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Avoiding Foot Pain

Maintaining happy and healthy feet

As physiotherapists, we commonly see patients with complaints of foot pain. Sometimes there is a specific cause - such as acute pain from a broken toe - but it is actually more common that there is no identifiable mechanism, and pain emerges seemingly without reason. Common diagnoses that physiotherapists treat include plantar fasciitis, bursitis, osteoarthritis, Morton’s neuroma, bunions, and Achilles tendonitis to name a few.

"The Big 4"

The foot has a ton of different muscles and bones that interact to allow us to stand, walk, run, and jump. Sometimes weakness in these muscles or stiffness in these joints can lead to foot pain. That’s why I love recommending “The Big 4” foot exercises to my patients. These are quick, simple exercises that can be done anywhere, at any time. Need a 2-minute break at work? Slip off your shoes and do The Big 4! Binge-watching your favourite show on Netflix? A great time to sneak in The Big 4! Even while sitting on the beach, they’re quick and easy to do.

To start, be in a comfortable seated position with your feet flat on the ground; you should be able to see your toes. You can do the following exercises one foot at a time, or both at the same time.

Big Toe Lift

  1. Keep all of the other toes relaxed on the ground.

  2. Lift your big toe straight up into the air, then back down.

  3. Repeat this 10 times.

Little Toe Lift

  1. Keep the big toe relaxed and on the ground.

  2. Lift the other toes straight up into the air, then back down.

  3. Repeat this 10 times.

Toe Spread

  1. Lift the toes up off the ground.

  2. Spread all of the toes apart as much as you can.

  3. Place the toes back down on the ground.

  4. Repeat this 10 times.

Arch Lift OR Towel Scrunch

  1. Place something small under the inside arch of your foot so that you can feel it (eg. tip of a pen).

  2. Keeping your heels and toes on the ground, try to lift the arch up and away from the object so that you can no longer feel it.

  3. Repeat this 10 times.

If the arch lift is too difficult, start with the towel scrunch:

  1. Place a towel flat on the ground and place your feet on top of the towel. Make sure there is more fabric from the towel in front of your foot.

  2. Without moving your heels, curl all of your toes in to create a deep dome under your arches.

  3. Repeat this 10 times, smoothing the towel back out as needed.


Once you’ve mastered doing these exercises in a seated position, try doing them standing. Then progress to making them functional! Spread those toes and lift that arch while doing a lower-body exercise, such as squats. For an extra bit of fun, challenge your partner, child, and/or friends to see if their feet can mimic yours!

Quick Tips

Here are a couple additional tips for healthy & happy feet:

  1. Choose appropriate footwear: Your shoes should have lots of room in the toe region (sorry ladies, stilettos have to go!) and some support for the inside arch of the foot.

  2. Easy does it: When trying a new activity, such as running, make sure you gradually ease into it. Simply too much, too soon, after too little, for too long is a common reason for many lower-body injuries.

  3. Go barefoot every once in a while: Since it is summertime, walking outside on the grass or on the beach is a great way to naturally exercise all those little muscles and joints in the foot.

  4. If you start experiencing foot pain, don’t ignore it for too long: Rest and support are great for short-term management, however, the longer you leave pain to get worse, the harder it can be to treat and the longer the recovery time frame can be.

I hope you find these tips helpful and have fun incorporating “The Big 4!” into your daily routine. If you have any questions regarding the exercises in this article, aches or pains you are experiencing, or want additional information on how to keep your feet healthy; contact our team of physiotherapy experts!


Exercise photos from Physiotec


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