Foot and ankle movement: exercises to do in bed or while sitting

You can improve flexibility in your lower body and feet with this five-exercise routine from fitness expert Stephanie Mansour, host of "Step It Up With Steph" on PBS.

To help relieve pain or discomfort in the ankles and feet, movement exercises often focus on stretching the hamstrings and calf. That’s because tight calf muscles and decreased range of ankle joint dorsiflexion, the movement that occurs when you pull your toes toward your shins, are linked to a number of lower extremity disorders, including Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis, or inflammation of the sole tissue, according to the research.

Engaging your calf muscles on a regular basis is an important step toward feeling better.

You can do simple motion exercises around the ankles and the soles of each foot that also work your calf. In fact, these exercises can be performed while lying in bed or sitting at your desk at work.

This five-movement routine for the ankles and feet targets surrounding muscles and tendons, increasing flexibility and relieving pain. Studies have shown that incorporating static and dynamic stretching can improve your range of motion. Therefore, the inclusion of stretches that last for five to 10 seconds and stretches that continue to move throughout the stretch are necessary to improve movement.

Practice this routine once daily, with each movement slowly and carefully, to strengthen your range of motion and flexibility around your joints. Remember to move on purpose and take your time while flexing and extending through the full range of motion.

important note: Before starting any new exercise program, check with your doctor. Stop immediately if you feel pain.

1. Flex and point

Straighten one leg and bend the foot up. Flexing the foot brings the toes closer to you and toward your shins.

Hold for five seconds, then point the toes to extend the top of the foot. Hold for five seconds. Repeat this routine five times, then switch feet.

2. Footballs: Flexion and Extension

This exercise is an exaggerated movement of the first exercise. Bend one foot up, hold it for five seconds, then instead of going from flexion to extension immediately, continue the flexion, with the ball of your foot coming forward. Then, point your toes forward and hold for five seconds.

To return to the flexed position, release the toes first, then flex at the ankle. Repeat five times, then switch feet.

3. Clock circles

Sitting or lying down, bend one foot up. This is called the 12 o’clock position. Then externally rotate the ankle so that the foot is pointing to the right, turning toward the 1 o’clock position.

Continue clockwise to the right until it points down to 6 o’clock, then you’ll begin to rotate inward to point the foot to the left and turn until 7 o’clock all the way back to flex at 12 degrees. Wall Clock. Repeat five times, then rotate counterclockwise five times. Then switch feet.

4. Ankle rotation

Extend one leg in front of you. Rotate the foot from the outside to the side and hold for five seconds.

Then internally rotate the foot in the opposite direction towards the midline of your body and hold for five seconds. Repeat giving times and then switch legs.

5. Curls

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Allow both feet to relax. Then imagine that you are trying to wipe a piece of cloth on the floor and pick it up with your feet. Flex all ten toes tightly and hold for five seconds. Release and relax the feet. Repeat this 10 times.

Do this routine daily or a few times a week to loosen and strengthen your feet, ankles, and calves. And remember to take your time with these stretches. Do not rush!

Stephanie Mansour, host of PBS’ “Step It Up With Steph,” is a health and wellness journalist and women’s weight loss consultant and coach.

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