Your feet are the foundation of your posture. When your arches are fallen or flat, you can experience lower back, hip, knee, ankle and foot pain due to excessive strain on the 100 different muscles, tendons and ligaments that originate in or end in your foot. If you roll your heels inward while you walk, or if your feet turn to the outside -- called slew-footed, or inside -- called pigeon-toed, chances are you have weak arches. Muscle-strengthening exercises can help lift the arch of your foot and reduce your chances of pain and injury.
Intrinsic foot muscles, such as the plantar fascia, originate and end in the foot. The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that runs from your toes to your heel. When your plantar fascia is weak, you have pain in your heel when you walk. Strengthen the supportive structures of your arch with foot curls. Perform this exercise with bare feet while sitting in a chair. With your foot pointed straight ahead, curl your toes and the ball of your foot toward your heel. Hold this position to a count of five. Repeat this exercise 10 times with each foot. Scrunching a towel on the floor with your toes and the ball of your foot also strengthens your intrinsic foot muscles. To do this exercise, work your toes and the ball of your foot on the towel in an effort to bunch the towel up under your foot.
Two muscles originate on the tibia and end in the foot: the tibialis anterior and the tibialis posterior. Strengthen the tibialis anterior with barefoot heel walking. Begin with 50 short steps with your toes pointed straight up. Follow this exercise with 50 steps of heel walking with your toes pointed approximately 30 degrees to the inside, and then 50 steps with your toes pointed 30 degrees to the outside. Use a resistance band to work the tibialis posterior. Step on one loose end of a resistance band with your right foot and extend the band to your left ankle. Bring the band around behind your left ankle and bring the other loose end back to your right foot. Step on both loose ends of the band with your right foot, or tie the ends to a sturdy structure. Push your left ankle against the band to take up any looseness in the band. Bend your knees slightly. Lift your arch as you roll your ankle toward the resistance band, exposing the sole of your foot as you press against the resistance band with your ankle. Do this exercise 10 times with each foot.
Stretch your posterior tibialis with Prasarita Padottanasana. Perform this yoga stretch with your legs wide apart as you bend forward and balance yourself on your hands or fingertips. Bend your knees slightly and keep your spine straight. Weak arches can cause your knees to turn inward during this exercise. Correct this posture by bending your knees and bowing your back slightly until you can keep your feet straight ahead. Distribute your weight evenly on your foot without pressing into the back of your heel or the ball of your foot. Lift your arches by contracting the muscles of your foot without curling your foot. Tighten your outer thigh muscles during this eccentric exercise that contracts the muscle while stretching it.
Strengthen Achilles Tendon
Exercises for the Achilles tendon help to lift your arch as the tendon is toned and strengthened. The Achilles tendon is the end point of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles of the leg calf. Heel lifts work these muscles. Stand on the balls of your feet on a step, allowing your heels to drop downward. Slowly lift your heels as high as you can to a count of five. Lower your heels to a count of five. Vary this exercise by standing with your toes pointed slightly inward, and then with your toes pointed slightly outward. Do 10 repetitions of each variation. Use a resistance band to work the Achilles tendon from a seated position on the floor. With the band looped around the arch of your foot on your extended right leg and your left leg bent at the knee, press against the band, pointing your toes. Do 10 repetitions with each foot.
- Yoga International: Yoga Therapy for Your Arches
- Washington Running Report: Sports Medicine: Five Strengthening Exercises for the Foot and Ankle
- The Podiatry Institute: Fallen Arches
- MayoClinic.com: Plantar Fasciitis
- Yoga Journal: Prasarita Padottanasana
- Sports Injury Clinic: Strengthening Exercises for Achilles Tendonitis
For Judy Kilpatrick, gardening is the best mental health therapy of all. Combining her interests in both of these fields, Kilpatrick is a professional flower grower and a practicing, licensed mental health therapist. A graduate of East Carolina University, Kilpatrick writes for national and regional publications.