Whether you’re a regular to exercise or just starting out, it’s possible you haven’t thought about including stretches for your hands and feet in your routine. These joints work hard for you every day, and it’s easy to take them for granted – until you wind up with pain or injury.
“Your hands and feet are more likely to be doing a repetitive task which can shorten muscles so they are tight and painful,” said Erik Hansson, a health and fitness specialist at SamFit - Corvallis. “Stretching any part of your body, including your hands and feet, helps to lengthen muscles and tendons in that area and can prevent an injury in the future.”
According to Hansson, stretching can help with:
- Pain relief.
- Improving balance and flexibility.
- Improving circulation. This is especially important for people with conditions like arthritis or diabetes.
- Building strength for new exercises like yoga, golf or tennis.
- Preventing conditions like carpal tunnel, tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and others that are due to tight tissue or poor strength.
If you have already been diagnosed with a condition like carpal tunnel or plantar fasciitis, follow your doctor’s advice for stretching and treatment. For others, incorporating these exercises now can help with pain and prevent larger problems down the road, said Hansson.
Five Stretches for Your Feet
If you stand on your feet all day, are starting a new walking routine or just want to work on strength and balance, foot exercises can help. Hansson recommended starting with these five exercises.
- Sit in a chair with your weight on your heels and your toes in the air.
- Curl your toes down like you’re trying to grab a pencil, and squeeze them tight for five seconds.
- Then open your toes up and out, spreading them wide so there is space between them. Hold your toes apart for 10 to 15 seconds and wiggle them if it feels good. Work up to 10 repetitions.
If you have spent years wearing shoes that are too tight, this may be hard to do at first. As an alternative, you can interlace your fingers between your toes – like you’re holding hands with your toes – to stretch those muscles. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
A lateral stretch on your toes can relieve pressure and elongate the muscles, which can help with conditions like bunions, hammertoes or Morton’s neuroma.
Plantar Fascia Stretch
- Sit on the floor with one leg stretched in front of you.
- Hook your thumbs around your big toe and your pinky toe. It’s ok if you need to bend your knee to reach your toes.
- Pull the top of your foot toward you while resting your heel on the ground. You should feel a band of tissue along the bottom of your foot from the ball of your foot down to your heel. This is the plantar fascia ligament. You can gently massage this tissue with your other fingers while you stretch it.
- Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
Hansson noted this is a good stretch to do when you wake up in the morning if your arches or heels feel tight or painful during your first few steps of the day. A tight plantar fascia can be an early warning sign of plantar fasciitis.
Foot & Ankle Stretch
- Sit in a chair with your foot extended in front of you in the air.
- Write the alphabet in the air with your toes.
- Work up to completing the alphabet.
The combination of toe pointing and ankle rotation gives a good stretch to muscles along the tops of your feet and range of motion in your ankle joint.
Toe Strengthener Stretch
- Sit in a chair with your feet under your knees.
- Place a hand towel on the floor under your foot.
- Grab the towel with your toes and scrunch it toward you without lifting your heel.
- Hold this flexed position for five seconds and release. Work up to 10 repetitions. Add weight, like a soup can, to the towel as your toes become stronger.
This exercise strengthens toes and can help relieve pain at the ball of your foot and prevent plantar fasciitis.
For general pain relief, massage the bottom of your foot with a tennis ball, golf ball or water bottle. Roll the ball for two minutes on each foot concentrating on the arches, ball of the foot and anywhere you feel pain.
Five Stretches for Your Hands
Your hands do a lot for you. From driving to tying your shoes or drinking a glass of water, you never really appreciate the dexterity your hands provide until it’s compromised. Your thumbs and wrists are especially active and more prone to injury, said Hansson. He recommends these stretches to keep hand muscles loose and build thumb and wrist strength.
- Extend your arm straight in front of you at chest level, palm facing down.
- Bring your fingertips up to make a “stop” motion.
- Grasp your palm with your other hand and gently stretch the back of your hand toward your body.
- Release your hands. Let your extended hand relax with fingers pointing toward the ground.
- With your opposite hand, grasp the hand of your extended arm and gently pull your palm toward your body.
- Place hands together in front of you with fingers loosely spaced and fingertips touching but palms apart.
- Keeping finger tips together and fingers straight, push palms away from each other.
- Bring palms close together again. Repeat 10 times.
- This is good for stretching the nerves that are affected by carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Make a fist and clench it tight. Hold for five seconds.
- Release, stretching your fingers as wide and long as you can.
- Repeat 10 times.
- Make a fist with your thumb out in a thumbs-up gesture and place your fist on a solid surface.
- Keeping your thumb up, push against your thumb with your opposite hand. You want your thumb to resist the movement and stay up.
- Now use your free hand to try to pull the thumb toward you. Again, tighten your thumb muscles and resist the pressure so the thumb stays upright.
- Hold each push and pull for three seconds. Repeat three times.
- Sit kneeling on the floor.
- Place your hands in front of you, wrists out, fingers pointing toward your knees.
- Gently lean forward to stretch your wrists, keeping your elbows straight.
- Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat three times.
“Most of these exercises can be completed at your desk during a break or in the evening while sitting on the couch; it doesn’t need to be a big time investment in your day,” said Hansson. “A few small stretches can make a big difference in how your hands and feet feel.”
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