DO IT FOR THE TOOTSIES: YOGA TO RELIEVE FOOT PAIN WITH KAT ENGLISHMAN
Words and Video by Kat Englishman
Photo: Joe Klementovich (@klementovich)
You’re halfway through mile eight with four more to go until you get to camp, where you can tear off your hiking shoes as fast as humanly possible. With every step, there seems to be a new spot on your foot that yelps in pain as you hike, and all you can think about is resting your feet by the fire. Or perhaps you’re on a day hike traversing some rocky and root-filled terrain that seems like it won’t ever give you a break and flatten out. The uneven surface crams your toes forward into your boots, and your ankles bend at precarious angles, just trying to navigate this gnarly trail and find your footing.
Sorry for the unsavory visuals, but the point I’m making here—and if you’re reading, it is probably one you can already relate to—that nagging foot pain and fatigue can easily ruin a hike or backpacking trip. It might seem inevitable that once you’re many miles in or walking over bumpy terrain, your feet will simply hurt, and there’s nothing you can do about it, right? Not exactly. Here’s an anatomy fact to dazzle your friends with next time you’re outside: there are 33 joints, 26 bones, and over a hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the feet that bear weight and transmit force to propel you forward. The feet are complex and dynamic parts of our body that are made to move, and yet, they get such a bad rap for causing us pain and frustration (poor guys!).
As we remember what a phenomenal job they do carrying us around, we should also remember that hiking places a lot of demand on our hardworking tootsies. Naturally, they are bound to get tired, and if you’re wearing ill-fitting boots or uncomfortable shoes, it’ll speed up the process. “Over time, heavy use of your body in one particular pattern makes strong tissues next to weaker ones, which creates an environment where an injury can slowly develop,” says biomechanist and author Katy Bowman in her book, Move Your DNA. Apply this principle to long days of logging miles on our feet, and it makes sense. However, we don’t have to accept this painful fate entirely. “The frequent consumption of varied movement is what drives essential physiological processes,” says Bowman. Translation: too much of one kind of movement can make injury more likely. Moving in many different ways can prevent injury from overuse. So shake it up, people!
Enter yoga. Yoga is all about doing a variety of movements; many postures sneakily stretch and strengthen the feet, ankles, and calves, which is a huge win for hikers. Practicing yoga regularly can condition and prepare the body for the physiological demands of hiking and backpacking and, hopefully, decrease your chance of injury.
While that’s a high-level view of things, in the video below, I’ll walk you through a short practice that zeroes in on how to relieve tension and pain in the feet before, during, or after a hike. And if you’re still curious, here are some other popular yoga poses that stretch and strengthen feet:
Downward-Facing Dog, Warrior 1 and Warrior 2, Tree Pose, Squat Pose (yoga style!), Pigeon Pose, and Forward Fold, among many others.
I’ll see you on the mat!
Katherine Englishman is a writer and yoga teacher based in the beautiful state of Maine. You can find her outside skiing, hiking, biking, or teaching yoga and meditation for the modern yoga student at Waypoints Yoga