Experiencing pain on top of the foot can make it difficult to stay active and mobile. However, performing targeted stretches and exercises can actually help provide relief and facilitate healing.
This article outlines various effective stretches and strengthening exercises to reduce top of foot pain, along with images demonstrating proper technique.
Tight or shortened calf muscles contribute to overpronation and place excess strain on the feet. Stretching the calves can enhance mobility and take pressure off the top of the feet.
Standing Calf Stretch
Stand facing a wall with hands pressed against the wall at shoulder height. Place one leg forward with a bent knee and the other leg straight behind you with a slight bend at the knee.
Press the back heel into the floor until a stretch is felt in the calf. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on both sides. Do 2-3 sets.
Seated Calf Stretch
Sit on the floor with both legs extended straight out in front of you. Loop a resistance band or towel around the ball of one foot and gently pull back until a stretch is felt in the calf. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. Complete 2-3 sets.
The soleus muscle of the calf plays a key role in foot mechanics. To target it, perform the standing calf stretch with the back knee slightly bent. Hold for 30 seconds before switching sides. Repeat 2-3 times on each leg.
Foot and Ankle Mobility Exercises
Improving mobility in the foot and ankle joints through controlled movements can help reduce stiffness and strain.
Sit with legs extended. Slowly rotate the ankles clockwise and counter-clockwise through full range of motion. Start with 10 small circles in each direction, then repeat with 10 larger circles.
Loop a resistance band around the ball of the foot while seated. Pull the toes and forefoot toward you while keeping the heel planted. Move through full ankle range of motion. Do 2 sets of 15 reps on each side.
Sitting upright, use the hands to gently bend and straighten all the toes. Move through full range of motion. Then spread the toes wide and draw them back together. Repeat 5-10 times.
Using the toes to pick up marbles, pennies or small objects strengthens the feet. Try spreading out various items on the floor and gathering them up with just the toes. Repeat for 5 minutes daily.
Foot Intrinsic Exercises
The small muscles on the bottom of the foot play a key role in stability and arch support. Target them with exercises like:
- Scrunching a towel on the floor with the toes
- Crumpling pieces of paper or foam with the toes
- Picking up pencils, pens or pegs with the toes
Perform for 3 sets of 15-20 reps daily.
Resistance Band Exercises
Resistance bands add extra strength training benefits for the foot and ankle stabilizers. Try these exercises:
- Sit with legs straight and loop band around forefoot. Spread toes against resistance of band. 15 reps.
- Loop band around foot while sitting. Pull toes back against band. 15 reps.
- Anchor band on table leg. Loop other end around foot and move ankle side to side and up/down against resistance. 2 sets of 15.
Calf raises strengthen the gastrocsoleus complex to enhance shock absorption and ankle stability.
Standing Calf Raise
Stand with feet hip width apart. Rise up onto toes, lifting heels as high as possible. Slowly lower back down keeping knees straight. Repeat 15 times. Can be done using stairs to increase calf stretch.
Single Leg Calf Raise
Stand on one leg, holding onto a chair or wall for balance. Rise up onto toes, lifting heel as high as possible. Slowly lower down. Repeat 10-12 times on each side.
Sit on a chair and loop a towel under the ball of the foot. Use the foot to curl the towel and draw it back toward you. This strengthens the toes and arch. Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions on each side.
Place marbles on the floor and use the toes to grab and pick them up one at a time. Move them from one pile to another. Repeat with small objects like coins. Strengthens toes and metatarsals.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, performing regular calf stretching, ankle and foot mobility exercises, toe intrinsics training, and closed kinetic chain strengthening can improve flexibility and stability to ease top of foot pain.
Aim for two sessions daily, avoiding activities that exacerbate pain. Stretches and exercises may be recommended or modified by your physical therapist. Staying consistent is key to gaining benefits over 4-6 weeks.