What do athletes of all levels do before they start a game or go work out? Even if you don’t participate in sports yourself, you’ve probably seen it: all the players begin with a period of stretching and moving around. The time athletes devote to pre-exercise activity isn’t wasted; it’s an important part of taking care of their bodies and avoiding simple overuse injuries.
Strength and Conditioning
You probably know stretching before you exercise is important, but you may not know why. Stretches help you warm up your muscles and allow them time to adjust to more intense activity, so you’re less likely to injure yourself. Warm, already-active muscles fire more quickly and stay more stable. Dynamic or active stretches are the best kind before you are work out. They encourage the feet to react and move appropriately without putting them under too much strain before they’re ready.
Some dynamic stretches could include:
Ankle rotations – Hold one foot out in front of you. Slowly make a circling motion in the air with that foot. Complete ten rotations, then switch legs.
Toe points – With one foot out in front of you, point your foot all the way and hold for a few seconds. Then slowly flex, starting with the toes and “rolling” through the whole foot. After a few seconds, reverse the motion so it’s pointed again. Do this five times with each foot.
Ankle bounces – Stand facing a wall, or other object to help you balance. Holding onto it, slowly raise your heels as high as you can. Then lower them until your feet are flat again. Do this ten times.
Relaxing the Feet
Stretching can also help your body relax and work more correctly. This is especially valuable if your feet or lower limbs are tight or stiffened from a previous injury. Overly stiff muscles or connective tissues do not respond well when you move and may painfully pull on various structures in your feet or ankles, like your heels. Static stretches can help your tissues relax.
Some basic static stretches could include:
Towel stretch – Take a towel and loop it around your toes. Holding both ends firmly, gently pull back on your feet. You should feel the pull in your soles and calves.
Plantar stretch – Sitting with one foot crossed over your knee, flex your foot. Gently pull your toes backward toward your ankle. You should feel the stretch in the sole of your foot.
Toe spreads – With your bare feet flat on the floor, spread your toes apart as wide as you can and hold them there for several seconds. Then relax and repeat ten times.
Sole massage – Take a cold, round object—a frozen tennis ball or refrigerated water bottle will do—and roll it back and forth on the floor with the bottom of your foot. This should gently massage your sole.
Runner’s stretch – Face a wall, set one foot behind you and straighten that leg. Step forward with the other and bend that knee. Holding onto a wall or counter to balance, lean forward, keeping the back leg straight and your heel on the ground. You should feel the pull in your calf. Be sure to keep your torso straight.
Static stretches are also valuable after you exercise, to keep your tissues from tightening up after finishing your activities. A combination of dynamic and static stretches is the best way to keep your feet and ankles conditioned and stable, so you’re less likely to incur injuries. They can also be used as physical therapy to help rebuild strength and increase range of motion if an injury has taken place.
Stretching is an important part of maintaining active and healthy lower limbs. It prepares the body for exercising and keeps your tissues from becoming too stiff. Overall, it helps your body both prevent and recover from injuries you may develop. If you’re not sure how to properly stretch your lower limbs, or you’re concerned you may already have an injury, contact the experts at NorthPointe Foot & Ankle in Berkley for an appointment or more information. Fill out the online contact form or call (248) 545-0100 to reach us.