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9 Stretches for Pain-Free Feet

Reviewed by
Dr. Kelsey Armstrong

Athletes place an extraordinary amount of stress on their feet. No matter what type of sport you participate in, you’ve probably experienced some type of foot pain. Here is a list of simple stretches that can help reduce and prevent foot pain.

These stretches are especially beneficial for people with foot pain and can be of great benefit to people with health issues that may affect the feet, such as diabetes.

This is because stretching canreduce pressure on the ball of the foot and big toe, where ulcers commonly develop. It also increases the circulation to your feet, which can relieve symptoms caused by peripheral vascular disease.

Keep in mind that you should not feel pain while doing any of the stretches listed below. A stretch done correctly will feel like the muscles are being pulled. You should never bounce during a stretch.

Stretching is generally more effective when done for a shorter duration with frequent repetitions, rather than for a longer duration with few repetitions. Also, stretching every day or a few times a week is much better than once a week.

For all the stretches described, the duration of the stretch and the number of repetitions are to be used as a guide. If you have foot pain, discuss your stretching routine with your doctor to ensure that you are getting the most out of the stretches and that you don’t cause further injury by overdoing it.

It is always good to start slowly and gradually increase the duration of the stretch and the number of repetitions. After you have mastered these stretches for the feet, consider adding stretches to your routine for other muscles in your body. Stretching is a great way to keep all your muscles working to their fullest capacity.

Stretch #1: Heel and Calf Stretch

For this stretch, stand with your toes pointed toward a wall, about two feet away from it. Place both hands on the wall while keeping both heels flat on the floor. Bend one knee, bringing it toward the wall, while keeping the other leg straight.

Using your hips, press in toward the wall to feel the stretch in the calf and heel. To get the most out of this stretch, you should not arch your back. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds then relax for 30 seconds. Do two sets of 10 repetitions on both legs.

Stretch #2: Heel and Calf Stretch With Bent Knees

This stretch is done similarly to Stretch #1, but keeping both legs slightly bent at the knees. It is important to keep the heels flat on the floor when pressing toward the wall, and to keep the hips centered over both feet.

You will feel the stretch in the calf, heel, and sides of your ankles. Perform this stretch for 30 seconds; then relax for 30 seconds. Do two sets of 10 repetitions.

Stretch #3: Towel Stretch

While sitting on the floor with your feet stretched out in front of you, loop a towel around the ball of one foot, and hold the ends of the towel with both hands. While keeping your back and legs straight, pull the foot toward you.

This stretch can be felt in the calf and the heel. Like the previous two stretches, this stretch can be held for 30 seconds, with a 30-second break in between stretches. Do two sets of 10 repetitions.

Note: the first three stretches can be done with shoes on or off. The following stretches should be done with bare feet.

Stretch #4: Golf Ball Roll

In a sitting position, with feet flat on the floor, roll a golf ball (or some other type of small, firm ball) under the arch of each foot for two minutes.

While rolling the foot over the ball, apply pressure downward. This stretch works the plantar fascia ligament, so it can be helpful for people with plantar fasciitis (heel pain syndrome).

Stretch #5: Toe Point and Curl

In a standing position, point your toe down to the floor, and push your ankle forward, curling the toes so they are flush with the floor.

You should feel a stretch along the top of the foot. The more you push the ankle forward, the greater the stretch. Keep the top of the toes flush with the floor as you push forward. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat seven times.

Stretch #6: Toe Flex

This stretch is also done from a standing position. Slide one foot back until your heel raises and the bottom of your toes are flat on the floor. You should feel a pull in the bottom of the foot. Squatting down into a lunge position can increase the stretch. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat seven times.

Stretch #7: Toe Pulls

Toe pulls force you to spread your toes apart. You can stretch both feet at the same time or one foot at a time. Simply spreading your toes apart will work, or you can first put a thick rubber band around the toes for resistance. Hold the toes apart for five seconds, and repeat 10 times, resting after each stretch.

Stretch #8: Toe Curls

This stretch can be done with a small towel or with marbles. Place the towel or marbles on the floor and use your toes to pick them up. This stretch may be helpful if you have hammertoes, toe cramps, or pain in the ball of your foot. You should feel the stretch in the top of the feet and the toes.

  • With the towel, the goal is to bring the towel up with your toes so you can grab it. Putting a weight on the end of the towel increases the resistance. Try picking up the towel with your toes five times, relaxing after each stretch.
  • If you are using marbles, the goal is to pick up one marble at a time off the floor with your toes and put it in a bowl. Repeat this until all marbles are in the bowl (it is best to start the exercise with at least 20 marbles). Make sure the marbles and bowl are directly in front of you.

Stretch #9: Ankle Range of Motion

Sitting in a chair, let your feet hang down without touching the floor. One at a time, move each foot like a pen, using your big toe as the point, and write each letter of the alphabet. You should feel the stretch in the top of your foot and your ankle. Use just your foot and ankle to perform the stretch. Perform two sets with each foot.

How to Strengthen the Feet

The muscles in your feet can become weak as a result of aging and certain medical conditions. Healthy persons may experience tired feet after wearing shoes for extended periods, which limits toe movement, causing muscle weakness.

Taking off your shoes and socks and letting your feet breathe after a workout or long day of work can rejuvenate tired muscles. Here are other ways to strengthen the feet:

  • Exercise daily
  • Walk in the sand at the beach
  • Walk on tip-toe
  • Massage the feet

Medical References:

    American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Foot and Ankle Conditioning Program, October 2012,

This page was last updated on October 2nd, 2015

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