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I can’t say enough about how useful tennis balls are for dealing with shoulder pain.  (Watch the video here.)And I’ve recently become a convert to tennis balls to help with sore feet, especially as people ask about dealing with foot soreness, ankle pain and issues like Plantar faciaitis.

Just as you would use a tennis ball (or two) to relieve tension in the upper back/shoulders, you can do the same with the feet.

  • Take a used tennis ball, and put it in a sock.  You can use the tennis ball alone, but I think the sock helps keep the ball from rolling around.
  • Before starting, stand in your socks or bare feet on a flat surface, and check in with how your feet feel.  Notice any discomfort.
  • Sit down in a chair that allows you to sit straight, with both feet on the floor.
  • Start by rolling the tennis ball under that foot that is bothering you (or bothering you more).  Roll the ball slowly–ball of foot, arch and heel areas– , and notice if there are any places where it feels especially good, and stop at those points for a few deep breaths.  If you feel any pain, stop.
  • If you think your foot can bear more pressure, take your foot off the ball, and stand up.  Roll the ball under your foot again; this time put as much weight on the ball as feels like a good massage.  Take a few deep breaths as you bear your weight on the ball.  Touch a wall or furniture if you need for balance.  If you feel any pain, stop.
  • Take your foot off the ball, and once again stand with both feet on the floor.  Notice how you feet feel, compared to before, and compared to each other.  The foot you just massaged with the ball should feel flatter on the floor.
  • Sit back down and do the same with your other foot.  Even if you don’t have discomfort in that foot, or think it needs a massage, spend at least a minute to roll the ball under it.  Following the principle of yin/yang, it’s always a good idea to give attention to the other side.  You’ll likely feel that the other foot feels flatter on the floor, too.

If you’re at home and have the time, you can follow up by giving both feet a massage with your hands.

If you want to get the benefit of this at work, take a tennis ball and roll it under your feet while you work.  You can do it while you’re working, or dedicate a few minutes to the above exercise.  Your feet, the rest of you body, and your mind will thank you for the brief but effective break.

You are encouraged you to seek the advice of a qualified health care provider for questions about a medical condition.

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HealtyToes.com

What are those things?!?!?  They are toe stretchers.  They help stretch out toes that are cramped together, and help release and relieve sore feet and ankles. 

I’m writing about this today because I’ve recently had healthy toes and toe stretchers on my mind. 

  • WEAK ANKLE: The ankle I fractured last year still bothers me occasionally, and my first reaction is to spread my toes (on both feet).  Why do I do this?  Because I feel great when I spread my toes: I take a nice deep breath, my feet feel more relaxed, my ankle feels better… and I actually feel good all the way up my legs to my back.  Toe stretchers would allow me to spread my toes–and get the benefits–without effort.
  • BUNION: I asked my mom about her problem ankle.  She showed me her feet, and lo and behold, the big toe on the foot with the problem ankle turns in; she’s starting to get a bunion.  The toes on the other foot, however, are lined up nicely, and she doesn’t have any ankle problems on that side. I think toe stretchers would help her toes align better, which will stablize her foot and strengthen her ankle.
  • PLANTAR FASCIITIS: A student in a wellness class asked about addressing plantar fasciitis.  I think toe stretchers can help address this.  (Also, rolling your feet over a tennis ball can help relieve some pain, too.) 

I have to say that I personally have not used these, though I’ve tried them on once and they felt great.  You can read the account an MD has written about her decision to try them to prevent stiff feet, and how they beat her trip to the orthopedist.

They are available in several brands, which look pretty similar: Yoga Toes (which you can only buy on their website), Healthytoes (which is available on Amazon and less expensive than Yoga Toes) and Genki-Kun (which claims to be the original from Japan; their sizing is confusing).

To Buy:
Healthytoes BLUE color, Small or Large
Healthytoes PINK color, Small only

  • SMALL fits Women’s shoe sizes: 5.5 to 10.5; Men’s shoe sizes: 3.5 to 9.5
  • LARGE fits Women’s shoe sizes: 11 and up; Men’s shoe sizes: 7.5 to 10+
  • (SIZING TIPS: Sizing is approximate and may vary according to width of foot. The majority of Women with medium-width feet will wear a size Small. 99% of Women new to toe stretching should order the size Small.  — From the Healthytoes website.)

Genki-Kun products are available, too, but their sizing is confusing.

Yoga Toes sells directly; more expensive individually, but there’s a discount on volume.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the concept of Yin/Yang helps us remember to think about the complementary sides of our bodies. I talked about the front/back connection in this post.

Today, I want to talk about left/right.

(That’s the right and left of your body, not the political spectrum. But the idea I want to talk about is not far off; without good communication and integration between the two, the whole doesn’t work as well. 😉 )

So, back to the body. Often, we’ll get some kind of ache or pain on one side of the body, and our attention goes to that side. In order to address that ache or pain, it is often helpful to give some attention to the other side.

For example, I broke my left ankle a few months ago, so naturally, my attention was focused on that left ankle. It’s the one that hurt and that I had to take care of and rehabilitate. But it turns out that my right ankle and leg had to work extra hard while my left ankle healed. And, I learned through my physical therapy that my right ankle is weak, too. So, as part of the rehabilitation of my left ankle, I’ve made sure to do the exercises on my right ankle as well.

Therefore, when you use acupressure points that you may learn on this blog, use them on both sides of your body. When you work on the tightness in our right shoulder, also work on your left shoulder. Sometimes you don’t feel the tightness in the left shoulder because the right is much more tight, and it’s hogging all your attention. But you may find that when your right shoulder gets some relief, the left one starts to bother you. It was tight all along; it was just being shy and quiet and waiting to speak up for some attention.

So remember, as with yin and yang, address the left and right, for a holistic approach to healing and wellness.

I’m especially sensitive about balance — or getting better balance — since I broke my ankle a few months ago.  During my physical therapy classes, it became even more clear to me that I’ve never had good balance.

I twisted my ankle often as a kid.  I sprained it very badly about 7 or 8 years ago; I believe that I never healed completely, and this is why I had such a bad sprain that the force broke off a bit of my bone in October.  My muscles and ligaments are simply weakened.

Last week, I read this excellent article in the New York Times, called Preserving a Fundamental Sense: Balance, which explains how our sense of balance degrades as we age, but more helpfully, it provides a simple test to measure your level of equilibrium, and, best of all, suggests some exercises.

The exercises–to be done in barefeet or stocking feet– in the article (all described in more detail and some with diagrams) include:

  • Sit-to-stand exercise where you sit in a chair with both feet flat on the floor.  Cross your arms.  Stand up and down as quickly as your can, without uncrossing your arms.  Do three in a row; increase to 10 times.  Do once or twice per day.  Stop if you get dizzy.
  • Walking heel-to-toe, as if you’re walking on a balance beam.  Walk about 10 feet, with the heel of your front foot just in front–almost touching–the toes of your back foot.  Turn back.
  • Walk on your toes.
  • Walk on your heels.
  • Sideways “crab-walking”.  (Please see the article for a good explanation.  This move is easier to do than to explain in words.

I would add the “towel” exercise, I learned in physical therapy.  Roll up a hand-towel, and practice balancing on that with one foot at a time.  First position towel so it is horizontal; just the arch of your foot should rest on it.  Then move it vertical, so that the towel is directly under your foot, with all or most of your foot on the towel.  If you can, raise your arms slowly above your head, by your ears, as you balance on one foot.  You can also try closing your eyes.

The NYTimes says another article will follow with more exercises.

Until then, see you on one leg!

I went to the doctor yesterday to get my ankle checked.  It turns out that I’ve been more gentle with my ankle than I need to be, since the bone will heal on its own.  Isn’t the human body wonderful?

This brought me to think about the Metal element in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and how ideas of structure and support are associated with it.  I have a lot of mental and structure now: aluminum crutches and an ankle walker brace.  But non-tangibles like ideas and attitudes can also provide structure and support.  For example, rules and laws often support a society and community; think about what would happen on the roads if people didn’t know and follow traffic rules.  Chaos!

But sometimes too much metal can be a problem, too.  So I thought about this in terms of my rigid ideas about my ankle.  Because I was so concerned about protected my poor ankle–which has suffered a lot of sprains and discomfort over the years–I was not moving it and using it in a healthy way.  It turns out that I can walk on the foot with the security and support of the ankle brace.  It supports me.

This is a good lesson for me, because I can get pretty rigid in my rules.  It makes me a law-abiding type, but sometimes uptight, too.

So, it’s a good idea to think about what’s enough support?  What’s enough structure?  And when does it impede growth and wellness?

I got through the weekend, and this afternoon’s comfort-cookie crisis with Trader Joe’s Druid oatmeal cookies. As I was savoring the lovely chewiness of my third lovely cookie with tea, I had an “aha!” moment about the sweet-tooth comfort-food connection.

In the Traditional Chinese Medicine system, sweetness is associated with the Earth element. So when Earth element (associated with the Stomach and Spleen meridians) is out of balance, sweet cravings often ensue.

When might Earth element be out of balance?

  • The Earth is associated with home, the place we feel “homey”, so a move to a new house, or traveling could cause a tip in balance.
  • Or maybe you have too many ideas flying around your head, and you don’t feel “grounded.” You might reach for a cookie or ice cream.
  • Think about a plant; only when it is strong and grounded in the earth can it grow up and out.
  • For women, the Earth element is also related to the menstrual cycle, which helps us understand PMS sweets-cravings.

In my case, since I broke my ankle last week, my connection to the Earth has diminished. I can’t put both feet on the ground. I’m hobbling around on my right foot and two crutches. And even though I’m mostly stuck at home, it’s difficulty to feel homey. My foot is up in the air. My energy is way above the floor; I think it’s in my shoulder area because my shoulders are tired from using the crutches. Oy!

So, a few thoughts on balancing Earth energy:

  • First of all, it’s OK, I say, to eat my cookies! As long as I’m enjoying them, and in moderation. (I’ll run out at any rate, and can’t exactly run down to the store to get some more. That’s the silver lining.)
  • Now that I’ve identified this Earth-imbalance, I can be mindful about other ways to address it:
    • Enjoy healthier sweetness. Fruit. Dried dates. I’ve been eating fruit puree (frozen mangoes and blueberries) with yogurt.
    • Squeeze my muscles; the Earth element loves this. My right leg is working really hard, as are my arms, so I’ll give myself a little massage later.
    • Create routine, especially since I’ve had to adjust and adapt so much of the way I normally do things. I wrote about this, plus other tips in a post related to the Earth element.
    • Energize the Three Mile Point (Stomach 36). Sit down with feet flat on the floor. Make a light fist and rub vigorously along the outside of your shins, a couple of inches below your knee.

OK. So I now have a plan to help address my un-earthiness, and tame my cookie monster!

How embarrassing. I broke a bone today, crossing the street.

I was wearing my backpack heavy with my laptop and power cord and mouse and a couple of books and all that other stuff I need, and was looking at the bus stop sign as I crossed the street. Then I felt a snap as my left ankle twisted.

Uh-oh! It was REALLY painful, my breath stopped, and I felt slightly nauseous. I hobbled to the other side of the street and sat on the curb; my ankle swelled up in about two minutes.

In order to deal with the pain, I took deep breaths, and tried to regulate my breathing. I also squeezed the Hoku acu-point on my left hand. Those first 5 minutes were a big blur; I can’t say for certain that squeezing Hoku helped with the pain, but it was part of my coping toolkit.   And I bet I’ll be relying on those again before I’m walking normally again.

Fortunately, through the kindness of a stranger and friends, I got home. The x-ray shows a tiny bit of bone broken off at the bottom of the fibula. I’ll be focusing on acupressure to help with this healing in the next few weeks.