What To Do If You Have Foot Pain?

Foot Pain Got You Down?


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Living and working in NYC, many people come in with foot pain because NY is a walking city. People walk everyday to get to where they need to go, and there is nothing short of foot traffic on the streets. Couple that with subway stairs, snow/ice weather conditions, poorly paved streets, and poor shoe choices, injuries are bound to happen. And then what do you do when you can’t walk without pain?

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So with most kind of repetitive injuries, when an area is weak, tight, and overused, it starts giving you pain. And with all the steps you take a day, is it any wonder you wake up with pain?


Here are a few things you can try if you are having foot pain.


  1. Look at the shoes you are wearing on a daily basis. Are they old, worn down? Do they have any support in them? Do they have a wedge or a heel attached to them? Do you wear flip flops or shoes without a back to them? These are all questions you should ask yourself when your feet begin to hurt.

feet 6   feet 5

Your shoes are supporting your full body weight every day, and they work hard on the pavement of the streets. If you are a runner, even a good pair of running shoes typically don’t last longer than 6 months. So make sure your shoes aren’t worn out. Not sure? Look at the soles of your shoes –how is the traction? Look at the insoles of your shoes? Are they torn and worn or still give some cushion. Also check to make sure they have some form of arch support. Totally flat shoes i.e. ballet flats don’t offer any support. Especially if you have pronated feet or high arches.


When wearing heels, every inch higher the heel is can increase the % of pressure placed on the ball of your foot, not to mention the % of pressure on your knees. I’ve seen articles that said a 3 inch heel can increase the pressure on the ball of your foot by 76%! Yikes! This can cause all types of foot pain. It also shortens your Achilles and could lead to tendinitis.

Do you wear shoes without a back to them? Even slippers in your home without a back aren’t the best idea. People tend to grip and curl their toes a little to keep their shoes on. In doing so, you are overworking the muscles on the bottom of your foot and over time this tightens the muscles. This can lead to foot pain and spasms.

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  1. Stretch out! This includes the muscles along the front and back of your lower leg as well as the bottom of your foot. If your arch is cramping or you get cramps along the back of your leg, make sure you are stretching your plantar fascia, gastroc, and soleus. (see below)


Plantar Fascia Stretch 

PFstretch   3x for 30 sec. hold

Use a towel to go up and over the toes as you pull the towel back towards you. Make sure your toes are extending back so you feel the stretch along the bottom of your foot.

Gastroc Stretch

GSS   3x for 30 sec. hold

Place the towel just around the ball of your foot as you pull the whole ankle/foot back towards you.

Soleus Stretch

soleuss  3x of 30 sec. hold

Similar to gastroc stretch but with knees bent. Lean forward from the hips and keep your heels on the ground. Slightly bend your knees so you release the gastroc and effectively stretch the muscle behind it –the soleus.

Tib. Ant. Stretch 

tibants  Pointing your foot and apply gentle overpressure

If you get shin splints, make sure you are stretching the front of your leg (tib. anterior)

You can also apply an ice massage to the front of your leg with an ice cube for 5-10 min.

Peroneal Stretch

peroneals Pull more with the inside hand so your foot tilts

Another area that tends to get tight are the peroneal muscles which can pull on a bone in your foot called the cuboid and actually spin that bone so it causes lateral foot pain. Sometimes that peroneal muscle will spasm –make sure to roll out that muscle if it feels tight or you have lateral foot/leg pain.

3.) Strengthen your foot and ankle –Do you have a history of ankle sprains? Can you spread your toes out? Can you wiggle your toes? All of them? Since we are a little kid, our feet are shoved into these leather mittens (i.e. shoes) and over time this limits the mobility in your feet and toes. It’s important to let your toes move and strengthen your foot intrinsic muscles. See below for some exercises to help strengthen your foot.


Toe Waves

toe wave 1  toe wave 2

3 sets of 10 – Let toes come up and push them down (note – don’t move the hand that is holding the t-band; let the toes do all the work).

Towel Scrunch

towelscrunch1  towelscrunch

2 sets of 10 reps – Think of trying to pick up the towel with your toes.

Ankle Pumps/ Ankle Alphabet

ankle pump 1  ankle pump 2

If you get pain upon your first couple of steps in the morning, try to ankle pump sitting at the side of the bed before getting up. This gets the blood pumping and loosens your ankle joints up. Do 2 sets of 10 reps.

Ankle alphabet is similar but this time try to write the alphabet with your toes.

Theraband Ankle 4-way

IMG_1901 IMG_1897 IMG_1896 IMG_1892

Good ankle strengthening exercise which is great if you have a history of unstable ankles or balance issues. Try 10x each direction first and progress to 20x in each direction.


Heel Raises

heel raises 3 sets of 10

Go up and down on your toes holding for about 2 sec. at a time. Make sure your heels come all the way down every time.

Single Leg Balance

balance pic  3 sets of 20 sec. hold

Try to balance on 1 foot without holding on if you can.

4.) Roll out your plantar fascia. The thick fascia on the bottom of your foot covers 5 layers of muscle! Your feet have to support your body weight all day–that’s a lot of pressure. Therefore, you need to roll out those poor muscles and fascia. For 3-5 min. per foot. Don’t forget your gastroc. You can help get trigger points out as well by using a golf ball or tennis ball. If you are in a lot of pain, try freezing a water bottle and rolling the bottom of your foot out with that instead.


5.) If you’ve been having foot pain for 6 weeks or longer, time to see your doctor or podiatrist. Especially if the pain gets worse the more you walk. They will need to take X-rays to rule out stress fractures or bone spurs that may be contributing to your foot pain.

DISCLAIMER – Although I am a physical therapist, I am not your physical therapist. Always consult with your PT or health care provider for specifics about exercises and modalities that may be best suited for you.

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Jessica is a licensed physical therapist currently living and working in NY.

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