Author: Chloe Wilson - BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Foot and ankle stretches are an important part of any foot rehab programme. Tightness in the foot, ankle and calf leads to subtle changes in foot position and how forces are transferred through the foot which can lead to a whole host of foot problems.
In order to stretch the foot properly to regain full, pain-free mobility in the calf, ankle, foot and toes it is important to stretch both the muscles and the joints.
Here, we will look at some of the best foot and ankle stretches which can be used to both help treat and prevent foot problems. They target both the muscles and the joints to help you regain full movement and flexibility .
We will start with ankle, foot and toe stretches and then go on to look at stretches for the heel area.
Here we will look at some ankle stretches to improve the mobility and movement around the ankle joint.
Suitable For: Almost anyone! One of my favourite ankle stretches
Starting Position: Sit with your toes pointing forwards and your heel on the floor
Action: Slide the heel backwards, keeping the foot flat on the floor
Repetitions: Hold for a few seconds and repeat 20-30 times
Variations: 1) To make this easier, reduce friction by placing a tray or plastic bag underneath your foot.
2) To increase the stretch a) hook your other leg over your shin and gently push the leg backwards b) once you have slid your foot as far back as you can, keep it still while you slide your bottom forwards in the chair
Purpose: To stretch the muscles across the front of the ankle and improve plantar flexion at the ankle joint (pointing your toes down)
Starting Position: Sit with the foot to be stretched crossed over your other leg, or resting on the floor/bed as shown.
Action: Grasp the middle of your foot and slowly pull the foot downwards to stretch the front of the ankle.
Repetitions: Hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat 10-25 times
Variations: You can stabilize the foot further by supporting just above the ankle
Purpose: These ankle stretches can be used to improve inversion and eversion, the twisting movements of the ankle
Starting Position: Sit with the leg to be stretch crossed over the other leg. Grasp the outer border of your foot
Action: 1) To improve inversion: Grasp the outer border of your foot and gently draw the foot upwards and inwards as if trying to turn up the sole of your foot until you feel a stretch down the outer side of your ankle
2) To improve eversion: Grasp the inner border of your foot and gently push the foot down and outwards as if turning the sole of the foot towards the floor until you feel a stretch on the inner side of your foot
Repetitions: Hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat 10-25 times
Note: If only one of these movements is limited, just work on that one, but if the whole ankle is tight and stiff, do both movements.
Purpose: Stretch the front of the ankle and improve plantar flexion of the ankle and toes with this ankle stretch
Starting Position: Kneel on a bed/table with the middle of your foot off the edge.
Action: Slowly, sit back onto your heels until the ankle stretches at the front
Repetition: Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat 10-20 times
Progression: Increase the stretch by sitting further back onto your heel and/or moving the foot further onto the table
Purpose: Performing ankle stretches on a foam roller is a great way to improve ankle movement
Starting Position: Place one foot on a half foam roller
Action: Tilt the roller outwards to get a stretch down the outer side of the ankle (foot moves into inversion), or inwards to stretch the inner side of the ankle (foot moves into eversion)
Repetition: Repeat 10-20 times to each side
Top Tips: If you don’t have a half roller, improvise. For example, fix a hard backed book to a wide drinks bottle – just make sure it doesn’t slip away from you as you tilt.
Purpose: Improve ankle and toe plantar flexion movement, stretch the muscles on the top of the foot and toes
Starting Position: Stand holding the wall or a counter for balance. Curl your toes underneath and place the top of your foot on the floor
Action: Slowly bend the knee and lean forwards until you feel a stretch in the top of your foot/toes
Repetition: hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat 10-25 times
Purpose: To stretch the toe joints and muscles. These can be modified and used for stretching any of the toes. You can do all the toes at the same time or to be more effective, stretch one at a time
Starting Position: Cross the foot to be stretched on top of the opposite knee. Stabilise the foot by grasping the middle of the foot and take hold of the toe to be stretched.
Action: Gently push the toe down as shown until you feel a stretch on top of the toe. Then, draw the toe backwards until a stretch is felt in the bottom of your toe/foot. Alternate moving the toe up and down. Alternatively, draw the toe out to the side
Repetition: Hold each movement for a couple of seconds and repeat 20-30 times
Variation: You can isolate the movement to different joints in each toe by either pushing through the tip of the toe or further up the toe, just below the knuckle
Whilst this is not an exercise, it is certainly worth mentioning here. Wearing Toe Stretchers, such as the Yoga Toe, are one of the best ways to stretch the toes. They can make a real difference to a whole host of foot problems such as plantar fasciitis, bunions and foot corns.
They are really comfy to wear and help to stretch out the toe and foot joints and muscles really well. They can make all the difference to sore, tired feet alongside ankle stretches. Find out more about them in the Toe Stretchers section
These are a selection of ankle stretches to get you going. It would also be worth visiting the heel stretches section for exercises to help you stretch out the sole of the foot and calf regions. Always do your ankle stretches before exercising and if your foot pain is worst first thing in the morning, stretching before you get out of bed can make a big difference.
With most foot problems, ankle stretches should also be accompanied by strengthening exercises – find out more about how to improve the strength, stability and balance of the foot in the foot.
If you aren’t sure what is causing your foot pain, visit the foot pain diagnosis section for help working out what the problem is and what you can do about it.