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Why Foot and Ankle Mobility Matter

 Foot and Ankle Mobility for Heel PainConsider this: When structural engineers design buildings meant to absorb and withstand the impact of an earthquake, they avoid rigidity at all costs. Buildings and structures capable of weathering tremendous impact and force must be strong–and flexible.

The human body is no different.

Tight or inflexible muscles, tendons, and ligaments are all at risk for injury, strain, and reduced ability to withstand the tremendous forces they’re asked to absorb each day through running, walking, and other physical activity.

Let’s explore the specific risks of low foot or ankle mobility, and how you can improve your mobility:

Are Foot Mobility and Heel Pain Connected?

The foot and ankle work together in a complicated dance of muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones. When one part of the foot or ankle is compromised, the rest of the foot feels it!

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Your foot’s ability to properly rotate, flex, and respond to different surfaces and movements has a direct impact on your toes and arches. If your foot mobility is restricted, it’s likely that you’ll eventually begin to notice heel pain as well.

How are foot mobility and heel pain connected? There are several reasons foot mobility and heel pain are bedfellows. For one thing, when you have limited foot mobility, other important muscles and ligaments in the foot atrophy and become tighter from disuse. Tight muscles and ligaments aren’t as effective at absorbing the impact of physical activity or supporting surrounding tissue, leaving the arch of the foot at greater risk of being strained and damaged.

Reduced foot mobility can also mean negative changes for your gait or increased pronation, both of which can eventually lead to heel pain and plantar fasciitis.

How to Improve Foot and Ankle Mobility

Ankle Mobility and Heel Pain

If your foot and ankle mobility aren’t what they should be, remember that “the foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone.” By working to improve mobility in the ankle, foot, toes, and calves, you’ll strengthen and fortify your entire ambulatory system.

Reduced mobility can be caused my injury or trauma, wearing shoes that don’t fit properly and restrict a healthy range of motion, or simply genetics.

It’s important to determine the most likely cause of your compromised foot and ankle mobility, to properly address the issue. If your foot or ankle mobility is compromised because of a previous injury, work with your physical therapist or doctor to avoid re-injury or trauma to the affected area. If you’re wearing shoes that don’t fit properly, restrict your stride, or don’t offer enough support, make some healthy changes in your choice of footwear in tandem with your efforts to improve your foot and ankle mobility.

For most people, starting a regimen of stretching, self massage, and orthotics are key to improving mobility simply and effectively at home:

Stretching: Stretching the calves, ankles, toes, and arches will improve muscle tone, lengthen short, tight muscles and tendons, and allow for a greater range of motion over time.

Self-massage: Using a mobility ball, your hands, or a household tool like a golf ball or rolling pin, you can relieve pain, improve blood circulation, and warm up tight muscles and ligaments in the foot prior to stretching.

Orthotics: If compromised foot and ankle mobility are causing heel pain, wearing orthotic inserts can provide a great deal of pain relief and support to your arch while you work to improve your mobility.

Stretches for Improving Foot and Ankle Mobility

What’s the best way to stretch to improve your foot and ankle mobility? You have plenty of good options! Find a few stretches you like that address your unique mobility concerns, and then incorporate them into your routine. How diligent you are in stretching daily will have as much of an impact on your foot and ankle mobility as which stretches you choose:

Check out these stretches for the toes, calves, ankles, and arches for a few ideas to get you started! In general, you’ll want to hold each stretch for between 15-30 seconds, and repeat each stretch 10-15 times, once or twice a day, but pay attention to your body and take your unique situation into consideration!

Wall and Book Stretch for the Achilles Tendon and Calf

Staircase Stretch for the Heel, Ankle, and Calf

Other Foot and Ankle Mobility Videos

Pebble Stretch for Toe Strength
Water Bottle Stretch for the Plantar Fascia
Wall Squat Calf Stretch

Your feet and ankles are true marvels of engineering, and capable of absorbing a great deal of impact and stress. Think of them as the pillars and foundation that support your body. And by keeping them strong–and flexible–you’re taking strides to keep your whole body healthy and active!

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Should Runners Wear Orthotics?

Orthotics for RunnersIt’s no secret that orthotics are one of the best ways to safely and effectively treat heel pain and plantar fasciitis.

Special plantar fasciitis orthotics work by realigning, cushioning, and supporting a damaged plantar fascia, relieving pain and allowing inflamed and strained tissue to heal.

But can the benefits of orthotics extend to active individuals–like runners–who don’t have a compromised plantar fascia?

Orthotics are Not Just for Runners with Plantar Fasciitis!

The ideal running pattern can be elusive. Most of us underpronate or overpronate slightly, meaning that when our heels strike the ground, the foot either turns too much or not enough.

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And even for runners who enjoy that perfect running pattern, the amount of force your feet absorb during this high-impact activity is pretty incredible. Saucony Shoes estimates that for someone who weighs 150 pounds, the foot experiences forces four to seven times that weight: the equivalent of up to 1,000 pounds.

Orthotics can be tremendously helpful to runners with or without plantar fasciitis, and with or without the perfect running pattern by helping the foot and lower body stay in alignment, helping the plantar fascia absorb impact, and cushioning the foot while running on hard surfaces.

High-End Running Shoes vs. Orthotics

High End Running Shoes vs Orthotics

While there’s no doubt that the shoes you wear are very important to the health of your feet, you don’t need to break the bank to get a good fit and proper support.

Many mid-range and budget running shoes offer excellent fit, comfort, heel and ankle support, and proper support–which can lead to the assumption that with ever-improving technology and quality in running shoes, orthotics don’t have much to add to the equation. However, most of the cushioning and support you’ll find in your running shoes is designed for proper fit and comfort–not arch support.

For this reason, specialized orthotic running shoes are a popular choice. But these orthotic shoes are often heavier than ideal for running, not to mention quite expensive, easily running into the hundreds.

What’s a runner to do? Orthotic inserts are a lightweight alternative that empowers almost any pair of running shoes with proper support, stability, and impact absorption.

Benefits of Running with Orthotics

The benefits to running with orthotic inserts–even if you’re not currently experiencing heel pain or foot pain–are substantial:

  • Improve excessive pronation and gait abnormalities: If you pronate while you run, meaning your feet collapse inward, the consequences on your knees can be dire. Pronation also increases your chances of developing plantar fasciitis and stress fractures. Orthotics can correct this gait imbalance.
  • Alignment: Orthotics have the ability to stabilize and improve alignment throughout the body, not just in your feet. When your feet are properly aligned as they strike the ground, it helps the rest of your lower body including legs, hips, and back, work in proper alignment.
  • Posture: If you’re a runner, your gait and alignment don’t just have an impact while you run. Your posture–which can positively or negatively impact aches and strain to the rest of your body–is directly tied to a healthy gait and alignment.
  • Preventative care: Orthotics help stave off a whole host of problems by supporting your plantar fascia and other muscles and ligaments in the feet. These conditions include plantar fasciitis, shin splints, blisters, hammer toe, and tendonitis.

What Kind of Orthotic Inserts Are Best for Runners?

Full Length Heel Seat Orthotics

Orthotic inserts come in a wide variety. It can be challenging to determine which one is going to give you the best support, cushioning, and bang for your buck. Here’s a few pointers to keep in mind:

Test collapsibility: You should be able to put pressure on the insert’s arch without collapsing it. If the insert collapses with pressure from your fingers, it’s not supportive enough to withstand the impact from running.

Choose an insert with Fascia Bar technology: Fascia Bar support is a must-have in an orthotic insert for runners. This patented technology lifts the arch to the optimal level with the highest caliber support.

Many runners have the best results from full length inserts: Some runners find that half-length inserts slip and slide inside of their shoes. If this is the case, a full length insert is the best bet for functionality and comfort.

Try over-the-counter orthotics before prescription orthotics: Custom orthotics are both extremely expensive (up to $450), take time to create (usually about a month) and not necessarily more effective than quality over-the-counter options. Over-the-counter orthotics with Fascia Bar technology are both inexpensive (the cost of a few cups of coffee) and have a 90% satisfaction rate.

Whether your goal is to head off plantar fasciitis and other heel and foot problems, improve your gait or posture, or help your body stay in proper alignment with each mile, orthotics are a terrific way to reduce the amount of impact and strain your body undergoes during a run or jog.

Runners of all speeds, abilities, and ages choose to wear orthotics each time they pound the pavement to protect some of their most important assets: their feet and heels.

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Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) & Plantar Fasciitis

Restless leg syndrome plantar fasciitisWhile restless leg syndrome (also known as RLS) and plantar fasciitis can certainly occur at the same time, the evidence for a connection between the two conditions is somewhat elusive and mostly anecdotal–which makes sense, since RLS is a poorly understood and somewhat mysterious (but very real) condition itself.

If you suffer from either plantar fasciitis or restless leg symptoms, it can be helpful to understand the reported risk factors leading to the overlap of these two conditions, to help with early detection and intervention.

Plantar Fasciitis and Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome is a condition that affects anywhere between 4 and 30 percent of the US population. The condition causes discomfort or a pins-and-needles sensation and the urge to move the lower legs during periods of inactivity, such as sitting or while lying in bed. Often, the condition gets worse at night and interferes with falling asleep.

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Plantar fasciitis, on the other hand, is a condition that impacts the arch of the foot, or more specifically the plantar fascia, a ligament that connects your heels to your toes and helps absorb impact and distribute weight evenly while you walk or move. When this band of tissue becomes strained, inflamed, or overused, plantar fasciitis develops.

It’s worth noting that individuals with restless leg syndrome often experience other foot problems as well, including bunions–and plantar fasciitis.

While the cause of restless leg syndrome is unknown, there is growing support for the theory that RLS is caused by problematic movement patterns, and stress and strain to myofascial trigger points, or muscle knots, in the skeletal muscles of the feet and legs. Some experts believe that the gait changes that often occur alongside plantar fasciitis (to compensate for the damaged fascia) can trigger restless leg syndrome.

Improving Alignment and Gait to Address Restless Leg Syndrome and Plantar Fasciitis

Improve foot alignment for restless leg syndrome

Some people have found that by improving their movement patterns and gait, their restless leg syndrome improves as well as the fascia and muscles in the legs and feet resume a proper position and heal.

Likewise, by taking steps to properly align and treat strained and damaged ligaments in the fascia, plantar fasciitis can be warded off or treated as well.

Make sure that you are wearing properly fitting shoes that support and cushion your arches, and aren’t too tight. Avoid wearing high heels or shoes that are tight in the toe box.

Wearing orthotic inserts with your favorite pair of shoes can offer a great deal of support and cushioning to a compromised arch, allowing you to walk normally without pain.

Since resting the legs and feet (an important part of healing plantar fasciitis) can be uncomfortable for individuals with restless leg syndrome, it’s especially important to take steps to properly support the ligaments and tissue of the feet.

Massage and Stretching for Restless Leg Syndrome and Plantar Fasciitis

Restless Leg Syndrome Home Treatment

Massage and stretching are two other at-home remedies that appear to improve restless leg syndrome and have been proven to help with plantar fasciitis.

Starting a regular routine of stretching and self-massage with a mobility ball, tennis ball, or even water bottle can strengthen and elongate tight and damaged muscles and ligaments in the feet and legs. Over time, these stretches and massage can break up adhesions, improve circulation, and support a proper gait and movement patterns.

Most cases of plantar fasciitis can be resolved at home using the treatments discussed above, including orthotics, stretching, and rest. And while treating restless leg syndrome can feel like guesswork, the good news is that many of the treatments that work for plantar fasciitis also seem to have a positive effect on restless leg syndrome.

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How to Choose Your Foot Pain Treatment

Foot Pain TreatmentFoot pain can be an overwhelming experience all by itself. After all, the sheer number of tasks that can require walking or standing during a given day is staggering. Add trying to determine the right course of action to treat and remedy that foot pain, and you’ve just doubled your stress.

Should you go to a doctor? How should you prepare for your visit? Which home remedies are effective, and which ones aren’t worth the bother? Is that miracle cure really a miracle–or a waste of money?

Making the right choices when it comes to treating your foot pain can have significant consequences in how fast you heal, whether additional complications arise, and how much time and money you use in the process.

If you’re experiencing foot pain, keep the following best practices in mind as you choose your foot pain treatment:

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Important Steps in Diagnosing Your Foot Pain

A few simple steps can help you or your doctor diagnose your foot pain effectively and quickly!

Document, Document, Document

First, take a few minutes to document all the symptoms you’ve been experiencing. Start a document to jot down your thoughts, information about your symptoms, and any articles you find and might want to reference later. This will help give you a baseline to refer back to as symptoms change, when you see a doctor, or when you try different treatment options.

As you write down your symptoms, make sure to note how long you’ve been experiencing them, whether anything in particular makes them feel better or worse, whether one or both feet are affected, how severe the symptoms are, whether they have changed over time, and what you’ve tried so far in treating them.

Cataloging your symptoms is the first step in diagnosing the problem–whether that’s a self-diagnosis for mild symptoms, or consulting with your doctor to diagnose your foot pain in an office setting.

Research, Research, Research

Research Foot Pain

When you’ve made a complete inventory of your foot pain symptoms and the ways they are presenting, take your notes to the research phase. Use reputable sites like Mayoclinic.com or WebMD.com to search for your symptoms, starting with the most severe and working your way down to less noticeable symptoms.

If your symptoms are mild or just beginning, you can explore treatment options at home. If your symptoms are severe or your research leads you to believe that they may be signs of a break, fracture, or other condition that requires medical intervention, make an appointment with your doctor right away. The good news is, the majority of foot-related ailments, such as plantar fasciitis, hammer toe, and mild sprains can be treated in the comfort of your home without the cost of medical intervention.

Choosing the Right Foot Pain Treatment

Once you have a good idea what you’re dealing with when it comes to your foot pain, it’s time to determine a good course of treatment:

Identify Proven Treatment Methods from Multiple Sources

Your health is of the utmost importance! Approach your research into potential foot pain treatments with the same diligence you’d approach buying a new car or house. Take your advice from scientific journals, medical websites, and reviews from real people who have used a particular product or method. Don’t be swayed by a smooth sales pitch or big promises.

Don’t Discount At-Home Remedies for Foot Pain

Remember, most cases of foot pain can be resolved simply, with at-home, conservative methods. While foot pain can be scary, jumping directly to medical intervention can be both painful and costly. Depending on your unique situation and the severity of your symptoms, start with the most conservative and proven methods of treatment you can find. If you aren’t experiencing relief, it may be necessary to consider more invasive treatments.

Give It Time

This is important. Remember, for many common foot conditions (like hammer toe and plantar fasciitis), your foot pain is the result of strain and injury that has compounded over time, resulting in injury and pain. On the flip side, treatment and healing will take some time as well. Stay dedicated to proven treatment methods, and be patient with your chosen course. If your symptoms aren’t improving as time goes by (many courses of treatment can take 3-6 months), it’s time to see a doctor for potential medical interventions.

Foot pain is always concerning. But by taking a calculated approach to documenting your symptoms and researching treatment methods, you’ll be a step ahead in resolving your pain and getting back on your feet!

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Top Treatments for Hammer Toe

Hammer Toe TreatmentsHammer toe, also known as “rotated toe,” is a condition that causes the middle joints of the toes to curl downward instead of straight forward. More than 200,000 cases of hammer toe are treated annually in the United States, and while most are successfully resolved with at-home conservative treatment methods, severe cases of hammer toe can require surgery.

What are the symptoms and causes of hammer toe, and what are the top home treatment methods for successfully restoring your toes to a healthy position? Read on!

Symptoms of Hammer Toe

The hallmark of a hammer toe is a toe that is bent downward at the middle joint (the “knuckle: of your toe.) The toe adjacent to your big toe is most commonly affected by this condition.

The first symptom you’re likely to notice is one or more toes that seem to have trouble lining up straight with the rest of your toes while your foot is flat and relaxed. As the condition progresses, you may notice corns or calluses, caused by additional friction and rubbing from the unnatural position, and difficulty or discomfort while walking. You’ll also likely notice that it becomes increasingly difficult to move or wiggle your toes. Some people confuse hammer toe with bunions, since both involve toes that bend at unnatural angles, and the two conditions can occur simultaneously. However, a bunion causes the swelling at the base of the big toe, which makes the toes point inward toward the second toe, rather than downward.

If your hammer toe symptoms are new and mild, it’s highly likely that you’ll be able to successfully treat your hammer toe at home. If your symptoms are severe, it’s important to see a doctor.

Causes of Hammer Toe

High Heels Hammer Toe

Overwhelmingly, the most common cause of hammer toe is ill-fitting footwear. High heels are a particularly notorious culprit of hammer toe, since they cause a great deal of pressure on the toes as they are pressed downward into the tight front of the shoe. Wearing shoes that are too tight, exaggerate the arch of the foot, or place pressure on the toes or ball of the foot can all lead to hammer toe.

Other causes of hammer toe include foot injuries, very high foot arches, tight or misaligned tendons and ligaments throughout the foot, or having a family history of hammer toe. If you develop a bunion, a condition that causes your toes to bend inward (rather than downward), you should be especially vigilant to signs of hammer toe. With the toes bent at an unnatural angle from the bunion, they are more susceptible to hammer toe.

Home Remedies for Treating and Preventing Hammer Toe

If your hammer toe is being caused by ill-fitting footwear, the most important step you can take in treating it is to immediately stop wearing the footwear. Trade the problem shoes for footwear that has plenty of room in the toe box, supports your heel and insole, and does not force the toes downward into the toe box.

If you believe that high arches or a weak and strained arch from wearing unsupportive footwear may be the cause of your hammertoe, wearing orthotic inserts to support your arch properly can help relieve pressure and strain on your toes.

Gently stretching and separating your toes with toe separators can be a simple and effective way to realign the foot and toes, gently stretch the muscles and tendons, improve circulation for healing, and bring the toes back to a correct, uncurled position.

With rest, properly fitting footwear, toe separators, and orthotics, most cases of hammer toe can be resolved simply and easily at home. However, if you find that you are unable to move the curled toes at all, or are experiencing great discomfort while walking, it’s important to see a doctor to put you back on the track to recovery!

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