Your foot is a pretty complex piece of machinery. It is home to a network of 28 bones, nearly three dozen joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are involved in every step you take, all while bearing the load of your body weight in motion. It is no small task. And if your feet are affected by arthritis pain, the pain and stiffness caused by joint disease may make their job even tougher. One proven way to help ease symptoms of arthritis in the feet is with exercise, both general full-body exercises (such as walking) as well as specific stretches and moves that target the feet. Regular exercise and stretching helps increase strength, improve flexibility, and reduce pain in all joints — whether they are in your knee and shoulder, or foot and ankle, says Cary Zinkin, DPM, podiatrist in Florida and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA).

How Arthritis Affects Your Feet

Arthritis can affect any of the 33 joints in the foot and ankle. As the disease progresses, it may damage cartilage that lines the end of bones and helps cushion joints. Over time, that can lead to pain, stiffness, and deformity in the foot and ankle. The major types of arthritis that affect the foot and ankle are:

Osteoarthritis (OA)

The most common form of arthritis, OA occurs when cartilage in a joint gradually deteriorates from repeated use and stress. Eventually, if the cartilage wears down completely, bone will rub on bone, causing pain and stiffness and difficulty walking. It may also produce painful bony growths in the foot called bone spurs (osteophytes). OA may occur in one foot or both feet. Most often, it affects the big toe, though it can also be found in the midfoot and ankle.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

In RA, the immune system mistakenly attacks a protective lining in your joint called the synovium, causing it to swell. Over time, this chronic inflammation damages the bone and cartilage and may cause joint deformity and disability. Foot problems caused by RA commonly occur in the forefoot (the ball of the foot, near the toes).

Post-traumatic arthritis

An injury to your foot or ankle — like dislocation or fracture — may damage cartilage, leading to a premature deterioration of the joint. Post-traumatic arthritis may develop years after the initial injury.


A form of inflammatory arthritis that often targets the joint at the base of the big toe, gout occurs when high blood levels of uric acid, a metabolism byproduct, start to crystallize in the joints, causing pain and swelling that is often sudden and severe. The big toe is infamously affected by gout.

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA)

This type of arthritis commonly affects some people who have psoriasis. It causes inflammation of the joints and entheses, or places where tendons and ligaments connect to bone. In your foot, PsA may lead to sausage-like swelling of the toes (called dactylitis), heel pain (from inflammation of the Achilles tendon), and plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the band of tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot, connecting the toes to the heel bone). Read more here about how psoriatic arthritis affects your feet.

Axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA) and ankylosing spondylitis (AS)

Though axSpA and AS predominantly affects the joints in the spine and pelvis (by causing inflammation), AS may also cause enthesitis symptoms along the back of your heel or in the arch of your foot. Read more here about how arthritis affects your feet.

How Exercise Helps Foot Pain from Arthritis

People with arthritis who exercise regularly have less pain, more energy, and better day-to-day function, according to the American College of Rheumatology. Exercise can also help burn calories, so you shed extra weight, thus lightening the load on the joints in your feet. Another perk: more endorphins, adds Dr. Zinkin: “When you exercise, it makes you feel good, which helps your mood and state of mind.” Find comfortable ways to stay active. You don’t have to run or jump if it hurts, say experts. Instead, choose low-impact activities that are less stressful on the joints in your feet, such as swimming, water aerobics, or using an elliptical machine or stationary bike. Aim to work up to 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week, split up into five- or 10-minute blocks of time if that’s easier on your joints. Strength exercises are important as well. “As joints become painful to move in arthritis, muscles of the foot become atrophied from lack of use, which subsequently causes more joint and ligament pain,” explains Lance Silverman, MD, orthopedic surgeon in Minnesota and fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Exercises that help strengthen a group of small muscles in the foot (called intrinsic muscles) can help ease symptoms, he says, as well as improve balance. Stretching can also help increase range of motion and flexibility and relieve pain.

Precautions to Keep in Mind Before Exercising

If you’re new to exercise, it’s always smart to first talk to your doctor to make sure the exercises are safe and appropriate for you, without exacerbating inflammation or aggravating joint pain. Likewise, if you’ve had surgery on your foot or ankle, get guidance from your doctor or podiatrist on what exercises are safe for you.

More tips to help protect your joints: Start slowly. Ease your joints into exercise if you haven’t been active for a while, say experts. Push too hard too fast, and you can hurt yourself or worsen joint pain, says Dr. Zinkin. Go easy at first, then increase the length and intensity of your work out as you progress. Move gently. At the start of every exercise activity, start with slow gentle stretches or a ball massage (by rolling a golf or lacrosse ball under the arch of your foot) to help warm up ligaments and get joints moving though a range of motion, says Dr. Silverman. Don’t force any stretches and keep your movements slow and easy. “People sometimes feel like the more they do, or the harder they push, the better, but that’s not true, especially when you’re first starting out and when you have arthritis,” adds Dr. Zinkin. Stop if your foot (or anything else) hurts. Take a break when your joints start to ache. If you feel any new joint pain or pain that is sharp, stabbing, or constant, it’s time to stop. Ice after exercise. Cold constricts blood vessels, decreasing blood flow to the joint to help reduce swelling and inflammation. Just be sure to use towel or other barrier between the ice pack and your skin to prevent irritation. Or try these methods of ice therapy.

Exercises to Ease Arthritis Foot and Ankle Pain

The following stretching and strengthening exercises were recommended by Dr. Zinkin from the APMA, Dr. Silverman from the AAOS, and resources from Ortho Rehab Specialists in Minnesota: When even walking around the block is uncomfortable because of arthritis in your feet or ankles, exercise may seem out of the question. While we understand your hesitation, exercise and stretching are two of the best ways to offset the pain, discomfort, and inflammation in your lower extremities, and these practices may even slow its progression. At Neuhaus Foot and Ankle, our team of podiatrists wants to ensure you can make your way in the world without pain hindering every step. While there’s much we can do here at our practice to help with arthritis, you can also improve your life at home with a targeted exercise and stretching regimen. Since not all exercises are great for arthritic feet, here are a few tips for exercising with lower extremity joint pain.

Provide support

Before you embark on an exercise regimen, you should provide your arthritic feet with as much support as possible through custom orthotics. We custom tailor these inserts to your feet, providing support in key places to take the pressure off of your painful joints.

Ditch the pounding

No matter what type of arthritis you have, it generally leads to pain and inflammation in your joints. When it comes to arthritis in your feet and ankles, the problem can be magnified since your lower extremities play a pivotal role in propelling you throughout the day. In other words, since your feet and ankles already work so hard, when you exercise, try and find activities that don’t pound your already beleaguered joints. Swimming, cycling, and rowing are three prime examples of how you can get your cardio workout in without relying on your feet. These non-concussive activities ensure that you still get a great workout without further damaging your feet.

Targeted strengthening and stretching is key

When you have arthritis, your surrounding soft tissues — tendons, ligaments, and muscles — can become tense, which exacerbates the problem, which is why we recommend stretching exercises. You should combine stretching with strengthening exercises to take some of the pressure off your joints by beefing up the muscles to better support your feet and ankles. To accomplish both, we recommend:

  • Calf stretches
  • Toe extensions — simply pull your toes backward and forward
  • Alphabet exercise — “write” out each letter of the alphabet with each foot
  • Toe curls — use your toes to scrunch a towel

These are only a few examples, and we can supply you with a full list at your consultation at our offices. We also recommend that you engage in a practice like yoga, which does wonders for both strengthening and flexibility in your joints, including those in your feet and ankles. If you’d like more ideas about how to exercise safely with arthritis, please schedule an appointment with our podiatric experts at one of our locations in Hermitage, Brentwood, Nashville, Mount Juliet, Waverly, Smyrna, Gallatin, Murfreesboro or Lebanon, Tennessee. Simply click here to get started.

You Might Also Enjoy…


How to Tell if Your Blister Is Infected

While a blister on your foot may not seem all that significant, its location can make getting around uncomfortable. But if the blister develops an infection, this seemingly minor problem can become a cause for concern.

Managing Sleep When You Have Gout

Managing Sleep When You Have Gout

When you’re experiencing a gout flare-up, the odds are good that your sleep is being disrupted. Unfortunately, when you’re not getting enough sleep, your gout may worsen. Read on to learn more.

Can Plantar Warts Spread?

Can Plantar Warts Spread?

You’ve developed plantar warts on your feet, and you’re worried they might spread. There’s potential for any wart to spread, but prevention is easy thanks to effective treatments.

4 Effective Treatments for Painful Bunions

4 Effective Treatments for Painful Bunions

So you’ve developed bunions. At first, you’re not thrilled by their appearance, but now they’re also causing pain and discomfort. Here are four options to help you find relief from painful bunions.

How to Run Safely When You Have Plantar Fasciitis

How to Run Safely When You Have Plantar Fasciitis

Running is an important part of your life and greatly improves your physical and mental health. The last thing you want is to discontinue the practice because of plantar fasciitis. Here are some tips to keep on running.

Pain in the feet and ankles is commonplace for arthritis sufferers, especially as aging causes a progression of the condition. The human foot has 30 joints, and each one can become a source of pain and stiffness. At Washington Foot & Ankle Sports Medicine in Kirkland, Washington, our podiatrists work with you to help mitigate the effects of arthritis on your feet and ankles. Part of living with arthritis is staying active, so here are seven exercises tips you can implement for better flexibility and reduced inflammation.

Arthritis pain in the feet and ankles

Most arthritic pain in the feet and ankles is caused by the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage between bones at pivotal joints wears away. The bones then grind together, causing inflammation, swelling, and pain. Osteoarthritis foot and ankle pain typically occurs at the ankle joint where the ankle connects to the shinbone, at the joints connecting the three parts of the foot, and in the joint connecting the big toe to the ball of the foot.

How foot and ankle exercises can help

The following exercises can help improve flexibility and mobility in the feet and ankles, strengthen the muscles supporting your ankles, and prevent stiffness and inflammation. They can all be done while sitting straight up in a chair with your feet starting flat on the floor, and should all be done for each foot and repeated 10 times.

1. Toe press, point, and curl

  • Press down with your toes and raise your heels. Hold for five seconds.
  • Point your toes and raise your heels until only the tips of the big and second toe touch the floor. Hold for five seconds.
  • Curl your toes down and raise your heels. Hold for five seconds.

2. Big toe stretch

  • Bring your foot to rest on the opposite knee.
  • Use one hand to grasp your instep, and the fingers of the other to grasp your big toe.
  • Stretch it up, down, and to each side gently for five seconds in each direction.

3. Toe splay

  • Spread all of your toes as far apart as possible and hold for five seconds.
  • Concentrate on one foot at a time or do both simultaneously.
  • Try with a rubber band or elastic hair tie looped around your toes to provide resistance.

4. Marble pickup

  • Place two bowls in front of the chair on the floor, one in front of the other.
  • Fill the one furthest away with 20 marbles.
  • Use your toes to pick up a marble from the full bowl and drop it into the empty bowl.
  • Switch back and forth between your feet until all marbles are transferred.
  • Reverse direction and do it again.

5. Ball roll

  • Place a golf ball or a rubber racquetball on the floor next to your feet.
  • Place one foot on the ball, rolling from the heel through the instep to the toes.
  • Switch feet every fifteen seconds.
  • No ball? Try a cold can with the label peeled off or a frozen water bottle.

6. Achilles stretch

  • Rest your foot on the opposite knee.
  • Grasp the instep and ball of the foot in one hand, and the toes in your other hand.
  • Press back until you can feel the pull from your heel up the back of your calf.
  • Hold for five seconds.

7. Ankle rotation

  • Rest your foot on the opposite knee.
  • Grasp just above your ankle with one hand, and the ball of your foot with the other hand.
  • Rotate the ankle joint gently in a circular motion for five seconds.

These exercises can help you keep your feet and ankles from being painful and stiff and can strengthen them to more easily bear your weight. If you have arthritic foot and ankle pain, call 425-899-3234 or book your visit online today.

You Might Also Enjoy…

Closeup of a man massaging his foot.

Foot Arthritis: Exercises to Help Relieve Pain

The Knee Hero & Mini Foam Roller Roland Liebscher-Bracht in a white shirt is kindly smiling.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht

Germany’s trusted pain specialist Read more Roland & Petra


Over 30 years of research and hands-on experience make the Liebscher & Bracht pain therapy what it is today: an outstanding approach to naturally treating pain conditions. Making use of the mechanics of the body, it offers people the chance to free themselves of their discomfort by using unique and incredibly useful techniques. All this happens without having to rely on medication or operations. More about the founders Subscribe to The Pain Relief Advisor Roland Liebscher-Bracht is performing a pain-free exercise. Sign up for our free newsletter & get expert pain management content delivered to your inbox every two weeks. Subscribe now Over 2.5 million people worldwide are using Liebscher & Bracht’s exercises to manage their pain themselves. Soon you’ll be one of them.
Sign up for our newsletter, The Pain Relief Advisor, and get expert pain management content delivered to your inbox every two weeks.
Just fill in the fields below and click “Subscribe.”

Did this contribution help you?

Then we would be happy if you shared it with your friends:

Foot Arthritis: Exercises to Help You Relieve the Pain

We rely on our feet for almost all of our physical activity. Thanks to these ticklish, supportive appendages, we can stand, walk, run, and jump. If you have arthritis in your feet, you are all too familiar with how the disease limits a healthy, active lifestyle. Some people with foot arthritis even find that the simple act of walking causes excruciating pain. Arthritis can develop anywhere in your foot, from the heel to the toes. We’ve developed an exercise program that targets each area of your foot so you can relieve any joint pain you may have and increase your foot’s range of motion. All you need to perform our foot exercises for arthritis are our Knee Hero and mini foam roller. If you’d like to start exercising, scroll down and follow along with our video or the step-by-step instructions. If you’d like to learn more about types of foot arthritis, causes, and symptoms, keep reading.

More About Foot Arthritis

Arthritis is inflammation in and around the joints. The condition causes pain, stiffness, and swelling. Although there are over one hundred different types of arthritis, the most common that develop in our feet are:

  • Osteoarthritis (also known as wear-and-tear arthritis and degenerative arthritis) causes the cartilage at the ends of the bones in our feet to wear down. If there is no cartilage to act as a cushion between the bones, they rub against each other; the friction causes foot and ankle pain. You may be at risk of developing osteoarthritis if you are overweight or members of your family suffer from the condition.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system attacks the synovial membrane lining your joints. The synovial membrane becomes swollen and damages your foot’s bones, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. In addition to pain, swelling, and stiffness, you may develop hammer toe. In most cases, rheumatoid arthritis simultaneously affects the same joints in each foot. The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis results from a foot injury like a fracture, dislocation, or sprain. Trauma to the foot can cause the joint cartilage to wear down. Symptoms of post-traumatic arthritis can take anywhere from a few years to decades to appear.

Symptoms of Foot Arthritis Are:

  • foot pain,
  • stiff, swollen, or inflamed joints,
  • pain that’s caused by movement,
  • your foot feels warm or tender to the touch,
  • pain that’s worse after a period of not moving (sleeping or sitting),
  • difficulty walking.

Fight Pain with Information.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht is performing a pain-free exercise.

Subscribe to The Pain Relief Advisor

Sign up for our free newsletter and discover how to manage your pain yourself. Every two weeks, we’ll deliver follow-along videos and articles to your inbox.

Your Personal Pain Scale

While you are exercising, pay attention to your personal pain scale. This is your body’s gauge that measures the intensity at which you exercise from 1 to 10.
One would be like pushing your finger into your forehead. You’d feel a little pressure, but that’s it. You’ve gone above a 10 if your breathing becomes irregular or you feel yourself tense up. For each exercise, aim for an intensity between 8 and 9. If you find that you are experiencing pain that’s higher than 9, reduce the intensity so you can continue exercising without pain.

Exercises for Arthritis in the Feet and Ankles

For Exercises 1 and 2, you’ll need our Knee Hero. We recommend exercising near a wall in case you need to support yourself. Roland Liebscher-Bracht is standing on The Knee Hero stretching his calf.

Exercise 1: Calf Stretch

  • Stack your Knee Hero. If you are new to stretching, we recommend using only the large wedge for a low intensity, gentle stretch. If you stretch regularly, you’re probably ready for a challenge. Stack a small wedge on top of the large. For a maximum intensity stretch, stack all three wedges.
  • Stand on the Knee Hero with your affected foot.
  • Lock your knee and lean your hips forward until you feel a stretch along your calf.
  • Hold for about 1 minute.
  • Press the ball of your foot against the Knee Hero and hold for about 10 seconds. Release and lean further forward.
  • Repeat for about 1 minute.
  • Slowly come out of the stretch and finish.
  • Switch feet if necessary.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht is standing on the Knee Hero stretching his Achilles'.

Exercise 2: Achilles’ Stretch

  • Choose one Knee Hero wedge.
  • Stand on the Knee Hero with your affected foot and bend your knee. You’ll feel a stretch in your Achilles’.
  • Hold for about 1 minute.
  • Press the ball of your foot into the Knee Hero and hold for about 10 seconds. Release and lean further forward.
  • Repeat for about 1 minute.
  • Slowly straighten your leg and finish.
  • Repeat with the other foot if necessary.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht is sitting back on his heels pulling his toes.

Exercise 3: Toe Pull

  • Sit back on your heels.
  • Reach back and grab the toes of your affected foot.
  • Pull your toes upwards. You’ll feel a stretch along the top of your foot. Continue pulling for about 1 minute.
  • Create resistance by pressing the top of your foot against the floor as you continue to pull your toes.
  • Hold for about 10 seconds, release, and pull your toes higher.
  • Repeat for about 1 minute.
  • Slowly let go of your toes and finish.
  • Repeat on the other foot if necessary.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht is balancing on the ball of his right foot.

Exercise 4: Toe Stretch

  • Crouch down into a runner’s starting position with your affected foot at the front.
  • Bring yourself forward until your upper body is over your affected foot. The ball of your foot should be bearing your weight. If you are ready for a more intense stretch, curl your other foot around your heel.
  • You’ll feel a stretch in your toes. Hold for about 1 minute.
  • Bring yourself further forward until your toes almost lift off the floor.
  • Hold for about 1.5 minutes.
  • Slowly come out of the position.
  • Repeat on the other foot if necessary.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht is bending the toes of his right foot.

Exercise 5: Toe Flexion & Extension

  • Sit on the floor. Lay your affected foot on your other leg, just above the knee.
  • Grab your toes and pull them toward your heel. You’ll feel a stretch along the top of your foot.
  • Hold for about 1 minute.
  • Create resistance by pressing your toes against the pull of your hand. Hold for about 10 seconds, release, and pull your toes closer to your heel.
  • Repeat twice and finish.
  • Reach your hand under your toes so that your big toe is against the base of your thumb. Pull your toes as far back as you can and hold for about 1 minute.
  • Create resistance by pressing your toes against the pull of your hand. Hold for 10 seconds, release, and pull your toes back further.
  • Repeat twice.
  • Finish and repeat on the other foot if necessary.

Closeup of Roland Liebscher-Bracht's right foot on the mini foam roller.

Exercise 6: Sole Foam Roll Massage

For this exercise, you’ll need the mini foam roller.

  • Place the mini foam roller in front of your affected foot and grab it with your toes.
  • Apply as much pressure as you can and slowly roll your foot forward.
  • Stop when you reach the centre. Bring your knee in slightly to press the inside edge of your foot.
  • Continue rolling slowly until you reach the edge of your heel.
  • Finish, and repeat on the other foot if necessary.

How Often Should I Exercise?

To relieve your foot arthritis pain, perform our exercises 6 days a week with 1 day of rest.

Fight Pain with Information.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht is performing a pain-free exercise.

Subscribe to The Pain Relief Advisor

Sign up for our free newsletter and discover how to manage your pain yourself. Every two weeks, we’ll deliver follow-along videos and articles to your inbox.

Liebscher & Bracht’s Five Pillars of Practice

Did this contribution help you?

Then we would be happy if you shared it with your friends:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *