How To Safely Exercise After A Foot Injury


Our feet play a huge role in almost every movement: from walking, standing up, running, and even while sitting down.  This is why it seems unimaginable to keep moving after getting your foot injured.

However, just because your foot hurts doesn’t mean you’ll have to stop working out. Using a jump rope and running are definitely out of the question. But there are other forms of exercises that you can perform safely to stay active.

Get on your feet faster, literally, by learning how to perform specific physical activities safely. Stay one step ahead of your recovery by learning more about one of the most crucial parts of your body.

Anatomy Of The Foot

As one of the major mobility-providing, shock-absorbing, and weight-bearing sections of the body, the foot is also among the most complex parts—consisting of more than 100 ligaments, 26 bones, and 33 joints. The foot’s structure allows it to support your body weight and provide balance, keeping you upright while performing a variety of movements.

The foot is divided into three major parts:

  • Forefoot– composed of five long metatarsal bones and another five shorter bones called phalanges (or toes).
  • Midfoot– comprising of the arch of the foot and connects the forefoot and the hindfoot.
  • Hindfoot– contains only two bones: the talus and calcaneus bones. The former connects the tibia and fibula, forming the ankle joint. The calcaneus bone, on the other hand, is the largest bone in the foot and forms the heel.

Apart from bones and joints, your foot is composed of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves that assist in your leg’s mobility—allowing you to perform various movements.

Because of its complexity, there’s a medical specialist, called a podiatrist, who focuses on the well-being of your foot, ankle, and lower leg. When suffering from a foot injury, you can visit podiatrist clinics like Tetonfootandankle.com located near you to get specialized service.

5 Things To Remember Before Exercising With An Injured Foot

1. Talk To Your Doctor

Even if you’re not in severe pain, it’s never a good idea to embark on any fitness routine after injuring your foot without seeking the advice of your doctor or podiatrist.

If you forgot to discuss the possibility of exercising after your hospital discharge, you’ll likely revisit your physician one or two weeks later. During this time, your doctor can check the progress of your recovery and propose a treatment plan that includes an exercise regimen.

Your doctor may likely refer you to a physical therapist, who can create a customized movement and exercise plan for you, as well.

When you’ve been injured, your body will need more time to heal. Pushing yourself too much can lead to re-injuring yourself—delaying your recovery process, or worse, forcing you to undergo the same surgery or treatment again. Hence, it’s always important to talk to your doctor before performing specific exercises unless they’ve instructed you to do so after discharge.

2. Practice Extreme Caution

Once you’re given the go signal to get moving, take time to reflect and ask yourself whether you’ve caused or contributed to your foot injury. If you pushed yourself too much, maybe it’s best to take a step back this time and do things differently.

It’s understandable if you don’t want to go this route, especially if you’ve been in an accident that’s entirely not your fault. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to err on the side of caution, especially following a foot injury.

Even if you can’t return to hiking, running, or whatever it is that you love doing, remain positive. You may have been temporarily sidetracked from your usual routines but with proper post-injury care, high-quality sleep, and a balanced diet, you’ll be able to do the activities you love.  Keeping an optimistic attitude helps hasten your recovery.

3. Do Not Rush

Not everyone reacts to injuries the same way.  Depending on various factors, some people may require longer periods to heal, while some get over the pain quite quickly. It’ll take weeks, sometimes months, or even years, to fully recover.

That being said, take it easy and don’t push yourself too hard. A good rule of thumb is to start performing exercises that are about half the intensity you’re used to doing before the accident.

For instance, if you’re used to running three miles, walk for one and a half miles to start with. If you don’t feel extreme pain or develop unusual symptoms, you can increase up to 20% of your current activity levels every week.

One of the best ways to assess your capacity is to perform pre-exercise stretches. Warm-ups can also help prepare your body.

One of the reasons a foot injury takes time to heal is that whether you like it or not, you’ll still have to use your feet. Depending on the type and intensity of the injury you’ve had, you’ll likely have to wait for a few days to at least a week before performing any exercise. Avoid using the treadmill or walking during your recovery period.

4. Embrace Variety

Doing different routines to work out various parts of our body is one of the keys to a speedy recovery. It helps an injured person to stay active while building up flexibility and strength.

Physical exercises done in variety are deemed best for individuals who are nursing foot and ankle injuries. You can perform the following exercises:

Interval Training: This training is often used for cardiovascular exercises such as running, rowing, and swimming. This exercise aims to alternately increase and decrease your heart rate by switching the speed, intensity, and duration of any exercise. For instance, you can walk fast for a few minutes and slow down for the same period, repeatedly.      

Strength Training: This type of exercise is said to be effective in developing muscles and minimizing body fat. It also burns calories more efficiently. Pushups, lunges, planking, and squats, are a few of the activities you can do to develop your core. Using a resistance band or lifting weights are also part of strength training activities.

Of course, some of these routines may not be possible with a foot injury. So, choosing the right kind of exercise is key. No matter the exercise routine you choose, remember that it shouldn’t put too much stress or pressure on your foot.

5. Listen To Your Body

We’re often bombarded with amazing mind-over-matter stories over the internet and on various social media channels. While you can cull inspiration from these stories, our bodies work differently—what may be effective for others may not work for you.

When it comes to foot injuries or any type of injury, you have to let your body do the talking. You’ll likely feel pain as a result of the injury or when your body is still recovering. Proper pain management is key. There are natural and non-invasive pain relief methods, from taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to taking turmeric and ginger tea and having a massage and acupuncture.

When exercising with an injured foot, it’s normal to feel some level of discomfort. In fact, if you feel a bit of pain in the affected area, pushing yourself a little bit may help your foot recover faster. However, don’t push yourself too much. Stop if you feel extreme pain and take some rest. If the pain becomes too severe, call your physician immediately.

The Best Exercises For An Injured Foot


While nursing an injured foot, it’s best to limit your activities to cardio exercises. These are your best options to stay active, prevent re-injury, and help hasten recovery.

1. Swimming

Swimming is one of the most popular exercises around the world. Flapping your arms and legs on the pool has numerous benefits. It helps improve your mood, manage pain, strengthen your lungs, among other benefits. Best of all, you don’t need any gym equipment to perform this exercise.

As a form of cardio exercise, swimming doesn’t put stress on your foot while helping you burn calories. A good rule of thumb is to avoid strokes that require you to kick too much for proper execution.

2. Cross-Training Workouts

If you can’t go outdoors or don’t have a pool in your home, you can perform few sets of exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups, and bodyweight squats.

Even with foot injuries, you can still perform flutter kicks, too. However, you can skip this exercise if pointing your toes feels painful. Perform anywhere from 10 to 20 repetitions in a span of 20 minutes, then repeat.

3. Kettlebell Swings

If you have a kettlebell at home, you can use it to perform a home workout even with an injured foot. To do this, you have to place your foot flat on the ground. Take a kettlebell and carry it with your two hands and start swinging it down, in between your legs and up to your shoulder.

When done properly, a two-handed kettlebell swing can help strengthen and tone your hamstring, core, glutes, and back.

You can also perform this exercise while seated on a chair.

4. Riding A Bicycle

While you may be prohibited to use the treadmill for a few days, you can still perform exercises by cycling. You can start straddling on your stationary bike indoors or attend spinning classes in your local gym. Using a bicycle is a good cardiovascular workout and a good replacement for running, as it activates the same muscles while minimizing pressure on the foot.

5. Using A Rowing Machine

While classified as a low-impact exercise, rowing keeps all your muscle groups engaged; making it a highly satisfying workout for gym buffs and individuals who’ve always maintained high activity levels.

You don’t have to actually own a boat to perform this exercise. Gyms have rowing machines that you can use to keep your hamstrings, glutes, quads, shoulders, and abdomen going. Using the rowing machine is pretty straightforward. You’d have to sit and lock your feet on the foot straps. You can freely adjust the resistance levels, so you may want to crank it to the lowest level to start. Adjust to higher levels when you feel the need to, but only if you don’t feel severe pain after performing it.

6. Strengthening Upper Body Muscles With An Arm Ergometer

Another useful exercise equipment for persons with an injured foot is the arm ergometer. This machine is just like a bicycle, only that it works on your arms rather than your legs. Put simply, it’s a bike for your arms.

To use the machine, all you have to do is position yourself on a seat and plant your feet firmly on the ground. Take a grip of the handles and turn the pedals using your arms, just as you would with your feet on a bicycle. This exercise requires upper body endurance, and thus, is a good cardio workout, too.

7. Pre- and Post-Exercise Stretches For The Foot

You can also perform the following stretches to increase flexibility. Do this before your workout to prepare your foot, ankle, and lower legs.

  • Ankle Pump Up– Point your toes upward as if you’re trying to touch your toes. This helps improve your foot’s upward movement or dorsiflexion and reinforces your shin.
  • Ankle Pump Down– Point your toes downward until you feel your calf muscles flexing. This helps enhance the downward movement of the foot and strengthens your calf muscles.
  • Toe Flexes- This exercise helps strengthen both the feet and toes. It involves raising, pointing, and curling your toes.
  1. Start by sitting on a chair and planting your feet on the floor.  Raise your heels and hold for five seconds, then lower your heels.

2. Raise your heels again and point your toes until only the big and second toes are touching the floor. Hold this position for five seconds, then lower your feet.

  1. Finally, raise your heels and flex the toes inward. Hold the position for five seconds
  2. Perform at least 10 repetitions.
  • Toe Pick Ups- With foot or ankle injury, the muscles in your foot may become compacted. To improve your toes’ flexibility and strength, scatter small objects on the floor. Pick these items up using your toes then transfer them. Make at least three repetitions daily.
  • Cold Bottle Massage- This is one of the best ways to wind down following your exercise. To do this, all you have to do is chill or freeze a water bottle.Place the frozen or chilled bottle on the floor horizontally and roll your foot over it for about five minutes. If the bottle is frozen, consider placing a thin cloth around it to protect your foot from getting frostbite. Also, make sure to keep your foot moving. Stop if you feel pain or if your foot becomes numb.

The Bottom Line

Supporting your body’s weight and keeping your balance is by no means an easy feat. That’s why you need to take care of your feet not only while performing exercises but every time you move.

In case of an injury, avoid workout routines that place stress on the affected area, such as running and jogging. Your best bet is performing low-impact cardio exercises such as swimming, cycling, jumping rope, and rowing.

Additionally, performing specific exercises helps improve foot strength and flexibility. These should be done not only while nursing an injury but as part of a pre- and post-exercise routine.

To avoid re-injuring yourself or delaying your recovery, don’t forget to talk to your doctor before starting your post-injury exercise routine.

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