You put your big toe in, you put your big toe out, you put your big toe in and you shake it all —OUCH. It hurt to scrunch (flex) my big toe on the right foot. It hurt to move the big toe mound. My right ankle would get stuck sometimes and give out sometimes. It hurt up the lateral seam (outside) of my leg and I would have numbness and tingling in the foot and up the leg. There was a lot of pain around the head of the fibula (bone on the outside of the leg just below the knee) and up into the IT band and right hip. I know everything is connected, but this is ridiculous. I just want to do the hokey pokey. Or walk. Or practice yoga. So I went to visit my friend Sarah Court. Read her blogs on this site. You won’t be disappointed.
Sarah gave me homework which included squatting more, lunging more, and strengthening my intrinsic foot muscles, ankles, calves — beginning to see a pattern? The homework also included, but was not limited to, scrunching up a bandana or a towel with my toes. Over and over again, I would toe scrunch sitting at my computer. Oh, and my least favorite homework, the heel lifts. Just stand up and lift your heels 25 times! I could barely get to 10 without my calves and lower legs feeling like they were on fire.
That same week, I also went to a Yoga Tune Up® class with Alexandra Ellis. Read her blogs on this site. You won’t be disappointed. The whole class was feet, ankles, calves, one ah-ha moment after another. In that class, we did something called “Toerection.” To do it, prop your big toe up on a therapy ball so that the big toe is at, or attempting, 60 degrees of extension (see image). Take the other foot forward and then lift the heel of the foot with the therapy ball. OH, MY, WOW.
I love to roll with the Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls and I roll my feet every day. But I began to roll a little gentler and I added the toe stretch. I also roll out the side of my leg and all around the head of the fibula. Diane Mara has a great blog called Perplexing Peroneals to check out. The video shows rolling out the peroneals. Read Diane Mara’s blogs on this site. You won’t be disappointed.
Through my rolling and self study, I learned of the peroneous longus, also known as the fibularis longus, a muscle that runs from the big toe to the head of the fibula and is part of the sciatic nerve chain. No wonder my big toe hurt, the head of the fibula hurt and my hip hurt all on the same side. The big toe affects everything up above and what’s above affects everything below. The fibularis longus everts the foot and assists in plantar flexion of the ankle, originating at the head of the fibula and proximal two-thirds of the lateral fibula and inserts at the base of the first metatarsal and medial cuneiform. The innervation point? L4,5 and S1. Pelvis, hips and low back connected to the head of my fibula and my big toe? You betcha.
I noticed massive relief within a week of doing the following things every day (sometimes twice a day):
- Gentle roll of the feet to wake them up, warm them up.
- Toe scrunching with bandana or hand towel. Scrunch your toes to scrunch the fabric. Over and over again. (not as easy as it sounds.)
- Toerection with therapy ball. See a toerection video in Part 2 of this blog.
- Heel raises- stand in tadasna and lift your heels off the ground as if coming to tip toes. Repeat up to 20 times. Good luck. If easy, do with one heel at a time.
- Gentle rolling of glutes and IT band. Roll buttocks and all the way down the side of the thigh.
- More intense rolling along the lateral seam of the leg and around the head of the fibula. (Diane Mara’s video.)
These foot pain relief exercises took less than 20 minutes and if I only had five minutes, I would at least do one thing from the list. My big toe mound pain is gone. 90 percent of the pain around the head of the fibula is gone. My hip is happier. And the numbness and tingling? Gone. My sacrum/low back, SI joint also feeling more solid. From working with my big toe and the head of my fibula? I’m not a doctor, but I’m a believer that it’s all connected – treating one area treats all areas.
I’m not sure the if the focus of this blog is to visit your smart friends more often, read the blogs of your body nerd friends or if it’s just a reminder it’s not smart to be in and stay in pain. There are so many simple tools that can and did help. As a yoga teacher, it was super fun to bring heel raises into the class. I always show up with different and challenging things to do and my students love that. It’s all yoga. It doesn’t have to be Down Dog to be yoga. If you want to read a great blog on Down Dog check out mine. You won’t be disappointed. 🙂
Tune back in Friday for a video of Toerection, toe scrunching and more!
The first Yoga Tune Up Class I took we rolled out the feet having had feet issues for years being an aerobic instructor from the 80’s before Low Impact came along .
I couldn’t believe the difference in my feet. The balls really make a difference and knowing that everything stars from the bottom up it makes great sense to take care of your feet.
I LOVE toerection! The first time I did it was a huge ‘aha’ moment for me and it always feels amazing. I also love that you included the list of exercises to help someone who has the same pain as you. I think it’s often easy to forget that sometimes the most basic exercises are the most important.
Thank you writing on how you noticed several areas of pain/ discomfort. I don’t like to use the word pain. I like to use discomfort or this is an area that is telling me something may need my attention. I really can relate to how you pieced together that this problem is not in just the foot there were other areas involved as well. I to have been piecing together what is going on in my left leg. Some is from a car accident years ago. I am letting go of stuff that has been caught up in my body. Unfortunately it has opened the door to other things.
Great info! It is amazing the importance of the feet and their connection into the core.
It is amazing how the body is connected from bottom to the top. I tried the toerection and it is great. My left toe has been tingling lately so I am eager to try all your suggestions . I found that rolling my glutes helps some but I will have to try your whole sequence to see if that helps more. Thanks for sharing it.
Treating one area treats all areas! I love that, and it’s so true!!! There’s nothing more enlightening than doing a check in before rolling a body part and seeing the difference that like you said, just 5 minutes of rolling, can make not only on the body part you rolled but even distant parts! For instance, how rolling out the hips flexors and IT band can have a profound effect on the range of motion in your shoulders (at least for me). It’s not hocus locus, it’s truly all connected! Thank you for your post and for the reminder.
Wow, how thorough. Thank you Terry. I’m the primary care giver for my father, who has had 4 toes amputated including the great toe. I don’t want to follow in his footpath. I particularly like your mention of ” The innervation point? L4,5 and S1. Pelvis, hips and low back connected to the head of my fibula and my big toe?” and sharing your daily routine. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to follow and discover the chain of connection.
This is great. I too have had issues with my right foot and ankle joint. Too many years of wearing flip flops and being naturally flat-footed caused me to overpronate my foot. Using the therapy balls helped my feet have a better relationship with the ground and therefore I was able to focus on really rooting down through the lateral side of the foot in order to strengthen my arch and bring my feet into a more neutral position which of course as we know in Yoga Tune Up® translated throughout my entire right side body. Considering how much we use how feet everyday, they really do deserve a daily massage.
I was not disappointed by this post 🙂 I consistently forget about the feet; even if I’ve been on them all day and they ache it does not occur to me to stretch them the same way I might another sore muscle in my body. But every time a teacher in class spends a few minutes on a foot-related exercise, I feel like I could spend the rest of the class doing more of that work and still only scratch the surface of the benefits. Thanks for providing a handy list of efficient, effective footwork for home practice. You also gave really clear instruction on the “everything is related” phenomenon — starting from the feet up — that I feel will help me explain it to my students.
The foot stretch with the therapy ball felt absolutely amazing, thank you so much for sharing this! I’ve always had issues with tightness in my feet, and doing toe stretches in yoga classes never seemed to help as much as this exercise did. My main issue with my feet is that they cramp and seize up if I’m in a standing pose like Warrior 1 or 2. Do you think it could be a similar issue to yours?
Thank you for sharing such a detailed description of exercises – the toerection as well as toe scrunching (I’ve never heard of this before (and yes, it’s hard to do!)). I will be incorporating both into my foot routine as well as all the other exercises you mention. Your article also has me connecting the peroneus longus and brevis as muscles that are often tight for me as when I’ve had foot reflexology those are ones that they palpitate and try to lengthen out as well as that they contribute to my lower back pain when they are particularly tight.
Thank you for sharing your process! I appreciate that there isn’t one particular exercise, but really an entire series of different muscles and activities that are needed to reset your (and our own) body.
This was great. We should understand our feet more as our feet our the body’s most self-less servants. They’re going to do their best to keep us upright. If we treated them with a little more understanding, care, and attention then they’d be able to better serve us. Thanks for the ball tips!
Yes! I’m so excited to try this with my boyfriend as he has similar pains/tingling/numbness and an extremely tight IT band. It reminds me of a book I read, ProBodX, which talked about how you could be experiencing pain in one area, the shoulder for instance, but the root of the pain could be coming from years of miss use of the hands. Great read! Thanks again for the inspiration 🙂 So much to learn and experiment with.
As someone who hates her feet it has taken me years to start ‘working’ on them – stretching and strengthening them in a way I would other parts of the body. A physio friend recently slung me an article on the ‘foot core’ and it started to make me thing of my feet differently – your post helped provide some context around those thoughts. Thanks
I do feel we often take our feet, ankles and calves for granted. They seem to get little love, but once we start working on them whether rolling on those areas with the Yoga Tune Up balls or doing stretching and strengthening exercises, you find that other areas of the body magically feel better. As you said, “..it’s all connected.”
Can’t wait to try Toerection! This is a fantastic illustration of how everything is indeed connected. The global improvement of how Terry’s body felt with foot work is remarkable. It is a reminder to me of how even 20 minutes daily can have profound effects. I’m exhausted and my feet are achy– YTU balls, here I come!
I absolutely love your posts. There’s so much authenticity and passion! Thank you for this break down of what is happening with your body, all the way down to the nerves! I so enjoy this mapping and discovery as much as you do! As I continue to study through the YTU lens, I am starting to see how the body WORKS. How it functions, How it’s interconnected. And when I don’t understand something, things will come up days later to answer my question. YTU makes everything so simple in a seemingly complex field. Such an amazing community to be apart of.