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Ask Bob Greene's Team: What are the best exercises for people with foot pain?
Every few weeks, we'll be asking one of the Best Life experts for advice on diet and exercise, ways to get better rest and strategies to live a little younger.
If you have a question, send it to us!
Q: I hurt my feet, and now I can barely walk, never mind run. How do I stay fit?
This sounds like an impossible challenge, doesn't it? You won't be able to squeeze in your 10,000 steps per day. But it's worth the effort to hobble into the gym, because you have more fitness options than you realize, says Jack Younghans, D.P.T., a Best Life physical therapist who helps injured patients stay in shape at his clinic in Long Island, New York. We asked him what moves were easiest on the feet, and were surprised by how many cardio options he came up with. Regular exercise may even help you heal. Younghans explains that when you increase your blood flow by working out, your body is able to deliver oxygenated blood to the injured foot more efficiently than it would be if you were sedentary.
These exercises are ranked from least impact (for the seriously injured) to most. Younghans says that if you feel pain at any point during exercise, stop immediately and talk to your doctor or physical therapist. Find out if physical therapy is right for you.
1. Rowing with an upper-body ergometer: You may have seen one of these mini-bikes for the arms and thought to yourself, "There's no way you can work up a sweat on that thing." But Younghans swears you can crank up the resistance high enough and row fast enough to get your heart pumping. If you don’t have access to an upper-body ergometer, you can keep build muscle and tone with these weight exercises.
2. Swimming: You probably thought of this one already, but Younghans reminds those with pain in the forefoot to avoid jumping into the pool or doing flip turns between laps (both can add pressure that can make the injury worse). Check out this article for ways to feel comfortable in the water.
3. Riding the recumbent bike: Instead of the up-and-down motion of a regular bicycle, this uses an out-and-down motion that puts less stress on the feet, says Younghans.
4. Sprinting on a stationary bike: If you're an athlete who's used to high-impact, high-intensity activities like running or step aerobics, you may be tempted to turn the resistance up and pedal as hard as you can. Younghans says this is a very common mistake, and it usually makes the injury worse. He advises brisk cycling at a lower resistance, and slowing increasing it over time. He also stresses correct bike set-up: Your foot should be snug in the pedals. When your foot is at the lowest point in the rotation, your knee should be slightly bent, and your toes shouldn’t be pointing down or flexing up.
5. Walking in the pool: Resisting against water strengthens muscles, and wearing a life preserver lifts some of the load off your feet. Younghans says that most foot problems affect the heel, midfoot, arch or toe, but lateral or sideways movements put the weight on the inside and outside of the foot. Try squats, leg swings and crab-walking sideways.
6. Interval training on the elliptical: This machine is a lifesaver for sidelined runners because it provides a high-intensity workout without the impact. Before getting started, Younghans advises stretching the muscles in the lower leg and the tissues in the foot. One of the best stretches for the Achilles is to put your heel against a wall (or a slant board) and pull your toes up. Press your body against the wall to feel the stretch up the back of your calf.
What's the best time of day to work out? Bob Greene's team answers.
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As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.