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There’s More to Core – Meet the Feet

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by Nina Carson, PT, DPT, OCS

Feet. I’ve always been told that I have weird feet. My arches are so high you could park Tonka trucks under them. Well, maybe a few Lego pieces and I’d still have some clearance. You’d think that’d be great right? High arches = strong arch support? Unfortunately that wasn’t the case; when I was younger I was fitted with orthotics; both podiatrists and running shoe clerks told me I needed motion control shoes to prevent “excess pronation.”

During all this talk about what was wrong with my feet, no one stopped to evaluate my foot strength. No one noticed my toes curling down or the callouses on the tips of them. What I learned from experience was that these are hallmark signs of intrinsic foot muscular weakness.


Okay, what’s an intrinsic foot muscle you ask? Well don’t worry, I’m here to help. Foot intrinsics are muscles that start and stop in your foot. Muscles that start in your lower leg and wrap around to your foot are the extrinsic muscles. When your intrinsics are weak you over utilize your extrinsics. Those long muscles from your lower legs are much less efficient at generating force and stabilizing your feet. You need strong intrinsic strength to support your natural arch so you can accept weight and generate force for movement without getting hurt.

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And even if you aren’t an athlete, you need strong feet. Most adults try to compensate for a lack of foot strength by wearing shoes that have extra cushioning and arch supports. They buy motion control shoes and a whole gamut of other bells and whistles. That’s a whole lot of stuff when all they probably need is for those little muscles in the feet to do their job.

What I’ve learned is that no matter your foot shape or your activity level, you can always benefit from strengthening the foot. Some clinicians refer to this as the foot core. And who doesn’t need a strong core? In our Pilates classes, you get a work out for everything core – your feet included.

Here are some of my favorite exercises for strengthening intrinsic muscles of the foot:

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An exercise to strengthen intrinsic muscles of the foot.
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Intrinsic foot strengthening by using toe extension motions.






These are very helpful for combating clawing toes and a myriad of other foot and ankle ailments. Start with these, then make an appointment with your ALTA physical therapist. They’ll dial in the exercises so you won’t “get caught flat footed.” And if you’re having trouble finding those foot intrinsics – don’t worry; it isn’t easy. That’s where we come in. With time, patience, and most importantly, expert guidance, you can find those muscles that haven’t been used for a long time.

Nina Carson Headshot

Nina knows the frustration of running injured. After a season ending foot injury in college, Nina vowed to stay injury free for the rest of her collegiate career. Her passion to help runners stems from those painful personal experiences. See what a running analysis can do for you.


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