It’s not uncommon during the winter months for us to see clients that have suddenly developed new pain and discomfort in their lower extremities and low back. We’ll talk about what cold-weather can due to the upper body and another blog, but today we’re going to focus on the lower body.
The most common and most obvious culprit is a change in footwear during the colder winter months. As we move from summer shoes that allow movements in the foot and ankle and knee into winter boots that compromise lower extremity movement.
Today will give you some tips to help you understand how compromising your winter footwear can be as well as what to do if you’re experiencing ankle, knee, hip or low back pain.
Test your shoes
The first thing that you want to do is see how compromising your winter shoes are. An easy test is to bend over and try and touch your toes your winter shoes on. Then repeat the same movement with your winter shoes on. You should have approximately the same flexibility with or without your shoes. If you have significantly less flexibility with your winter shoes on you can be assured that your gait and range of motion is being limited.
When we don’t have good range of motion and when our gait has been altered we developed compensation patterns that can lead to pain. Without full range of motion in our joints we start to notice stiffness and pain. Massage can help increase blood flow to areas that have been stagnant and help passively improve range of motion. Massage also helps to address the compensation patterns that arise.
If you do have limited range of motion when you have shoes on and try to touch your toes, you don’t necessarily need to get rid of your shoes. Just know how to manage your body during the winter months to avoid limiting your range of motion as much as possible.
Move your body
In between massages you can make sure to introduce range of motion exercises to your feet, ankles, knees and hips once or twice a day to maintain positive range of motion and avoid the stiffness and pain that comes from restricted movement.
Do the following exercises in order as each one builds on the next. You don’t have to do all of them, you can focus on the areas that you feel discomfort. Although we do suggest that everyone does the toe stretch and the ankle alphabets at our feet and ankles tend to be the most restricted in winter footwear.
Place a washcloth on the ground and pick it up with your toes and drop it.
This gives our toes movement that they don’t normally get when they are shoved in boots and heavy socks. We end up relying on the sole of the shoe to do the walking for us instead of pushing off with our toes. When our toes don’t move it can affect fascia up the front and the back side of our body causing reduced flexibility, range of motion and can increase pain.
Place your fingers in-between all of your toes and move your hand back and forth and all around.It should look like your holding hands with your foot.
Similar to the Toe Grabs, when our feet are constricted in shoes all day, they don’t get to move the way they are designed to move. Getting space in-between our toes helps to increase range of motion, break up constricted fascia and muscle tissue, improve blood flow and stretch the bottom of the foot which can also help with plantar fasciitis pain.
Just like it says…..write the alphabet with your toes making sure to get lots of movement in your ankles.
In boots, our ankles are restricted and don’t move the way they need to for a normal gait. They can stiffen up and cause issues in our feet, knees and hips. This can lead to pain, stiffness and discomfort in those areas.
Standing, simply lift your heels up so that you are on your tip toes and then lower back down. For more of a challenge stand on a stair with your heels hanging off the edge of the stair, lifting and dropping the heels for a greater strength challenge on the way up and a deeper stretch on the way down.
This helps with range of motion with your ankles just like the Ankle Alphabet but with the added resistance of your body weight. Strengthening ankles and calves can help when we are walking on uneven or icy ground. Walking on snowy sidewalks can be difficult, especially if you don’t have strength in your lower leg.
Standing, simply bend your knee bringing your heel to your glute. Use your hand on the same side, grab your ankle to increase the stretch. Can’t reach your foot? No problem, grab a rope or a towel to hook around your foot and pull on that to gain leverage.
Stretching quads can help with range of motion in the hips. Your hips can get tight when your feet and ankles are constricted in boots because instead of moving the body, they are trying to stabilize the body to help you keep your balance. Not to mention most of us sit all day, keeping our hip flexors in a flexed position.
This is a deeper stretch, please make sure you are warmed up, don’t just jump into this one. Kneeling on the floor bring one foot out in front of you. Place your hands on the floor on either side of the foot in front of you and lunge forward. You should feel a stretch in the quad (front of the thigh) on the leg with the knee still on the floor. If not, you can move your foot further away from your planted knee.
The benefits of this are the same as the quad stretch. Chances are if you didn’t really feel a stretch with the Quad Stretch, you will with this one.
This is a nice, end of day, let it all go sort of stretch. It is a simple as folding forward and attempting to touch your toes. Couple this with 3-5 deep breaths to really feel your body release.
I’m talking about the deep squats that little kids do so well. That butt almost on the ground sort of squat. If you can’t get that deep initially, baby step your way into it. You can use a wall to provide back support. Use a ball or a block to help support you. Gently move side to side as you are in the squat to take pressure off the knees and hips. WORK YOUR WAY INTO THIS ONE. Listen to your body, if any part of your body is saying no, then back off. A more gentle version is to lie on the floor, bring your knees into your chest, grab the outside of your feet and pull your knees down to the floor.
This deep squat engages all of the joints of the lower body. In the deepest part of the squat your restricting blood flow and when you stand up your flushing the tissue with fresh blood and oxygen, nourishing tissue, improving flexibility and getting your entire lower body to work together to move, stretch and strengthen.
Finally, limit your time in your most restrictive winter shoes. Bring different shoes to wear at work, if you wear shoes at home, change into a different pair of shoes when you get home. Change up your winter footwear so you’re not wearing the same shoe every day.
Winter shoes are unavoidable but pain is not. Massage and movement can take care of a lot of the pain that most people experience. If you find that you had some unusual aches and pains creep up since the weather has shifted schedule an appointment with one of our therapists to discover how you can manage your pain and do more of what you love.