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The small intrinsic muscles of your feet - the interossei and lumbricals -- help stabilize your toes during movement. As the name implies, they're located within the foot, and they're often weak as a result of our reliance on supportive shoes and orthotics, according to Dr. Lee Firestone, a sports medicine podiatrist in Maryland. Intrinsic foot exercises often have a role in the treatment of certain conditions, including plantar fasciitis and ankle sprain. They can also help prevent injury caused by excessive strain on the joints and ligaments of the foot. Prepare for your foot exercise routine by warming up your feet. Remove your shoes and socks and spend five to 10 minutes walking, skipping or jogging in place. Remain shoeless while you exercise, and follow your routine with a gentle foot massage.
Shortening the Foot
An effective way to target the intrinsic muscles involves arching the foot while pressing the toes into the floor. Working one foot at a time will enable you to focus on the movement, which is rather subtle. Sit with your buttocks near the edge of a firm, stable chair and rest both feet flat on the floor. Press all the toes of your right foot firmly into the floor. Shorten the foot by drawing the ball of the foot toward the heel, maintaining the downward press of the toes. Lee suggests visualizing a balloon expanding under your arch. Hold the arched position for five seconds, relax the foot briefly, and then repeat the exercise 10 times before switching to the left foot. If you prefer, you can perform the exercise while standing.
Scrunching a Towel
A hand towel is a convenient tool for strengthening the small muscles of the feet. Sit near the edge of chair with your feet planted on a smooth floor surface. Lay a towel on the floor in front of your feet, spreading it out completely. Press your right heel into the floor and use the toes of your right foot to drag the towel closer to your body. Scrunch your toes to take hold of the towel, draw the towel toward you, and then release your grip. Repeat the scrunch-release sequence 10 times, relax the foot briefly, and then repeat the exercise for a total of three sets. Chad Starkey, author of "Athletic Training and Sports Medicine: An Integrated Approach," suggests adding a weight to the far end of the towel to increase the intensity of the exercise
Picking Up Small Objects
Dr. Marybeth Crane, a podiatrist in Texas, recommends working out your intrinsic muscles by picking up objects with your toes. Sit in a chair and scatter numerous small objects within reaching distance of your right foot. Consider using several marbles, a pen, a rubber ball or any other object of appropriate size and weight. Wrap your toes around one of the objects, pick it up and hold it for two to five seconds. You can transfer the object to your hand, set it down in a basket or move it off to the side before picking up the next object. When you've successfully transferred all the objects, scatter the objects again and repeat the exercise with your left foot.
Tapping the Toes
The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends an exercise that works the big toe separately from the other toes. Sitting with your feet on the floor in front of you, lift all the toes of your right foot off the floor. The right heel remains pressed into the floor throughout the exercise. Using only the big toe, tap the floor 10 to 15 times. Avoid lowering the four smaller toes. When you finish the set, rest the foot briefly, and then attempt to work the outer four toes. Press the heel into the floor, raise all the toes upward, and then repeatedly tap only the small outer toes. The big toe remains lifted. Complete a set of 10 to 15 taps, and then repeat the two sets with your left foot.