 or 3 times a day. The rolling action of the bottle reduces local inflammation, and the cold helps to prevent the inflammation from recurring. Another exercise is the towel stretch. This exercise is being used on a wide scale to stretch every aspect of the plantar fascia and is very effective. To do this exercise, you should sit on the floor with the affected foot stretched out in front of you. Then you should wrap a hand towel around the ball of the foot. Holding both ends of the towel, pull towards you so the end of the towel is squeezing the ball of the foot towards you. While maintaining the grip on the towel, pull the foot and towel towards you so that the knee is slightly bent. Hold this exercised position for 10 times, with each repetition being held for 15-30 seconds. This exercise takes longer to properly execute and may cause irritation, but studies have found this to be one of the most effective ways to stretch the plantar fascia. These exercises are designed to be mainly about stretching the plantar fascia and should not cause any aggravation of symptoms. While the exercises may cause mild soreness, they should help you to have a more flexible foot with less pain. With improved flexibility and foot function, the ground force that is being absorbed by the foot will change, and this could be the long-term solution to prevent similar symptoms in the future.

Achilles Tendon Stretches

Eccentric loading exercises are, in theory, a stretch type of exercise for the tendon. However, it must be stressed that if the exercise causes an increase in pain the following morning, its intensity should be decreased. Static stretching and eccentric exercises should not be performed until the later reconstruction phase.

However, stretching exercises should not be done at the expense of overloading the tendon during its sensitive reactive stage. During this phase, stretching should be done very carefully with no force being applied and should not increase the tendon pain the following day. A gelatinous-like fluid inside the tendon is thought to be a reason why tendons do not recover well from injury, and this can be influenced through static stretching to help increase elasticity.

I have read several contrasting views and opinions regarding whether stretching exercises should be performed for chronic tendon pain. It is a widely accepted belief that stretching exercises are a positive way to improve symptoms of pain and function caused by chronic tendon pain. Recent pilot studies have shown a positive correlation between eccentric exercises and increased blood flow in patients with chronic Achilles tendon pain. High volume blood flow to the tendon stimulates cell activity, which leads to improved tissue regeneration.

The next method is the wall push. Lean forward against a wall with your knee straight and the heel on the ground. You should feel a tightening in the upper calf in the lowered leg, and this should be held for 10-30 seconds and repeated 2-4 times. This method is effective for mid-portion Achilles tendinosis.

Stand on a step with just the front half of your foot on the step and your heel hanging off. This is to stretch the calf muscles as well as the Achilles tendon. Lower your heel, then raise it and repeat this. Remember to do this gently, as the Achilles tendon is a connective band with little blood circulating to it. This method of stretching the Achilles tendon is most effective for patients who have insertional tendinosis, as research has shown that the forces within the tendon are minimal during the lengthening phase, which prevents overloading of the tendon.

Achilles tendon stretching is designed to improve flexibility in the band of tissue that connects your calf muscles at the back of your lower leg to your heel bone. This is essential for dorsiflexion and plantar flexion of the foot, as well as normal walking and running. There are various methods of stretching the Achilles tendon, and it is important that it is performed correctly.

Strengthening Exercises

Achilles stretch – Stand on a step with your toes on the step and your heels off the step. Lower your heels below the level of the step until you feel a slight stretch. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds and then raise your heels back to the starting position. Repeat this exercise 2 times. The next progression from this exercise is to add weight to the stretch. This can be achieved by placing books in a backpack and putting on the backpack. Step off the edge of a step with your heel to get a stretch in the Achilles. Hold the stretch position with the weighted backpack for 15-30 seconds. Repeat 2 times.

Toe raise – Stand and raise your toes while keeping your heels on the ground. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. Ankle circles – Rotate your ankle in a circular motion for 15 seconds, then repeat in the opposite direction. Repeat 10 times for each foot. Heel walks – Lift your toes off the ground and walk on your heels for 15-30 seconds. Turn around and return to the starting point. This exercise should be repeated 5 times. Toe walks – Raise your toes off the ground and walk on your toes for 15-30 seconds. Turn around and return to the starting point. This exercise should be repeated 5 times.

Toe Raises

In a seated position, with the foot writing implement resting on the floor, the toes are to be elevated and then lowered, completing 3 sets of 10 repetitions. The intensity of this exercise can be increased by placing a small weight on the foot, with the emphasis of the movement being on the controlled upwards and downwards phase. It has been suggested that isometrically holding the toes in the elevated position for 3-5 seconds, before then completing the downwards phase, can also be of additional benefit, though this may cause cramping in the small muscles of the foot and has been cited as a cause of plantar fasciitis. This exercise isolates the muscles that affect the movements of the toes, the flexor hallucis longus and brevis, the flexor digitorum longus and brevis. Toe flexors in opposed to extensor strength have often been ignored in the literature with the only another toe flexor exercise described in the treatment of tibialis posterior dysfunction. This could be seen as peculiar considering that proper gait functionality is reliant on the push off strength generated by the toe extensor muscles, the difference in strength between these pairs of muscle could be a potential source of dysfunction in itself and disparity in foot muscle strength has often been cited as a cause of lateral foot pain. This exercise has been recommended in particular for people suffering peripheral neuropathy due to its efficacy of isolating and strengthening the small foot muscles.

Ankle Circles

While these exercises have been proven to restore functional stability and a previous level of activity to an injured ankle, it is still highly recommended that persons suffering an acute ankle injury seek a professional evaluation by a physician or physical therapist before engaging in such exercises.

This exercise can lengthen and strengthen the muscles around the ankle joint without stressing any surrounding muscles. While inverting and everting the foot (moving foot downward and inward/upward and outward) will optimally strengthen the peroneal muscles on the lateral side of the lower leg, ankle circles will work all muscles around the ankle joint in all planes. This exercise will not only strengthen the ankle, but through rehabilitation completely restore the ankle’s function to its pre-injury status.

In this exercise, you will work around the ankle, moving it in all four directions. Imagine you are drawing a circle with your toe, suggest making the circles about the size of a softball (about 10 inches in diameter). If drawing circles with your right foot,

As an introductory note, strengthening exercises are many times demonstrated after an acute ankle injury. These exercises have been shown to restore the ankle joint to its original functional stability in a relatively short period of time. Ankle joint inversion/eversion strength and proprioception enhancement is accomplished quickly during ankle exercises. Although these exercises have shown good results in restoring functional stability to a previously injured ankle, it is highly recommended that persons suffering an acute ankle injury seek a professional evaluation by a physician or physical therapist to determine the extent of their injury before engaging in such exercises.

Heel Walks

It is important not to be going forwards onto an exercise that requires good ankle movement control, which the heel walks should provide a good foundation for. Heel walking can be advanced by doing exactly the same exercise walking forwards down hill. This will work the Tibialis Anterior at an increased intensity giving the muscle good capacity to be able to control. Heel walking is essential in the prevention of ankle injuries and very useful in the later stages of ankle injury rehabilitation.

Coaching points: – Rise up on to the balls of the feet. – Move forwards, maintaining position. – Go for as long as the muscle can be felt working hard. – Relax and repeat.

Heel walks: Heel walks are a simple ‘no equipment’ needed exercise. They work on a very vital muscle group in the leg known as the Tibialis Anterior. This muscle is on the front of your shin and is essential for controlling the foot and ankle. Heel walking works on this muscle to keep it strong, adapting to being able to support the ankle properly. To perform this exercise, rise up on to the balls of the feet, muscles tight and go for a walk. This can be done anywhere, and if available start off by doing 50-100 steps twice a day. This exercise is prescribed for both prevention and recovery of ankle injuries. It is extremely simple yet effective at keeping the Tibialis Anterior strong.

Toe Walks

This exercise should initially be done every second day, and aim to gradually increase to daily as your muscle strength and endurance increases.

This exercise should be done in your shoes, as it can be painful because it is stretching the calf muscles and it may irritate the soles of your feet if done in bare feet. Fiery pain on the bottom of your foot is a sign that you should stop and cease the activity.

To do the toe walk, stand up tall and simply walk around on your tip toes, ensuring that you keep good posture and do not ‘cheat’ by letting your heels drop. You can walk for a certain amount of time or for a certain distance, depending on what is more convenient.

The toe walk is a simple exercise that can be done to strengthen the muscles on the front of your lower legs. These muscles are very important in maintaining good control when walking and also in maintaining good arch control, which can help prevent foot pain.

Low-Impact Exercises

If you don’t have access to a pool or don’t want to swim, water aerobics is a great alternative. Consider it as fitness training rather than simply pool fun. Both swimming and water aerobics provide similar benefits. A recent study of people with osteoarthritis found that participating in water aerobics reduced pain and disability and increased quality of life, although there are no studies specifically looking at foot pain.

Swimming is one of the best low-impact, full-body exercises available. It can help to build strength and flexibility in your body, as well as providing a great cardiovascular workout. Swimming lets you exercise many muscle groups at once, which is great for improving muscle imbalances. The strokes improve flexibility in the ankles and feet, helping to prevent and relieve foot pain. Breaststroke is probably the best stroke for improving ankle flexibility. Be careful with the push off the wall at the end of a lap; if you already have foot pain, this will aggravate it.


Swimming is a terrific exercise for those who have foot and ankle pain. The buoyancy of the water can unweight the joint. Your body will be supported by the water and there is less impact going through your foot on the pool bottom if you are in shallow water. Swimming in deep water with a flotation vest will eliminate impact completely, but your feet will not be touching the ground at all. Start with the form of swimming that puts the least amount of stress through your foot and ankle. For example, kicking primarily uses ankle motion and flutter kick can be uncomfortable. The whip kick is a less stressful kick and breaststroke is a good starting stroke. People with very tight calf muscles may feel discomfort when attempting to straighten the leg during the whip kick, but this may help stretch out the calf muscles over time. Freestyle and backstroke are also good as they also provide motion of the ankle and foot without having to forcefully push off the wall, which is another motion that can cause pain. Ask your doctor if swimming is a good form of therapy for your specific diagnosis.


An improvement in one’s physical well-being from cycling is not limited to people of a certain age, race, or financial status. Cycling can be done by virtually anyone at any location. There is already a good idea that cycling is not costly, is environmentally friendly, an excellent means of transportation, and an ideal form of recreation. However, there is often a misconception that cycling is limited to people of a certain fitness level. This is simply not the case. Cycling can be done at a very slow pace and still be beneficial to someone. With more time spent riding, the individual can gradually increase the pace to improve physical health. People with foot or joint pain that is exacerbated by exercise definitely do not have to push themselves too hard with cycling. High intensity is not a prerequisite for enjoying the benefits of cycling. A ride through the park or a couple of easy laps around the neighborhood can introduce someone to the cycling experience and alleviate pain in the feet and ankles.

Cycling, whether it be outdoors or on a stationary bike, is a wonderful exercise for individuals with foot and ankle pain. When riding a bike, the majority of the force exerted is put on the pedals and is not absorbed by the feet. This is very good news for someone with heel pain, as it will be very comfortable for him or her to push through the pedal stroke. The smooth rotation on the pedal is also good for people with ankle pain. It is not functional activity, but it is a great way to rehabilitate the ankle. Range of motion and strength are improved when cycling regularly. For those with a lot of weight to lose, cycling also promotes healthy weight loss. If a person has foot pain and is in need of exercise, cycling is a great place to start and often becomes a passionate hobby. Whether outdoors or inside, shoes with a stiff sole should be worn for maximum power transfer to the pedals. Cyclists with arch pain may benefit from a bicycle orthosis which is an arch support for the midfoot built into the pedal.

Elliptical Training

The elliptical trainer is a great way to build fitness while staying safe from foot and ankle problems. With the use of the poles, it becomes a full body workout. A 150lb person can burn 773 calories in an hour. Elliptical trainers may be even more effective for people with knee pain, as the injury is due to malaligned biomechanics at the hip, knee, and foot. Since there is less impact and loading on the legs with elliptical training, it is easier to achieve the pain relief benefits of exercise while working around pain or injuries. Do not let the elliptical motion bother your knee; if you experience any knee pain while on the elliptical trainer, make adjustments with the grade and the amount of weight you are pushing through your legs. Try increasing the resistance on the machine and going out of the saddle. This can very closely simulate climbing on a road bike, and is relatively unweighted. When starting an exercise program as a means to alleviate foot and ankle pain, it is important to remain patient and focused. It may take weeks to months to begin feeling the benefits of exercise as your body mechanics gradually become more aligned and your muscular balance is restored. Although there is a desire to remain in shape through the regular sports and activities that aggravate foot and ankle pain, taking a temporary hiatus from these activities can be a wise decision. In the meantime, find alternative means of cardiovascular exercise that can maintain and build fitness yet stay pain-free. Elliptical training can be one of the best methods for this.

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