If you have flat feet, fallen arches or any other type of pain in the bottom of your feet, you may think that it's something you just have to live with. However, even the bottoms of your feet can undergo some training to make your arches stronger and to relieve the tension that can result in pain. The first step in your treatment journey should always be a trip to your doctor or physical therapist. Among the treatments your health professional may recommend are exercises that involve a ball.
About Flat Feet
Typically, "flat feet" means you have less of an arch at the bottom of the foot. The tissue that runs from your heel to your toes is called the plantar fascia. When you're experiencing pain in that area, it's often due to that tissue being overstretched, overused or underdeveloped, resulting in a condition called plantar fasciitis. The pain can also be the result of too much arch support in your shoes -- or too little -- as well as long-distance running, being overweight or having a tight Achilles tendon at the back of the heel. Depending on your circumstances, a doctor or physical therapist may recommend ball exercises, stretching and other interventions.
Rolling Ball Exercise
To loosen the ligaments at the bottom of the foot, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends the "ball roll" exercise at least once a day. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, and then place a golf ball under one foot. Sit up straight and tighten your core muscles to keep you stable, and hold onto the seat of the chair if need be. Then roll the ball under the arch of your foot for about two minutes. Apply as much pressure as is comfortable. If need be, try a softer or larger ball, such as a tennis ball or lacrosse ball.
Pick Up Marbles
Strengthening the muscles that help you get into a "tip toe" position can also improve your overall foot and ankle strength, and may help with your foot pain. Get a set of about 10 to 20 1-inch rubber bouncy balls or marbles and sit in the chair as you did in the previous exercise. Then pick up each marble by squeezing it between your big toe and second toe, and drop each one into a collection area such as a bowl or basket. The exercise strengthens the plantar flexors at the top and bottom of the foot.
Bare Feet vs. Shoes
Among health professionals, there is something of a conflict about whether people with fallen arches or arch problems need more or less arch support to help treat the problem. Some say you should be wearing orthotic shoes that provide ample arch support; others say you should be going barefoot as often as possible and avoiding the shoes that provide too much support, as they won't encourage your feet to develop muscle strength. Walking around barefoot as much as possible around the house is going to help you strengthen your arches over time, but you may also need added support when you're out and about. To help strengthen your feet when you need shoes, choose a "barefoot" shoe or ones that are flat yet firm. If you think you need an orthotic, talk to your doctor or physical therapist about what types of interventions are best for you.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.