Your toes may play a critical role when it comes to healing plantar fasciitis pain. In fact, toe extensor foot muscle stretches could prove to be the most important exercises you will ever hear about.
Why do I say this? As noted in the article What is Plantar Fasciosis, when you look at the feet of a young child you will see that their feet are widest at the end of their toes. This is the normal posture of human feet. It provides us with appropriate foot strength and stability.
This is often no longer true for those of us who have worn shoes most every day during our lifetime. If you are a long-term shoe-wearer like me you may find that the widest part of your feet are at the balls of your feet and your outside toes are bent inward.
Blame the Shoes
Unfortunately, our modern-day shoes train our feet to change shape. They not only squeeze our toes, pushing both the big and small toe inward, they also pull our toes upward.
These changes in shape tend to stress the muscles that allow us to wiggle our toes. Over time, the stressed foot muscles may start to pinch an artery that runs from the big toe to the heel area, reducing the flow of blood near the areas where plantar fasciitis/fasciosis pain occurs. The result is that some of the cells that are not receiving enough blood may begin to deteriorate or die.
According to The Gait Guys, “Digit extensor tightness is rampant in our society. We have been in shoes … for so long that our flexors and foot intrinsic muscles have become pathologically weak.”
For this reason, we need to begin to build up the muscles that have become weakened due to our modern-day lifestyle.
Toe Stretching Exercises
In the Exercises for Toes post a number of exercises involving the toes were described. These were aimed at stretching and strengthening the muscles and plantar fascia tissue in the bottom of the foot.
Remember that strengthening your feet can lead to improved functioning of your feet, better posture, and may help prevent reoccurrence of plantar fasciitis/fasciosis or other foot injuries.
The digit extensor muscle tightness issue requires a similar but slightly different exercise than those in the previous post. Like the others, this exercise is toe-related. It is called the Toe Extensor stretch because it focuses on the extensor muscles.
So, what are these toe extensor muscles anyway? They are thin muscles located in the top part of the foot that help control the movement of our toes.
Essentially, there are four extensor muscles, two that help control the movement of the big toe, one that works with the other four toes, and a fourth that also helps with movement of the little toe.
If you feel pain or tightness in the top part of your foot it could very well be related to tight extensor muscles. As noted earlier, if these muscles are stressed, they may be restricting blood flow to the area near the heel, contributing to the pain of plantar fasciitis/fasciosis.
The following video, by Dr. Ray McClanahan, discusses the purpose of and demonstrates the Toe Extensor stretch:
It is very important to remember that stretching is not intended to cause pain. While stretching, you want to feel a slight pull on the muscle. Don’t go so far as to cause harm to yourself, however.
Also, recognize that the length of time that you are told to hold a stretch is a guideline. You may want to hold a specific stretch longer than 20 seconds, which is ok, but be sure to repeat the stretch 3-4 times each session to help build strength and flexibility.
Other names for this type of stretch are the Great Toe Extensor stretch and the Great Toe Extension stretch. Essentially, they are all the same stretch, but these provide alternative ways to stretch the extensors other than the method shown in the video.
For example, the picture here shows how you can perform this type of stretch while standing up. Simply do the following:
- Begin by moving your foot back about 6 inches.
- Curl your toes under your foot as in the picture.
- Next, bend your foot back over the toes until you start to feel the muscles on the top of your foot being stretched.
- To increase the stretch, push your ankle forward while keeping your toes curled. If you feel a cramp developing in your arch area, release the stretch and try again.
Obviously, the sitting or standing methods can both work. Try it both ways and see which one feels best for you.
Questions or Comments
When you look at your feet do you see the inward bending of your big and little toes? When you attempt this exercise can you feel the tightness in your extensor muscles?
If you have worked with this exercise previously, has it helped you?
Please provide your thoughts and insights in the comment area below.