Preventing falls and keeping seniors independent is a primary focus of my business. There are several components involved, which I cover in depth during my lectures and in the current ebook I’m working on. What I would like to share with you today is a physical component; foot and ankle health. One of the first areas I look at when assessing a new client is ankle stability and flexibility. I find that most seniors are extremely restricted in the ankles, from years of sentencing their feet to shoes with heels. They might as well be standing on stilts. It doesn’t take much of a heel to cause the calves to be tight and short, even a half-inch. With the heel elevated and the calf muscles engaged, the shin muscles have lost their ability to do what they do, which is to lift the foot toward the knee. When the shins become weak, it is difficult for the person to lift the toes. This is problematic in two areas. When walking, the person tends to shuffle, which makes it more likely that they could trip and fall. Also, the calves become tight, since they get no pull from the shins. When one has a small adjustment to make to correct balance, ankles are the first joints involved to correct it. If the ankles can’t correct balance, falls are likely. There are three exercises/stretches that I have found to work extremely well, in fact, I do them myself at least five days a week. They are as follows:
Take a golf or tennis ball and roll the bottom of the foot in a grid-like pattern from the base of the toes to the from of the heel. Put enough pressure on the ball to find tender spots (there may be more than a few, as in my case!). When you locate a sensitive area, remain there with pressure until you feel the area ease up a bit. I work each foot for about 60 seconds.
Calf stretch. Use a rolled up towel, a book, or as shown in the picture, a half fan roller, so the object you’re placing the ball of your foot on is about 3 inches high. Keeping the heel down and shoulders over hips, step forward with the other leg. If your calves are tight, you may not be able to step forward very far. I do this stretch using 3 different positions: Toes forward, toes inward (pigeon-toed), and toes outward. To stretch both muscles of the calf, do these once with the stretching leg’s knee straight, then bent, all the while keeping the heel on the ground.
Top of the foot stretch. From a standing position, take one leg behind and place the top of your foot on the ground. If the front of the ankle or top of the foot is too tight, you may have to start from a sitting position. Fan your foot inward and outward, basically rolling the ankle in and out. This is my favorite stretch-it feels great!
Note: Three of the above exercise/stretches worked wonders for me personally. Four years ago I had a lot of pain in my left foot near the base of the second and third toes. I visited two different podiatrists, who both told me that there was nothing I could do except buy expensive orthotics, that my foot pain was a congenital condition and it would just get worse as I got older. Since I know a thing or two about muscles and their actions on bones, I wanted to know if there were any exercises that could reverse or at least manage the condition. “Nope” was their consensus. So, I bought the orthotics. Then, a couple of years ago, a client who’d had some foot problems showed me the three stretches; the calf stretches, the tennis ball roll, and the top of the foot stretch, and after two months of doing them twice a day, voila! No more foot pain, and no more orthotics!
Give these a try.
Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.