Metatarsal fractures -- injuries to the long bones in your foot -- can occur from direct trauma or overuse. Stress fractures in the metatarsals commonly occur from activities such as long-distance running and ballet dancing. Stress fractures typically require a period of rest from the aggravating activity, whereas traumatic fractures may require immobilization while healing. Exercises help maintain range of motion, strength and flexibility while resting with a stress fracture. After a traumatic metatarsal fracture, these exercises also restore movement lost while your foot was immobilized. Follow your doctor's advice about the specific exercise program that is best for you.
Range of Motion
Ankle, foot and toe stiffness can develop after a metatarsal fracture, particularly if you spend time in a cast or boot. Range-of-motion exercises, such as clockwise and counterclockwise ankle circles, address all ankle movements simultaneously. Drawing the alphabet in the air -- leading with your big toe -- incorporates toe, foot and ankle movements into a single exercise. These exercises should be performed in a pain-free range -- pain can indicate that you are moving too far, too soon. Because damage to the surrounding soft tissues occurs with metatarsal fractures, progressing with movements too quickly can further damage blood vessels, muscles, tendons and nerves in your foot. Range-of-motion exercises are often performed several times each day.
Calf muscles can become tight after a metatarsal fracture, especially after a period of immobilization. Stretching exercises can be performed in a standing or sitting position. Standing stretches should not be performed until your doctor allows you to put weight on your foot. In a seated position with the affected leg supported on a firm surface, a towel can be wrapped around the ball of the foot. Holding one end of the towel in each hand, the foot is gently pulled forward until a stretch is felt on the back of the calf. Stretches are typically held for 20 to 30 seconds and repeated several times. Do not stretch to the point of pain -- this can damage your muscles.
Strengthening exercises typically begin 4 to 6 weeks after an injury, or when the fractured bone has gained enough strength to tolerate added resistance. Exercises such as picking up marbles with your toes help strengthen smaller muscles in your foot. Ankle exercises can be performed using elastic bands for resistance. For example, an elastic band may be wrapped around the ball of your foot with your leg supported on a firm surface. Holding one end of the band in each hand, point the foot away from your body against the resistance of the band, as if you are pressing a gas pedal in a car.
Conditioning activities and sports-specific drills may begin as early as 8 to 12 weeks after injury. The timing of resuming these exercises, however, depends on bone healing. These activities may include balance training such as standing on 1 foot and jumping. Running and higher-impact activities may resume during this period as well -- particularly if the injury was diagnosed and treated early. Like all other exercises, conditioning activities should only be started when your doctor indicates that it is safe to do so, and any increase in pain accompanying any exercises should be discussed with your doctor.