Foot PT for the busy runner

Matlab is making me want to throw my computer out a window, so I’ve decided to take a little break and talk about something easy and brainless – foot rehab exercises!  

You can find tons of foot exercises online or learn some injury-specific rehab exercises from a physical therapist or athletic trainer.  However, if you are anything like me, you’ll find the 50 reps of “pick up the marbles with your toes” less than thrilling.  This can lead to exercise attrition, leading those same injuries to pop up again since the root cause (weakness) hasn’t actually been addressed.  How can the boring and time-consuming nature of rehab exercises be overcome?  Do exercises that fit into other daily activities!

For example, here are a few exercises that address weakness in the intrinsic muscles of the foot and can be done while brushing your teeth, waiting for the microwave to ding, or standing in line at the grocery store. 

1)  Big toe raises:


Do these while standing, either barefoot or in shoes with roomy toe boxes.  Repeatedly lift the big toe while keeping your other toes flat on the ground.  You should feel fatigue in the top of your foot on the big-toe side, and possibly in the other toe flexors.

2)  4 Toe Lift:


Pretty much the opposite of number one.  You’re working the big toe flexors and the small toe extensors.

3)  Toe taps


Can be done sitting or standing. I do this one while working on the computer since it takes less coordination than 1 & 2.  Just raise and lower all the toes, gradually increasing speed and reps as you gain strength/coordination.  

4)  One-foot balance:

Stand on one foot while doing other tasks – cutting veggies, brushing your teeth, etc.  Barefoot is more challenging than shod, and closing your eyes or swinging your non-weight-bearing leg side-to-side increases the difficulty, but please don’t try the closed-eyes or leg-swing version while cutting veggies 😉  I usually just go until I can’t keep my balance or the muscles in my arch start to tighten up.  This exercise strengthens your ankle and foot muscles, and improves proprioception (the body’s ability to judge the relative positions  of its parts).  If your body can better judge how your foot lands when you are running, it will be better able to make the small adjustments necessary to prevent trips and rolled ankles.  Pay attention to your posture and hip alignment during this exercise – strive for an activated core and level hips.

One ‘fun’ thing that I do in addition to these foot exercises is soft-tissue massage with a frozen golf ball.  This worked great for my plantar fasciitis.  



Figure 1 – Foot torture device.



Figure 2 – Ouch, ouch, ouch!

Ok, so it’s really NOT fun – breaking up adhesions in your fascia isn’t a pleasant process.  However, rolling out can help work out knots, and the cold golf ball (just keep it in the freezer when not in use) helps numb the foot up a bit.  Just roll gently, concentrating on the sore spots (yay, pain!)  If your feet feel bruised the next day, you may need to ease up a bit – don’t overdo it, and try to roll out every other day (if you roll out too often, the tissue doesn’t get a chance to heal).

Disclaimer – I’m just a runner, not a medical professional.  If any of these exercises hurt, don’t keep doing them.  Don’t overdo it, see an expert if needed, don’t eat the golf ball, etc.

p.s. I never realized how weird my feet look from that angle…total monkey toes ha ha. 





One thought on “Foot PT for the busy runner

  1. Pingback: Racing season completed, time for some mileage :) | This is a bit random, but...

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