Stretches for a Tight Instep Under the Foot

Ditch your heels for flats to make your feet feel better.
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Nothing beats the delicious sense of relief that comes from kicking off your pumps at the end of the day. As good as they look, those high heels can cause serious tightness in your lower legs and along the soles of your feet. Before you slide into slippers, take a few minutes to stretch and massage the area under your instep. Keeping that area loose and supple will help you get more mileage from your tootsies.

Appreciating Your Feet

    For such a small and modest appendage, the human foot does remarkable things. Whether you're running, dancing or cross-country skiing, your feet support your weight, keep you upright and balanced and propel you through space. They also absorb a tremendous amount of pressure. All that work and stress can lead to tightening of the plantar fascia, a tough band of connective tissue that runs from your heel to your big toe. As your plantar fascia shortens up -- from overuse, inappropriate footwear or tight calf musculature -- you're more susceptible to discomfort, cramping or outright pain on the sole of the foot. You're right to isolate and loosen up the plantar fascia directly, but plan to stretch outlying areas -- including the calf muscles and Achilles tendon -- as well.

Manual Stretching

    Working barefoot or with socks, take a "hands-on" approach to manipulating and lengthening the plantar fascia. Sit on a firm, stable chair with your right foot resting lightly on your left thigh, right knee open to the side. Flexing the right foot, brace the heel with your left hand. Place the heel of your right hand across the bottoms of your toes and extend the fingers over the ball of the foot, perpendicular to the base of your toes. Gently pull the ball of the foot toward your shin, opening up and elongating the sole of the foot. Hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds, release briefly and repeat up to four times before switching to your left foot.

Using the Floor

    Scoot your buttocks to the front edge of your seat and work against the floor for another intense stretch. Adjust your position so your right leg dangles freely off the right side of the chair. Bending your right knee and extending your right hip, place the ball of the foot on the floor slightly behind you. Raise the instep and heel as high as possible while keeping the toes and ball of the foot on the floor. You should feel a light stretch along the bottom of the foot. Hinge forward from the hips and press the ball of the foot more firmly into the floor to increase the stretch. Hold for up to 30 seconds. Release and repeat the stretch up to four times before swapping feet.

Get Your Calves Involved

    Dr. Peggy Malone, a chiropractor and advocate of frequent calf stretching, notes the connection between tight calves and foot pain. Stretching the foot from a standing position brings your calves and Achilles tendon into the picture. Stand facing a wall at a distance of 12 to 18 inches. For light support, rest your fingertips on the wall at shoulder height. Flexing your right foot, place the heel several inches from the base of the wall and rest the ball of the foot on the wall itself. Both knees should be straight but not locked. Hold the position until you feel light tension along the sole of the foot and along the back of your lower leg. To add intensity, shift your hips forward slightly. Hold for up to 30 seconds, relax briefly and repeat up to four times.

Tips and Considerations

    Bob Anderson, author of "Stretching," recommends massaging the bottom of the foot to work out tight spots, bring relief from soreness and increase flexibility under the instep. Use your thumbs to massage trouble spots or place a golf ball under the sole of the foot and slowly roll the foot back and forth over the ball, pressing the foot lightly into the ball. In addition to stretching and massage, take other measures to loosen up and protect the plantar fascia from strain. Lose extra weight you've been carrying around, wear well-fitting footwear that suits your activity, buy new athletic shoes when your old ones show signs of wear and trade in your heels for sensible -- but stylish -- flats.

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