Foot and ankle mobility: Exercises to do in bed or while seated

By Stephanie Mansour, CNN

    (CNN) -- For many people, sore, achy feet can be bothersome after walking long distances. But for others, dealing with chronic ankle or heel pain is an everyday occurrence.

To help relieve pain or discomfort in the ankles and feet, mobility exercises often focus on stretching the hamstrings and calves. That's because calf muscle tightness and reduced range of ankle joint dorsiflexion, the movement that occurs when you draw your toes toward your shin, are related to a number of lower limb disorders, including Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis, or inflammation of the sole tissue, according to research.

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

You can do simple mobility exercises just around the ankles and the sole of each foot that also engage your calves. In fact, these exercises can even be done while lying in bed or seated at your desk at work.

This five-move routine for ankles and feet target the surrounding muscles and tendons, increasing flexibility and relieving pain. Incorporating static and dynamic stretching can improve your range of motion, studies have shown. Therefore, including stretches that hold for five to 10 seconds and stretches that continue movement throughout the stretch are both crucial to improving mobility.

Practice this routine once a day, going through each move slowly and carefully, to strengthen your range of motion and flexibility around the joints. Remember to move intentionally and take your time while flexing and extending through the full range of motion.

Important note: Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.

1. Flex and point

Straighten one leg, and flex the foot upward. Flexing the foot brings the toes closer to you and toward your shin.

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

2. Balls of the feet: Flexion and extension

This exercise is an exaggerated movement of the first exercise. Flex one foot upward, hold for five seconds, and then instead of moving from flexion to extension immediately, continue the flex, leading with the ball of your foot reaching forward. Then, point your toes forward and hold for five seconds.

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

3. Clock circles

Seated or lying down, flex one foot upward. This is called the 12 o'clock position. Then externally rotate the ankle so that you point the foot to the right, and go toward 1 o'clock.

Continue clockwise around to the right until you point down to 6 o'clock, and then you'll begin internally rotating to point the foot to the left and go around to 7 o'clock all the way back up to flex at 12 o'clock. Repeat five times, and then rotate counterclockwise five times. Then, switch feet.

4. Ankle rotation

Extend one leg in front of you. Externally rotate the foot out to the side and hold for five seconds.

Then internally rotate the foot in the opposite direction toward your body's midline and hold for five seconds. Repeat give times and then switch legs.

5. Toe curls

Allow both feet to be relaxed. Then imagine you're trying to scrunch up a piece of cloth on the floor and pick it up with your feet. Curl all 10 toes tightly and hold for five seconds. Release and relax the feet. Repeat this 10 times.

Perform this routine daily or a few times a week to loosen up and strengthen your feet, ankles, and calves. And remember to take your time with these stretches. Don't rush!

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