Plantar Flexion Exercises for Strengthening Your Feet
Our feet put in a lot of work for us.
From movements as simple as getting out of bed in the morning to as complex as climbing a mountainside, we humans rely a fair amount on the strength of our lower legs and feet.
As a result, we often go about our days without really thinking of what our lower extremities are doing or how they’re fairing unless something begins to hurt or stops working properly.
That being said, to avoid having those unpleasant moments of sudden pain or immobility, we need to exercise our lower legs and feet in ways that will ensure their strength and health.
Plantar Flexion exercises can help you to make moves towards accomplishing just that!
What is Plantar Flexion?
Plantar Flexion is not a part of the body, but rather a movement associated with the feet and lower legs.
Point your toes down toward the ground and you have managed to “plantar flexion”. This seemingly simple movement of flexing the foot away from the body takes a surprisingly complex array of muscles to achieve.
Eight different muscles in the lower legs and feet work to achieve a plantar flexion motion.
These muscles are stationed in the back of your legs, the front of your legs near your shin bones, around your ankle bones, and the tops and bottoms of your feet.
However, the ankle joints are the star players in this movement (as well as the dorsiflexion movement which consists of pointing the tips of your toes in the opposite direction – up towards your knees).
Why is it Important to do Plantar Flexion Exercises?
While you read this, stop and flex your feet downwards. Do you feel the muscles in your shins, ankles, and feet all working together to make that precise movement?
Repeat that simple movement enough, and you will begin to feel a little burning in the areas that work hardest to make it happen.
Having strength in this area is crucial to simple (but very important) things like balance, stability, and full-body support. Day-to-day tasks like driving a car, going upstairs, standing on tiptoe, or even down off of a high stool require you to make use of the muscles that allow you to plantar flexion.
It is no wonder then that exercising this part of the body is fundamental to overall strength and health.
Doing plantar flexion exercises is crucial for helping you to develop strong, and supported ankles. Weak ankles can result in general unsteadiness on your feet, pain when walking, and eventually may even result in not being able to support yourself on your feet at all.
Regular plantar flexion exercises may also help you to avoid certain conditions like arthritis in the ankles or debilitating ankle injuries in general.
This is especially true for athletes and other professionals who may find themselves moving through the position more often than others. Ballet dancers, gymnasts, ice skaters, and even truck drivers and mail persons rely a lot on the plantar flexion movement to go about their days.
Keeping those hard-working muscles in proper working order is crucial for these folks to do their jobs (and play their sports) comfortably for as long as necessary.
Top 5 Exercises for Plantar Flexion
Now that we have uncovered what plantar flexion is and why it’s important, here are a few useful exercises you can easily incorporate into your daily routine to strengthen up the muscles that do the plantar flexion.
- Simple Plantar Flexion and Dorsiflexion
Though this may seem like a simple movement, alternating between plantar flexion and dorsiflexion is one of the easiest ways you can exercise the muscles in your feet and lower legs.
Better yet, you can do this little exercise almost anywhere you have a place to sit down.
To do this, take a seat and lift one leg off the ground. Point your toes out in front of you. Hold this movement for five seconds, then point your toes back towards your nose, and hold this movement for five seconds.
Repeat this movement for as long as you feel comfortable before switching to the other foot and trying out the other side.
If you are looking for an extra challenge, try doing both feet at the same time. Lifting your legs straight out in front of you to do both feet simultaneously will give you a little exercise in your thighs as well.
Just make sure you have good support behind you so you do not go toppling backward!
- Trace Words with your Toes
A similar exercise that is great for doing while sitting is tracing the alphabet (or your name, or your pet’s name, or whatever word you feel like) in the air with your toes.
To do this, first, find a comfortable seated position and put a leg out in front of you. You can bend your knee as much or as little as feels comfortable to you. Try experimenting with the bend of your knee if you find the movement too challenging or perhaps not challenging enough.
Now, paint your letters (or the word of your choice) into the air with your big toe. This movement will allow you to rotate your ankle in just about any direction it is capable of rotating. This makes it a great exercise for ankle strength and stability.
For an extra challenge, try doing both feet at once.
Not only will this work out your feet, ankles, and calves, but it may also prove to be a nice brain teaser.
- Practice Picking Things up with Your Toes
Though this may seem silly, you can exercise your brain, your balance, and your feet by trying to pick things up off the ground using your toes.
If you find that you do not have a lot of flexibility in your toes (some people naturally do not have a lot of spacing between their toes to allow for easy lifting of items), try tying a makeshift weight around your big toe for a similar challenge.
You can use a piece of string with a rock tied on the other end, or even an empty coffee mug (just be careful not to break it, and make sure it gets a good washing afterward).
If you are someone who is blessed with the ability to grip with their toes, try picking up different weighting things off the ground without using your hands.
Things like towels, pencils, hairbrushes, or drink caps are simple things that can be easily gripped by your toes. Lifting the items to you provides a good weighted stretch for the muscles the plantarflexion muscles.
- Sit on your Feet
One easy seeming (but actually pretty challenging if you do not have reason to do it often) exercise you can do to work out and build strength in those foot-flexing muscles is to simply rest your body weight on them.
To do this, get down on your knees and flex your feet so that your heels are pointed towards the sky. You can stay upright on your knees and move your feet from flat on the ground to lift like this, or you can lean back and rest your bum on your heels.
Sitting on your heels with your toes flexed underneath you will allow you to feel a nice stretch in your feet and allow your ankles to do a little weight lifting.
Keep your back straight and your shoulders back for good balance so you do not topple over.
Once you feel you have spent enough time balanced like this, sit with your bum on the floor and pull your feet up close for a little personal massage.
Sometimes working out the kinks with a little self-love may be just the way to exercise your hard-working feet!
- Full Body Stretch
This exercise is great for not only your feet but your entire body as well!
However, please use caution when attempting this, as it will require a little bit of balance.
Stand tall with your back straight, shoulders down and back, and feet comfortably together. Now, raise your up and over your head. Point your fingers towards the sky to feel a pleasant stretch in your shoulders and sides (you may always keep your hands by your sides if you find this to be too challenging at first).
To ensure that you have enough stability in your upper body, you can try tightening your core muscles.
After you feel stable, try lifting yourself onto your tiptoes. Do this near a wall for support if you are still feeling a little wobbly.
Once you have your balance, try alternating between tiptoes and feet flat on the ground. You should feel this movement in your calves, ankles, tops of feet, shoulders and sides (if your arms are up), and core.
What Can Cause Poor Plantar Flexion?
There are a few things to keep in mind when you are working to exercise the plantar flexion movement.
Firstly, you may want to consider doing these exercises in the evenings as your joints may be stiffer and less likely to want to move in the mornings (on the flip side, however, that may be the best time to try to help them get moving with some light exercises).
Secondly, if you do have weaker ankles or feet, doing these exercises in water may be the best place for you to start as it takes some of the weight and pressure off of the movements.
Lastly, if you find any of these movements unreasonably difficult, unachievable, or cause severe pain, you may want to consult a qualified podiatrist to evaluate your feet and ankles.
Pain and difficulty moving the areas responsible for plantar flexion can be a sign of underlying issues like weak ankles, osteoarthritis, gout, or an injury that may need closer tending to.
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