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Did you know your foot needs exercise, too?

When you think of your core, you are probably thinking more about the muscles in your back and abdomen. But, you might not realize that you have a core in your foot, too. When your foot core is weak, you can not only wind up with weaknesses elsewhere, but you become highly susceptible to injuries.

Patrick McKeon, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sports medicine at Ithaca College in New York, stated, “A strong, responsive foot core will protect you just like a strong abdominal core. But a weak foot core means you are more susceptible to heel pain, shin splints, ankle sprains, and other foot and lower leg problems.”

In order to have a strong foot core, you need to have a solid interplay among the bones, muscles and nerves that are in the foot. Research shows that the most ignored aspect of the foot core tends to be the small muscles in the foot. McKeon stated, “These not only need to be strong, but they must also provide sensory feedback.” When treatment targets these small muscles, most patients are able to improve their gait, improve their posture, and reduce pressure in painful areas.

McKeon elaborates by explaining, “Strong sensory feedback from these intrinsic muscles helps maintain a healthy striding motion and good posture, whether you’re running, walking or just standing there. You won’t get feedback from—or challenge these muscles—in thick-soled, heavily cushioned shoes.” McKeon recommends walking barefoot whenever possible to build up the core muscles of the feet. The more cushion your shoes provide, the less work your feet are doing, and the less strength you are gaining.

Another way to build strength in the foot is by doing “short foot” exercises. McKeon stated, “These aren’t the “pick up a towel with your toes” exercises that people typically do, which mostly works the larger, extrinsic muscles of the foot.” He explains how short foot exercises specifically target the muscles in the arches of the feet.

To do “short foot” exercises, begin by sitting in a chair, with your bare feet on the floor. Engage the muscles that are located in the arches of your feet while you try to slide your big toe of each foot toward the heel. Hold this position for 6 seconds, then relax. Repeat for 3 sets of 9-10 repetitions.

After you begin to feel comfortable with this exercise, try the move while you are standing. Eventually, the goal is to progress to doing short foot exercises while you are balancing on one foot. McKeon states, “Try doing the exercises while you are brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or standing in line.”

Doing these simple exercises can improve your foot core and help improve your overall strength, fitness, and balance, while helping to eliminate foot pain that you might be experiencing.