5 Foot Stretchers That May Help Foot and Leg Pain
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Foot stretching devices can be used for pain and stiffness in the plantar fascia, Achilles tendon, and calf muscles. Here are some foot stretchers that experts recommend.
Are foot stretchers worth trying?
Maintaining flexibility in your feet and ankles is a great way to help prevent injuries and reduce pain or stiffness that results from a limited range of motion.
Good ol’ stretching can certainly do the trick to loosen up your calves, ankles, and toes. Still, if you find yourself failing to follow a regular stretch routine, and you’re plagued by pain or stiffness in your lower legs, you might be looking for alternative measures to help enhance mobility.
The catch with stretching tools, like a foot stretcher, is it’s hard to know if they’re really worth the investment, or if they’re just one more item that’s going to land in the “future garage sale” pile in the garage.
Before you plop down cash on a foot stretcher, consider what the experts have to say about the different devices.
You need to choose the right stretcher for your needs
Not all foot stretchers are interchangeable.
And not just in the sense that one might be “high quality” and another “lower quality,” but in the sense that different stretching devices work for different problems and ailments.
It’s important to know what your stretching goals are before you make a purchase. It’s also important to recognize that some stretchers are for general use to improve flexibility while others are for specific foot conditions.
“Foot stretching devices are typically used to stretch the plantar fascia, Achilles tendon, and the muscles of the calf,” says John Gallucci Jr., DPT and CEO of JAG-ONE Physical Therapy in Bridgewater, New Jersey.
“The devices that are most commonly used are the foot rocker, slant board, a stretch strap, or a night splint.”
But while these are the most common devices, they’re not the only ones available.
As Dr. Gallucci points out, the night splint is one option that’s typically for specific conditions, but New York City podiatrist Nelya Lobkova, DPM, of Step Up Footcare, also points to YogaToes and bunion splints as additional foot stretchers that help address specific conditions or concerns.
“YogaToes act to spread out the toes while at rest or at night, and bunions splints may be used to realign the big toe joint and alleviate bunion pain,” she explains.
(Try these plantar fasciitis stretches.)
Used correctly, foot stretchers can be beneficial
Maintaining flexibility at the toes, ankles, and calves is often overlooked, but plays a major role in the pain and stiffness in the feet and lower legs.
“Most of the modern western world have tight calves due to sitting at a desk most of the time,” says Dr. Lobkova.
“Some pathology that can arise from this is plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis. These conditions occur when a tight calf and plantar fascia begin to tear from repetitive strain.”
But as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s always best to catch potential problems before pain develops. And foot stretchers like the slant board, stretch strap, or foot rocker and really help.
If you have a sedentary desk job and you know your calves are tight, you may want to keep one of these stretching devices at your desk or next to your couch.
That way you have the reminder to work on mobility for a few minutes here and there throughout the day before you start experiencing bigger problems.
“The most benefit of foot stretchers is to people who have no current injuries and no current pain causing problems,” says Tom Biernacki, DPM, a Michigan-based podiatrist and board-certified foot and ankle surgeon with Prime Foot & Ankle Specialists.
“The problem is most people stretch when they’re injured, not before they’re injured, and this could actually prolong the injury and make it worse.”
(Easy ankle stretches can improve foot mobility.)
There are foot stretchers for specific problems
And if you are experiencing specific pain or problems? As long as you’re using the correct device (and using it the way it’s meant to be used), foot stretchers are a great way to manage and alleviate symptoms at home.
“Night splints are very helpful for plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis,” says Dr. Lobkova.
“By keeping the night splint on at night and stretching the calf, you can potentially alleviate the heel pain that occurs first thing in the morning as you get out of bed.”
Toe separators, like YogaToes, are helpful for hammertoes, bunions, and the neuroma pain that can develop in the ball of the foot due to a compressed nerve in this area.
“YogaToes help realign hammertoes and bunions temporarily. They also stretch out the ligament in [the ball of the foot] to help decompress the impingement that causes neuroma pain,” says Dr. Lobkova.
And as for the bunions corrector or splint, Dr. Lobkova says it helps push the big toe away from the other toes slowly. It won’t cure your bunion, but can help your foot feel more stable and alleviate some pain.
(Check out this review of YogaToes)
If you have foot pain, talk to your doctor
While foot stretchers have real benefits, if you are experiencing foot pain, it’s best to talk to a podiatrist or physical therapist who specializes in feet before you hit up Amazon to buy one of these tools.
This is because if you buy the wrong device or use it incorrectly, you could end up doing more harm than good.
“Foot stretching devices can be harmful if not used properly,” says Dr. Gallucci.
“For example, those who have fallen arches must be careful when stretching the arch of the foot as it may cause the arch to flatten further.”
Additionally, if you’ve suffered from foot and ankle injuries, it would be wise to consult with a podiatrist or physical therapist who can guide you through a proper stretching routine, according to Dr. Gallucci.
It may seem like a pain to schedule an appointment and meet with a doctor when it’s so easy to point, click, pay, and have a foot stretcher delivered straight to your door, but by making sure you’re doing the right things for your body, you’ll be more likely to experience the results you’re aiming to achieve.
(Dealing with bunions? These stretches might help.)
Foot stretcher options
Once you’ve confirmed with your doctor which foot stretcher is right for you, consider the following, well-reviewed products. And before you put your stretcher to use, consider massaging your foot first.
“The best way to use these products it to massage your foot ahead of time,” says Dr. Biernacki.
“A study recently showed that 60 seconds of massaging with a foam roller or a massage roller stick increased the stretching ability compared to not massaging ahead of time.”
A quick and simple massage can prep your muscles, joints, and ligaments to prepare them for the stretch.
(Ease foot pain with easy calf stretches.)
Stretch strap: DMoose Fitness Foot & Leg Stretcher
This stretch strap from DMoose Fitness can stretch your ankles, calves, and toes, making it a good option for increasing mobility before you have specific pain or problems. Plus, the stretch strap works as a yoga strap, to enhance a full-body stretch routine.
Foot rocker: Step Stretch
This basic Step Stretch foot rocker costs less than $18 and has a 4.6-star rating on Amazon with more than 750 reviews. You can easily use it at the office or home while watching TV to help loosen up your calves and ankles to prevent or relieve the tightness so common in these areas.
Slant board: OTPT Slant
This set of two OTPT slant boards is more cost-effective than some of the wooden versions on the market, but is still highly rated at 4.5 stars and more than 1,300 reviews.
In addition to using them to stretch your ankles and calves, they can do double-duty as exercise tools for agility moves, or as a riser for your heels when doing squats.
Toe separators: Yogabody Naturals Toe Spreaders & Separators
Yogabody‘s version of the bunion-relieving toe separators are a little less bulky than some of the other options on the market. Plus, there are two separate sizes. It’s useful for during your yoga practice as well to encourage toe separation for enhanced balance and stability.
Night splint: Mars Wellness Plantar Fasciitis Posterior Night Splint
If you know you’re dealing with plantar fasciitis, this night splint from Mars Wellness may be a good option to help stretch your feet while you sleep. Just make sure you pick the right size—they range from XS to XL to fit shoe sizes from women’s 5.5 to men’s size 16.
After more than 7,800 reviews on Amazon, it maintains a 4-star rating, so you know it’s helping a good majority of the people who’ve tried it.