Be Kind to Your Feet

Tuesday, May 8, 2007; 12:08 AM

At least now and again you exercise other body parts--your arms, your legs, your abs--to strengthen them. What have you done for your feet lately? Even walking, while healthful, exerts a pressure of more than 125,000 pounds per mile per foot for a 120-pound person, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association. No wonder those dogs are barking. Here are some exercises experts recommend to relieve achy feet and help prevent or heal from injuries:

To relieve toe cramps and strengthen calf muscles While standing, raise your toes. Hold for five seconds. Repeat 10 times. Curl your toes. Hold and repeat. Point your toes. Hold and repeat.

To relieve foot cramps or arch pain: Massage the bottom of your foot by rolling a small ball under the ball of your foot for about two minutes.

To strengthen arches, relieve toe cramps, ease pain in the ball of your foot: Place a small towel on the floor just in front of your bare foot. Without moving your heel off the floor, try to grasp the towel using only your toes. Repeat five times.

To speed recovery from plantar fasciitis, common cause of heel pain: Sit in a chair barefoot, with ankle of the affected foot on opposite knee. Using the same hand as the affected foot, grab the toes. Flex the ankle forward and pull toes toward shin. Hold the stretch for a count of 10, then relax. Repeat 10 times. Perform the sequence at least three times a day.

The best shoe for women? Look for a low heel (one inch or lower) and a roomy toe box that helps distribute body weight evenly across the foot.

For men? Again, opt for a low heel (half an inch is the usual height), a wide toe box, a firm heel counter (the piece of leather or other fabric surrounding your heel) and soft, pliable soles--particularly if you spend much time standing.

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