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From the Ground Up: The Importance of Foot Strength and Stability

Pain in your feet? Cramping in your arches? There’s more to the feet than bunions and plantar fasciitis. Often, foot pain is due to tightness and muscular trigger points in the tiny muscles of the feet.


Why does this happen? It is usually because those tiny muscles are weak. These muscles work to maintain your arch, absorb ground reaction forces with impact, and control the toes.

Image credit: Fraser, John & Feger, Mark & Hertel, Jay. (2016). MIDFOOT AND FOREFOOT INVOLVEMENT IN LATERAL ANKLE SPRAINS AND CHRONIC ANKLE INSTABILITY. PART 1: ANATOMY AND BIOMECHANICS. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 11. 992-1005.


Think of your feet as the roots of trees- a strong, tall trunk is only as sturdy as its roots. Similarly, the body can only be as stable as the feet, as stability at the foot and ankle affects the knee, hip, and trunk up the chain. Intrinsic foot muscles are the muscles that begin and end within the foot. Extrinsic foot muscles originate in the calf, and have attachments in the feet via their tendons. Strengthening the intrinsic foot muscles helps to combat the above listed symptoms, and improves balance and stability.


Here are 3 ways to improve your intrinsic foot strength:


  1. Take your shoes off: Whenever possible, perform your strengthening exercises barefoot. While performing your other exercises, you will get the bonus of strengthening foot intrinsic muscles.

  2. Envision the Foot Tripod: While performing standing exercises, imagine 3 points of contact; one at the base of the big toe, one at the base of the pinky toe, and one at the center of the heel. Distributing weight through these three points, and pressing through them will activate your foot muscles to maintain arch position and improve stability.

  3. Move your toes: Toe mobility, specifically big toe mobility, is critical for walking and running. In our society, we don’t focus much on actively moving our toes, however we have muscles that independently flex, extend, abduct, and adduct the big toe, as well as muscles that flex and extend the 4 smaller toes. To isolate the big toe, and 2nd through 5th toe movements, try toe yoga. Lift the big toe up while pressing toes 2-5 down into the ground, and then reverse the motion and press the big toe down while lifting the toes 2 through 5 up. It’s difficult at first but improves with practice!



Thanks for reading!

Dr. Elizabeth Karr PT, DPT


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