Is exercise good for arthritis in the foot? (and the best ones to try)

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A Haka Life Warrior takes on their arthritis actively and acutely. If you have arthritis in the feet or ankles, the thought of exercise that is heavy in pressure on the feet might not be comforting. But we have good news — there are several easy, low-impact exercises you can do at home, work, with the kids, or pretty much anywhere to help stretch your toes and feet and keep them feeling loose.

While we speak regularly of the benefits of exercise here at Haka Life Nutrition, it’s important to remember that every person is different. Here, we recommend several foot exercises for arthritis and how to best attempt them, along with hints that can help you minimize foot pain and get through your day with ease.


What are the signs of arthritis in your feet

There are a few easy ways to test whether you may have arthritis in the feet. Of course, speak with your doctor to get a professional opinion before taking any measures, particularly based on the results of these quick tests.

First, be conscious of tenderness in your feet, especially when pressure is added to the joints. Second, note whether you feel pain when moving the joints in your toes or ankles, such as when twisting the ankles around in a circle. If so, it may be a good idea to speak with a doctor. If you struggle to put weight on your feet, even while walking only a short distance, that is another common symptom as well.

And finally, look out for swelling after periods of rest, including sleeping. Swelling without pressure or exercise can be a symptom of arthritis in the feet.


The best foot exercises for arthritis

  • The Toe-Splay: No, this isn’t a nod to “cosplay” and it isn’t a “dress up like your favorite foot” exercise (though that might be a fun thing to try). The Toe-Splay exercise involves slowly spreading all five or ten of your toes apart as far as you can without pain. Try this exercise sitting down, and repeat a few times each day.
  • The Ankle Novelist: This one is for the writers out there (though you can try it even you can barely get through a complete sentence). While sitting, move your foot in a manner that spells out each letter of the alphabet. Work through the 26 letters at a slow-to-medium pace, and then repeat on the other side. Bonus points if you can work through the alphabet backward!
  • The Toe Extender: While sitting on the edge of a chair or couch, lift one foot up and rest it on the opposite thigh. With your fingers, bend each toe forwards and backward slowly, and repeat a few times if you can get through this pain-free. Then, switch and do the same with the toes on your other foot.
  • The Standing Toe: This exercise can be done while sitting or standing, and is a great one to do while at work (if sitting down.) You’ll use both feet at the same time. With feet flat on the floor, lift both big toes and hold to a count of 5. Then, lift the other four toes on each foot and hold to a count of 5. Try to get through three sets.


Is walking good for arthritis in the feet

Exercise is good. But of course, too much exercise can actually worsen your arthritis problem. Walking at a moderate pace is a good thing for your health and for your arthritis, but remember to always be conscious of any discomfort or the onset of pain. Speak with your doctor about your specific case, but in general, walking long distances on hard surfaces may aggravate arthritis in the feet, particularly osteoarthritis.

When walking at a park or on a trail, try to stick to softer surfaces like gravel or dirt. If you do find yourself on a sidewalk for an extended stroll, take it slow and be conscious of what part of your feet you land with each step — no need to be awkward about it, but try to roll your feet with each step rather than coming down hard on the front or back of the foot.


What activities should a person with arthritis avoid?

While foot arthritis may not specifically eliminate activities in your life, it can limit them in terms of length or intensity. If you experience intense pain, soreness, or swelling during or after an activity, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor before performing that activity again.

In general, it’s a good idea to avoid activities that put excess pressure on your feet or ankles, or that require you to stand up on your toes repeatedly or for extended periods of time.


What are the best shoes for bad feet?

In addition to the exercises listed above, one of the best things you can do for arthritic feet (or ankles) is to wear supportive shoes. Opt for a pair that is loose around toes, such as Lems or Sorrels. Both brands are known for their wide toe boxes, which allow you to freely stretch and move the toes during the day, and avoid the pressing that tighter toe boxes can result in. The Dansko Orthotic Friendly shoe is specifically tailored to providing more room, and the brands Kuru and Stegmann make wide toe box shoes as well.

Another thing you can do is to wear sandals or flip-flops when in casual settings, climate permitting, and switch to a pair of comfortable slippers when moping around the house at night.

Also, consider the socks you wear — you may want to choose a size that is on the larger side rather than tighter, in order to provide more wiggle room for your toes or ankles.

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