How (and Why) You Should be Stretching Your Feet and Ankles – MASSAGE Magazine

Source: How (and Why) You Should be Stretching Your Feet and Ankles – MASSAGE Magazine

stretching feet and ankles

With our foundation for stability and balance originating in our feet, keeping our feet and ankles mobile and stable is the first step in correcting imbalances further up the kinetic chain.

There are lots of different techniques for working with the feet and ankles — but without care, injury can occur during well-intentioned exercises.

What I want to share with you are safer ways to achieve the same or maybe better results if we pay attention to positioning, physiological laws, and what our bodies are telling us. This article addresses what I have found to be a safe and successful approach to creating both flexibility and stability in the feet, based on Aaron Mattes’ system of Active Isolated Stretching and Strengthening.

Good Exercise Gone Bad

When it comes to exercise, the main reason I see for failure is simply stress. The stress I am referring to is not associated with your job or everyday life, but rather the extra force you apply to your body by pushing though exercises even if they are uncomfortable or painful. Over and over again, I’ve seen good intentions for creating stronger and more supple bodies lead to the opposite result of more restriction, weaker muscles and pain.

The old adage “It hurts so good” can cause injury, which in turn creates an inflammatory and neurological response. On top of this, when torn tissues heal, scar tissue develops, which further restricts joint movement. Pushing and pulling too far can be counterproductive, especially during the initial stages of recovery from an injury or surgery when the nervous system is very sensitive and tissues fragile.

Pay Attention to Pain

Pain is an important signal that lets us know what we are doing is not safe. It is something to avoid, and it is imperative to pay attention to what you feel when you exercise. That is not to say that you should avoid certain movements if they have caused pain in the past, but rather to find ways to move in such a manner that allows you to avoid pain altogether.

It is essential to remember that when you feel pain, your nervous system sends a signal to the muscles to protect you from that perceived threat of injury. Spindle cells are one of the primary proprioceptive organs in soft tissues that elicit this protective mechanism (referred to as the myotatic, or “stretch,” reflex). When they sense stress or tension from a stretch that cannot be dealt with in a positive manner, the myotatic reflex activates muscle contraction to avoid injury — in this case to prevent the overstretching and resulting tear of a muscle and tendon.

Let’s take an example of experiencing pain upon turning your torso to one side. If you are faced with this sort of predicament, respect this warning sign and modify your movements accordingly.

In this case, rotate gently, with excellent control, to the point just before you feel pain and then return to the starting point. With each repetition nudge into the barrier, never eliciting pain. As your nerves become less sensitive, the pain will diminish and your natural ROM will begin to return. Following this simple idea will help get you moving again even if you have experienced or are experiencing pain.

How to Stretch with Active Isolated Stretching (AIS)

AI Stretching avoids triggering the myotatic stretch reflex by using gentle, active-assisted movements. Move into the stretch until the first sign of tension and release; it’s that simple. The rhythmic, relaxed repetitions increase blood and lymphatic flow and sedate the nerves. Use a strap or your hand to assist. Repeat the set several times on the tighter side.

Gastrocnemius and the Posterior Compartment

The conventional method for stretching the calves in a standing position is one example of an approach that creates the potential for injury. The tissues being stretched are also bearing weight. This can be a difficult challenge for compromised joints and tissues. Consider this especially if you have an injury.

To make the stretch as safe and effective as possible I recommend doing this stretch supine, with your leg in the air and using a strap to assist yourself. (See photos 1 and 2.)

Photo 1
Photo 1
Photo 2
Photo 2

Dorsal Stretches of the Ankle

These stretches are usually done while sitting with one leg crossed over the other and plantar flexing your foot while pushing on the dorsal side of the foot with one of your hands to assist. For the most part, these stretches are safe as long as you remember to be gentle enough not to cause pain. These stretches can be very helpful for strained or sprained ankles.

There is often a huge imbalance between the power and strength of the posterior vs. the anterior musculature, similar to the disparity between the flexors and extensors of the wrist. In most cases the anterior muscles such as the tibialis anterior need to be strengthened to achieve balance in your foot and ankle.

With that in mind, the hand you are using to assist the stretch can create resistance on the return phase of the movement, building strength. The resistance should be firm but gentle without impeding movement. This simple addition helps with stability and delivers increased blood and lymphatic flow, reducing inflammation.

Inversion and Eversion Stretches of the Ankle

Stretching the invertors and evertors of the ankle is usually straightforward. In most cases you are sitting with one leg crossed over the other, using your hands to assist. As long as you practice without causing pain you should experience a successful outcome.

To get the most out of this stretch try this: Before you invert or evert your ankle, use your hands to hold your ankle at a 90-degree angle. This modification directs the stretch deeper into the joint, gently tweezing scarred ligaments and joint capsules. Be careful when you modify your stretch in this manner; it can be quite intense. As with dorsal flexion you can create strength with each repetition by using the hand that is assisting the stretch to resist the returning movement.

–Read more at linked article

Types of Massage

 

There are many different massage techniques to choose from. Find out which one is best for you.

When you hear the word massage, you may think of lying on a cushioned table in a softly lit treatment room at an upscale day spa while a therapist gently kneads your sore muscles and strokes your skin with scented oils. Or, you may think of a sweaty football player having his sore muscles roughly pounded by a trainer in the locker room after a game. Both images are accurate. Massage therapy can be relaxing and soothing, or rough and intense, depending on the type of massage involved.

Massage is an umbrella term covering many different techniques and healing philosophies. In general, massage is manipulation of the body’s skin, muscles and connective tissues, usually with the hands, but also with mechanical tools applied to the body’s surface. You may seek massage from a licensed, trained massage therapist, but you may also massage your own sore joints and muscles with your hands or massage tools.

Massage often is used to relieve common symptoms of many types of arthritis: reducing pain and stiffness, easing anxiety, improving range of motion in joints, and promoting more restful sleep.

“Massage can result in a significant reduction in pain” for people with all types of arthritis, says Tiffany Field, PhD, a research psychologist at the University of Miami Medical School. Any type of full-body massage therapy that involves moderate pressure, including self-massage, should help relieve arthritis pain and ease tension, Field says.

Field emphasizes that moderate pressure is key, to stimulate the pressure receptors under the skin that convey signals to the brain to alleviate pain and release beneficial, stress-reducing neurochemicals like serotonin. “We’ve found that light pressure in massage is arousing, not relaxing. With light pressure, the heart rate goes up, the blood pressure goes up. Moderate pressure stimulates relaxation, the heart rate goes down, the blood pressure goes down,” she says.

People with arthritis who experience chronic symptoms may consider using massage therapy regularly, even daily use of self-massage, to help manage their pain and stiffness, or to promote better sleep that can in turn relieve pain in muscles and joints, Field notes.

Main Types of Massage

Massage is an ancient form of pain and stress relief practiced by most worldwide cultures. These techniques may involve not only physical manipulation of the body’s tissues, but also relaxation techniques. Massage may involve use of heat and cold applications to the skin, or the use of oil or lotion to ease gliding of hands or tools against the skin.

Here’s a brief overview of the many types of massage therapy. Be sure to tell your massage therapist that you have arthritis, and point out particular joints that are affected, prior to your session. Before getting any type of massage, consult your doctor to make sure massage is safe for your arthritis and any other health conditions you may have.

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage is the most common type of massage, and what many people think of when they hear the term “massage.”  Swedish massage involves long, fluid stroking of muscles and tissues, and is meant to reduce soreness and stiffness in muscles and joints, to reduce anxiety and to improve circulation. Swedish massage involves five basic strokes: effleurage (sliding or gliding of hands across skin), petrissage (kneading of muscles), tapotement (rhythmic tapping of knuckles or fingers against skin), friction (moving across fibers) and vibration or shaking of the body. Therapists may adjust pressure according to your sensitivity and typically use oil or lotion.

Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage focuses on manipulation of both top and deeper layers of muscles and tissues, often requiring intense, focused pressure by the therapist. Deep tissue massage is designed to address severe tension or pain in the muscles and connective tissues. Deep tissue massage may cause lingering soreness, so it might be inappropriate for some people with arthritis.

Hot Stone Massage

Hot stone massage is a massage therapy offered in many day spas that involves placing smooth, heated stones on your back as you lie on your stomach. The hot stones send soothing heat to the muscles and tissues, releasing tension and promoting relaxation. Typically, therapists knead your muscles by hand in addition to placing hot stones on your skin. Other forms involve cold stones, which may help sore muscles from exercise-related injuries or swelling. Some therapists may use both hot and cold stones for contrast or for different healing purposes.

Ayurvedic Massage

Ayurveda is an Indian natural health philosophy that blends yoga, massage, meditation and herbs. Ayurvedic massage is also known as abhyanga, and involves a full-body massage in addition to using aromatic oils chosen for purported spiritual healing properties.

Anma

One of many massage techniques that originated in Asian countries, Anma is a Japanese massage that involves kneading of the muscles and other soft tissues. Anma uses no oils. Anma is based on the idea that an energy flow in the body can be disrupted or blocked, causing illness and pain. Anma practitioners believe that massaging the muscles and tissues can restore this flow and the body’s natural ability to heal itself.

Thai Massage

Thai massage combines massage with placement of the body in yoga-like positions during the session. Thai massage techniques may vary between practitioners or the regions in Thailand from which they came. Some involve more flexibility stretching, while others focus on applying pressure to the muscles and joints.

Lomi Lomi

Lomi lomi massage originated in Hawaii and is practiced in many countries throughout the Pacific Ocean region (Polynesia). Lomi lomi is considered a healing practice that may involve diet, prayer, meditation and other health techniques in addition to massage of muscles and tissues.

Myofascial Release

Myofascial release aims to relieve pain by manipulating the fascia, connective tissues that surround muscles, blood vessels and nerves. During myofascial release, a therapist stretches and releases those connective tissues by gently rolling the skin back and forth on the back, legs and other areas of the body. Usually, no oils, lotions or massage tools are used.

Reflexology

Reflexology is an alternative Asian healing practice based on a belief that pressure on particular areas of the hands and feet will spur healing in other parts of the body. For example, pressing on the person’s big toe is believed to heal pain or injuries in the brain. Reflexology is meant to promote not only pain relief or healing, but also to reduce stress and anxiety.

Rolfing

Rolfing is similar to myofascial release, and is part of a healing philosophy called structural integration. Invented by Ida P. Rolf in the mid-20th century, rolfing involves the practitioner moving the body into certain positions and manipulating fascia tissues. Rolfing aims not only to promote pain relief and relaxation, but to restore posture and range of motion.

Self-Massage

Self-massage is kneading your own sore joints, pressure points or muscles using your hands, knuckles, elbows or massage tools. Massage tools may be mechanized to offer heat or vibration, or you can create your own aids with household objects like tennis balls, says Field. Massaging hard-to-reach areas like your back may be difficult, but self-massage works well for sore feet, knees, calves, hands, neck or arms.

Shiatsu

Shiatsu is a Japanese massage technique widely performed in the United States. Shiatsu therapists apply pressure to specific points of the body using the fingers and palms in continuous, rhythmic motions. Like other Asian massage and healing philosophies, shiatsu is thought to restore the flow of qi, or healthy energy, in the body. No oils are used. Usually, you remain totally clothed during shiatsu. Shiatsu pillows and devices are marketed widely and purport to offer shiatsu-type pressure to various areas of the body, like the neck.

Trigger Point Massage

Trigger point massage is designed to relieve pain in particular areas of the body by applying pressure or vibration into myofascial trigger points. Trigger point therapy that includes injections into the trigger points should only be performed in a clinical setting, such as a doctor’s office, or physical therapy or chiropractic office. Trigger points are points in the muscles where knots may form, and the pinpointed pressure is designed to relax those knots and ease pain. A 2002 study in American Family Physician, the medical journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians, concluded that trigger point therapy using injections of numbing agents like lidocaine were very effective for chronic musculoskeletal pain relief, but other trigger point techniques do not involve use of needles.