“Since the pain from flat feet can be due to an imbalance and soreness within the many muscles and tendons of the feet, it can often help to stretch these sore muscles or build up muscles that can help rebalance the foot,” says Dr. Canuso, who offers this caveat: “It is my opinion that if you are in acute or severe foot pain, you should avoid stretching the feet and stay as immobile as possible until your body has had a chance to calm down the inflammation a bit naturally.” In this case, it’s best to consult a doctor before beginning any type of intervention, even stretching, to ensure you’re not inadvertently causing more pain or damage.
Once you get the okay from your medical practitioner (or if you’re not experiencing acute pain, just general achiness or soreness), you should stretch two to three times a day, according to physical therapist and personal trainer, Leada Malek, DPT, CSCS, who recommends stretching for 20–30 seconds per exercise, as a base “goal” for flat-feet maintenance and injury prevention. Still, remember stretching is individualized, so the amount may vary in people who suffer from pain or are healing from trauma.
The best stretches for flat feet
1. Towel stretch
Sit down on a chair and loop a towel around the ball of one foot, holding the ends in either hand. Gently pull up on the towel to draw your toes toward your face. “You should try to do this stretch with your leg straight if possible,” says Dr. Canuso. “This stretch is important because it lengthens the calf muscles, which are responsible for helping to hold up the arch of your foot.” Aim for three rounds of 15 seconds with a five-second break in between, then switch sides.
2. Tennis ball stretch
Stay seated on the chair and put a tennis ball under your foot—this time knee is bent. Roll the ball along the arch of your foot from the heels to the toes, then back again. “This helps break up any scar tissue and assist your body with absorbing and reducing any present inflammation that’s along the sole,” says Dr. Canuso. Aim for three rounds of 15 seconds with a five-second break in between, then switch sides.
3. Calf stretch
Stand in a lunge facing a wall, with hands on a wall and one foot behind the other, hip-width apart. Keep both heesl down and lean forward, with toes pointing forward and back knee straight, to maximize the stretch. “This stretch helps lengthen your calf and hamstring muscles, as well as strengthen your arch,” says Dr. Canuso. And Malek adds that “a more flexible and less tense calf can allow for less tension on the muscles and structures that support the arch.”
4. Arch lift
Remain seated, place your feet flat on the ground and try to draw the ball of your foot towards the heel by lifting the arch—don’t allow your toes or heel to lift into the air. Perform five rounds of 13 lifts. This will help strengthen the intrinsic foot muscles to contribute to a stronger foot and arch, and thus hopefully, less pain, says Malek.
5. Figure-4 stretch
Lie on your back, cross your right ankle over your left thigh, just above the knee, and your left knee, and use your hands around your left hamstring to gently pull your left leg toward your chest. You should feel a stretch in your right hip. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides. “This is important because oftentimes with flat feet, your knees and hips are also out of alignment, and this stretch helps align your hips and back, while also improving flexibility,” says Dr. Canuso.
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