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7 Flat Feet Exercises to Help Relieve Pain

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT April 23, 2021 0 Comments

Flat feet, also known as pes planus or fallen arches, can occur at any age. Whether it’s from genetics or an injury, having no arch can throw your mechanics. While flat feet are most often asymptomatic; occasionally, pain and stiffness can occur. When it comes to flat feet, exercises can help build strength, support your arch, and improve your foot and ankle mechanics with movement. Keep reading for the best exercises you can do for flat feet.

7 Foot Exercises for Flat Feet

The following 6 exercises focus on building intrinsic strength in the muscles of the foot and ankle that support the arch; along with stretches to keep the foot flexible and provide relief from any pain. Choose the ones that fit your needs best (or all of them eventually) and progress as needed from there. If you’re not sure where to start, it’s always worth consulting a physical therapist first for personalized recommendations.

1. Arch Lift

This movement is simple, yet can feel difficult to coordinate with flat feet. It will help significantly by targeting the muscles in the foot that help support the arch.

  • Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor
  • Make sure that the ball of your foot and heel are touching the ground throughout this exercise
  • Attempt to lift the middle of your foot up toward the ceiling- attempting to make an upside down “U” (aka- your arch)
  • Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10-15 times
  • Continue for 2-3 sets on each foot as needed
  • Start with a small range of motion to prevent cramping in the foot and progress as tolerated
  • When you’re ready, you can progress to doing this exercise in standing and then single leg standing

2. Windshield Wiper

There are two primary shin muscles that support the shape of the arch: the posterior tibialis and anterior tibilais. If either of these muscles are weak or irritated, it can affect your arch. A simple strength and range of motion exercise like this one can help promote blood flow for healing and give you some much needed relief.

  • Sit in a comfortable chair or on the edge of your bed
  • Make sure your heel is free so that you can move your ankle through a full range of motion
  • First, bring your toes simultaneously up toward your shin and away from the body
  • Hold for 1-2 seconds before returning to the center position with your toes pointed
  • Next, bring your toes up toward your shin again, this time bringing your toes inward toward your body
  • Hold for 1-2 seconds before returning to the center again with the toes pointed
  • Alternate between these two moves, keeping the move fluid and “U” shaped like a windshield wiper

3. Towel Scrunches

 

This exercise helps build the small muscles in the foot. These muscles are essential for foot health.

  • Sit in a chair with a hand towel flat on the floor
  • Place both feet in the center of the towel
  • Lift your toes up toward the ceiling
  • Then, reach them forward as far as possible and place them on the towel
  • Curl the toes as you scrunch the towel under your foot
  • Repeat until the far end of the towel is under your foot
  • Straighten out the towel and repeat again
  • Continue for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets total

There are several other options for strengthening the foot that you can try too. These include picking up objects with your feet (such as marbles), drawing the alphabet with your toes, walking in sand, and even yoga.

This video demonstrates the next two exercises:

 

4. Seated Ankle Pumps

This simple exercise is great for boosting circulation for pain relief. It’s important to regularly move and stretch the foot and ankles when they are stiff and sore.

  • Sit in a chair with both feet flat on the floor about hip width apart
  • Lift both heels off the ground while keeping your midfoot and toes planted on the ground
  • Hold for 1-2 seconds before slowly returning to the starting position
  • Next, lift the toes off the ground while keeping the heels on the ground
  • Hold for another 1-2 seconds before returning again to the starting position
  • Alternate between these two moves for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets total

Alternatively, you can pump your ankles more freely when sitting on the edge of your bed (with the feet dangling) or rotate the ankles in circles. The ultimate goal is to loosen up the foot and ankle in any way that feels comfortable for you.

5. Plantar Fascia/Calf Stretch

Stretching both the bottom of the foot and the calf/achilles tendon at the same time can give you some great relief from stiffness and pain related to flat feet. There are a number of ways to stretch the foot and calf- here is one of the easiest ways.

  • Sit in a chair with a stretch strap
  • Wrap the middle of the strap around the ball of the foot
  • Secure each end of the strap with your hands
  • Use your hands to guide your toes up toward the shin as far as possible
  • Pull until you feel a strong stretch in the foot and calf
  • Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg
  • Alternatively, you can hook the strap around your big toe instead of the ball of the foot for an even deeper stretch in the plantar fascia

Other effective stretches include a runner’s lunge. These stretches are also great for plantar fasciitis and achilles tendonitis.

6. Tibialis Posterior Stretch

 

A gentle stretch of the tibialis posterior can give you some pain relief too. Just be careful not to overstretch this crucial muscle. Note: Do not force this stretch if you have knee pain.

  • Stand near the wall or a chair for balance 
  • Step into a lunge with the leg you want to stretch in the back
  • Make sure both your feet are pointing straight forward 
  • Shift your weight into your front bent knee while keeping the back knee straight
  • As you shift, rotate the back knee inward until you feel a stretch in the side of your calf and lower leg, make sure the outer edge of the foot does not lift off the ground
  • Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg

7. Foot Massage

 

Self-massage to the bottom of the foot and shin are both great options for loosening up any stiff problem areas. You can position your foot in sitting to use your hands along the bottom (or sit in a chair and lean forward to reach the lower leg muscles). A common massage favorite is using a hot or cold massage ball.

  • To use a massage ball, sit in a comfortable chair with the ball under your foot
  • Apply pressure that is firm but tolerable (without tensing up) to the foot
  • Slowly roll back and forth between the heel and the ball of the foot
  • Repeat for up to 5 minutes
  • Additionally, you can stop and apply direct pressure to any particularly sore spots for 30+ seconds

If you’re having trouble tolerating the other exercises above, you might start with a foot massage first to reduce symptoms and increase tolerance. Additionally, you can try other home treatments such as heat, ice, TENS, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication.

What are the Benefits of Exercise for Flat Feet?

The misalignment that flat feet causes, such as overpronation, can unknowingly cause pain within the lower body, such as knee pain, hip pain, and back pain. Additionally, over time your feet are at a higher risk of developing pain and stiffness. Additionally, flat feet may aggravate other foot issues such as arthritis or neuropathy. Here are some of the specific benefits for starting an exercise program for your feet:

More On Flat Feet

  • Maintain flexibility in the feet to prevent rigidity
  • Better manage or even prevent foot pain
  • Strengthen your foot muscles and potentially rebuild your foot arches
  • Promote better muscular balance in the lower body to reduce risk of secondary injuries
  • Improve foot coordination with weight bearing activities such as standing, walking, and running

How Long Does it Take to See Improvement?

Once the ligaments in your foot have been stretched to cause a flat foot, it is very hard (often even impossible) to restore your foot alignment (or to fix flat feet). The biggest goal with an exercise program is to better manage symptoms and improve the foot’s ability to absorb impact with daily activities.

More Ways to Reduce Flat Feet Pain

You can expect relatively quick relief of any symptoms related to pain and stiffness within 4 to 6 weeks. If you’re holding onto the hope of rebuilding your arches, expect to see any potential changes between 6 and 12 weeks. Regardless of the outcome, there are always benefits to a regular home exercise program.

When to Consult an Expert

If you’re wondering what kind of potential your feet can gain from exercise, schedule a round of physical therapy for the best results. A physical therapist can also recommend the best shoes, insoles, or orthotics for providing adequate arch support. If your symptoms are getting worse and affecting your quality of life, always get in touch with your doctor or podiatrist as soon as possible for further medical advice.

Sources:

https://www.fixflatfeet.com/exercises-for-flat-feet/

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/168608

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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