5 Simple Exercises to Fight Off Foot and Ankle Aging

5 Simple Exercises to Fight Off Foot and Ankle Aging

Ever dream of running free under a full moon, leading your pack through the wild? That sort of freedom takes four legs and four feet (or paws).

Everything changed when we became a vertical species, wobbling around through life on two legs. “Like a forked radish”, said Shakespeare’s Falstaff.

The human foot is a marvel of anatomical architecture

And the unfortunate radish is not blessed with anything like the human foot. Our feet contain 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 120 different muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

The bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the foot and ankle are all neatly strapped together by fascia casings, made of strong yet flexible collagen.

All that strength, stability, and flexibility is absolutely necessary. Working in tandem with the ankle, the human foot bears 150% of your body weight when you walk, and up to 800% of your body weight when you run. Your foot and ankle must instantly and consistently adapt to whatever terrain you may happen to be traversing.

Given the work they’re tasked with performing, it’s no wonder our feet and ankles must eventually give way to the incessant demands of time and gravity.

Some foot problems that naturally appear with advancing age are:

  • Loss of the natural collagen/elastin padding under the heel and the ball of the foot
  • Lengthening and widening of the feet
  • Loss of arch resilience and skin elasticity
  • Flattening of the arches
  • Impairment of blood circulation in the feet
  • Stiffening of the ankle and feet joints

Other foot ailments that tend to become more problematic with age are bunions, calluses, corns, hammertoes, toenail problems, and plantar fasciitis.

“Toe bone connected to the foot bone, foot bone connected to the heel bone”

On and on, all the way up to the head bone. Then all the way back down to the heel bone. The anatomical accuracy of the old spiritual song “Them Dry Bones” may still be dubious, but its essential message is both clear and true. In the human body, everything is connected to everything else. So everything matters to everything else. This becomes especially true as we age.

When we allow the unavoidable equation of “gravity + time = debility” to unnecessarily impair foot health, we tend to become more sedentary. This reduction in activity, in turn, diminishes our overall health. The need to end this vicious cycle is one of the reasons why it’s important to maintain foot health as we age.

5 foot and ankle strengthening exercises that can help maintain foot health

walking barefoot in sand

  1. Put all ten of your bare toes on a stair (the lowest one). Hold the banister and dip your heels toward the floor until your legs gently request mercy. Note: the elapsed time before your calves start to moo in distress will increase as your feet and lower legs become healthier.
  2. Spend several minutes scrunching a towel together underneath your toes. Again, increase the time as your toe flexor muscles get stronger.
  3. While seated, roll a tennis ball (or a softball, depending on the size of your foot) under your bare sole for several minutes. If you get to a spot that feels especially tight or sensitive, keep the pressure on that spot until the discomfort abates. Then do some small circles on that area to deal with any remaining local tightness. As you become more adept, try this while standing.
  4. You can show your feet some affectionate respect by weaving your fingers through your toes and shaking hands with each foot. Draw figure eights with your toes, and then move each of those toes through its full range of motion.
  5. Go barefoot once in a while, even if you’re not in the park. Walking barefoot tends to restore our natural walking pattern or gait. And barefooting can improve both your ability to maintain balance and your proprioception (your sense of how your body is situated in space). And it just plain feels good, whether on a new-mown lawn or at the beach.

But do your barefooting sensibly. If you already have foot problems, such as plantar fasciitis or tendinitis, going barefoot is more likely to worsen those conditions than to better them. And be wary of the surface under your bare feet. Those with diabetic neuropathy should never go barefoot. If you have questions about whether going barefoot is good for you in particular, consult your podiatrist.

If you’re experiencing foot problems, we’re here to help. Our nationally recognized foot and ankle specialists offer the most advanced podiatric care and the highest success rates in the nation. We are leaders in the research and treatment of all foot and ankle conditions.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (877) 736-6001 or visit us at www.footankleinstitute.com.

 

Gray O'Brien

Gray O'Brien

Gray O’Brien, PT, MPT, OCS, physical therapist licensed by the Physical Therapy Board of California, graduated with his Master’s in Physical Therapy from Long Island University.

Since 1999, Gray has been working with weekend-warriors, high school, collegiate, and professional athletes, with a special focus on orthopedic/sports rehabilitation. He specializes in foot and ankle pathologies and post-operative recovery. Gray has been with UFAI since 2006.
Gray O'Brien

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