Dr. Melissa Baudo Marchetti, PT, DPT, SCS, MTC
Whether you are a dancer, high-heel wearer, runner, or athlete who wears cleats, we all put a lot of pressure on our toes and the arches of our feet. We’re certainly guilty of cramming our feet into countless pairs of cute-but-cramped pointed toe shoes. Toe stretching may be the answer. There are benefits of spacing out those ten little piggies. Toe stretching goes beyond simply “spacing the toes”. It places each toe in a more anatomical position in relation to the ground and to one another. Let’s stop neglecting your tootsies and start implementing some strategies to help stretch your toes and feet! It will feel toetally awesome!
Manual Toe Stretching:
You can manually stretch your own toes every evening once you are home and out of your shoes. In a seated position, interlace the fingers on your right hand to the toes of the left foot (imagine your hand and foot are shaking hands). If your toes are tight, it may take some coaxing to get each finger between each toe. While your fingers are interlaced to your toes, begin to flex and extend your toes, then draw circles in both directions. Then, squeeze your toes with your hand and release a few times. Repeat on the other side. For more toe stretches, click the link and follow along with Kit Laughlin, a massage therapist from Australia.
YogaToes are one kind of ergonomically designed toe separators, sold in pairs and made out of a safe, BPA- and latex-free malleable plastic. The design is meant to work the muscles of the feet by stretching the toes apart from one another and away from the ball of the foot, increasing circulation and realigning foot posture in the process.
YogaToes and other toe separators are designed to stretch, spread and exercise the toes to enhance mobility and flexibility, prevent and correct common foot problems, strengthen the feet, and help guide feet back to their optimal shape. YogaToes or other toe separators may be helpful for people who spend much of the day on their feet or wearing restrictive footwear. Toe spreaders are an easy way to help care for your feet.
Practicing yoga is another way to help stretch the toes, feet, ankles and lower legs and can be just as effective as toe separators. There are many yoga poses that can be very helpful for tired, achy feet. One that I find helpful is sitting quad stretch with toes tucked under.
- Start on your hands and knees with the toes tucked, so the “necks” of your toes are long. You may keep the knees under the hips or widen them lightly. At first, keep your hands on the floor, and press back like child’s pose until your sit bones rest on your heels. You may stay here, pressing weight into your heels to stretch your toes and feet.
- If you feel you can bear more weight, begin to come upright. Little by little you may lift your chest all the way. Keep your knees grounded and no wider than the hips if you choose the upright variation.
- Sit the weight of your body on your heels, allowing your arches and toes to stretch, for up to five minutes or however long you can tolerate. You probably won’t last that long, and I don’t fault you for it!
Another way to help your feet is to perform self myofascial release. While standing, place a tennis ball, racquetball or lacrosse ball under the heel of your foot. Place as much pressure onto the heel as you can tolerate. Move the ball to the arch, then to the ball of the great toe, then to the ball of the pinky toe. Repeat on the other foot. Allowing your body weight to sink onto the ball for about 30-60 seconds will help to alleviate tired, achy feet. You can also stand on balance pods (shown in the photo) and release both feet at the same time. You can use the balance pods with or without socks. Click this balance pods link to see a video of how to use the balance pods.
Dr. Baudo Marchetti is a Board Certified Sports Clinical Specialist at One on One Physical Therapy in Atlanta. For nearly five years she was a full-time sports physiotherapist for the WTA Tour and is a tennis medicine and sports medicine expert. She teaches a Sports Physical Therapy course and assists in teaching orthopedics within the Division of Physical Therapy at Emory University. Learn more by visiting www.onetherapy.com or email Dr. Baudo Marchetti at Melissa@onetherapy.com.