How To Play With Your Toes… and Why You Should

A stiff gait and poor balance make us feel less confident in our movement as we age. Falling also becomes a greater concern and bigger threat. However, this loss of agility is not a necessary part of aging. But how can we keep our gait agile and confident?  It’s simple:  play with your toes!


A wonderful Japanese acupuncture teacher, Kiiko Matsumoto, tells her patients to play the childhood game Rock/Scissors/Paper  – but not with their hands, the way many of us did in school. Make these shapes with your feet and you will keep – or regain – more limber and stronger muscles in your feet. Healthy feet keep allow you to roll through your feet as you walk and keep your posture upright and confident. Massage and acupuncture help your feet in this way, too, but daily stretching and strengthening of the toes is a fun and easy way for you to take control of improving more stability and ease when you walk.


Rock – curl your toes under and much as you can, as though squeezing your feet into a fist, as you would to form the rock in the Rock/Paper/Scissors game.


Paper – spread toes out as far apart form each other as possible. This can be surprisingly difficult if you never walk barefoot. You should be able to see each toe move to stretch out away from its neighboring toes. With practice, and especially after an acupuncture treatment or foot massage, you should see this increased mobility in the toes.  Practice over time will improve this movement that mimics making a broad sheet of paper.


Scissors – Pull your big toe toward your head and push the other four toes in the opposite direction and hold this stretch for several seconds while breathing deeply and completely.  Then push the big toe down and pull the other four toes up toward you – holding and breathing. Even if this is initially difficult, regular practice will allow you to see improvement over time.


Other stretches –

1) Facing a wall, place the heel of one foot on the floor and press the ball of that foot on to the wall. This should create a strong stretch sensation along the sole of the foot. Hold this stretch for several sections before switching to the other foot.


2) Standing flat on one foot, press the ball of the opposite foot into the floor. Now, keeping the ball of that foot glued to the floor, rotate the ankle as full as possible in a circular fashion if possible. Initially, the ankle may move in a jerky fashion. With practice, the circular rotation of the ankle will become smooth and fluid while the ball of the foot remains in contact with the floor.


The six meridians, or energy channels, that begin or end on the feet, are important not only for the function of your feet, but are important also for fluid movement of the knees, hips, shoulders and neck. By stretching and strengthening the muscles of the feet you can improve the mobility of all of these joints. So, start playing with your toes! You will soon be walking with more flow.