21 Jan Back to school foot exercises for healthy children’s feet
The feet are an often forgotten part of the body to incorporate strength training to help try and prevent injuries. This includes children’s feet and it is just as important for parents to consider getting their children to do foot strength on a regular basis. This is especially so during back to school as they are going to be spending a lot more time back on their feet on hard surfaces as well as running around on the sporting field. As any parent who has tried to give exercises to their children will attest to, getting them to actually comply with doing them can be very difficult.
Although I don’t have a foolproof plan, one method I have found to make it easier for children to comply with their exercises is to get them to do these while they are doing other things.
Below are 4 exercises and the frequency with which to perform them to try and maximise foot strength to help prevent injuries. I have also summarised this in a handy table at the end.
Important note: Please hold your laughter to after you finish reading all of the exercises wondering how long it will take to get your child to do this routine and, how long it will last…… that is if you can get them to start them in the first place!!!
Good luck and may patience be on your side!
1. Double leg calf raises – standing on both feet slowly raise the heels off the ground until they are on the balls of their feet. Pause for a second at the top and then slowly return their heels to the ground. Try getting them to count down the repetitions from 40 in their head with an “and” in-between.
A good time to do this I have found when recommending is while they are brushing their teeth. If they count slowly this will coincide with the time they should be spending to brush their teeth. We are supposed to brush our teeth for 3 minutes if we are doing it manually and 2 minutes if doing it electrically (so my dentist tells me).
This is a great strengthening exercise for the calf and Achilles tendon as well as the muscles that support the arch. Once they have mastered this they can try single leg calf raises counting down from 20 each leg. The younger they are the more you may need to obviously supervise or help with counting down. Remember they have to do it slowly both up and down.
2. Foot scrunches – strategically place a towel underneath the kitchen table and ask your child to pull the rest of the towel towards their body only using their toes. Heels are firmly placed on the ground directly under the knees. Get them to keep scrunching until they have finished their meal. Other times to do this exerise are when they are watching TV or playing computer games. I know wishful thinking right! This will help strengthen the four layers of intrinsic muscles underneath the feet. As I tell my patients the stronger these muscles are the better they are able to support those other structures of the foot that are harder to strengthen such as the plantar fascia.
3. Foot toy pick-ups – instead of asking your child to clean their room the normal way using their hands ask them to only use their feet, in particular, using the scrunching action i.e. not pinching between toes too much if possible. Some objects are going to be too big but you would be surprised what you can pick up with your feet. Another consideration before asking them to do this is to make sure their feet are clean (best done after a shower)! This activity will not only help with foot strength as the exercise before explained but it will also help with balance as they have to stand on one leg while picking up the objects.
4. Single leg balance – this can also be done while they are brushing their teeth as well. I like to alternate this one with the calf raises done in the morning and this one done at night. Get them to alternate balancing on each leg every 30 seconds until time has expired. Once they have mastered this then you can make it harder for them by asking them to alternate hands while brushing. This will distract their concentration making their balance harder as well as provide a great co-ordination skill for their weaker side of the body.
Summary of when to do ask your child to do foot strength:
Time of Day + Activity –> Exercise to be done
Brushing teeth in morning –> Double or single leg calf raises – 40 reps in total
Eating meals –> Foot scrunches until meal is finished
Cleaning room after a shower –> Toy pick up until room is clean
Brushing teeth in the evening –> Single leg balance – 30sec each leg until finish (2-3 minutes)
Aleks Baruksopulo is a Podiatrist on the Gold Coast with a special interest in Sports & Running injuries of the feet and lower limbs. His business is called SportsMed Podiatry which consults out of Physiotherapy practices across the Gold Coast including at Broadbeach, Burleigh Heads, Mermaid Waters and the SCU health clinic. For more information about Aleks please visit https://www.sportsmedpodiatry.com.au/podiatrist-aleks-baruksopulo/