Why You Should Be Rolling Out Your Feet — and How to Do It

If there's one part of your body that deserves a little extra TLC, it's your often-neglected feet. Whether you're logging your daily steps or doing box jumps, your feet take more of a beating than you may realize — and deserve some dedicated recovery time.

Using a foam roller or a tennis ball to massage your feet after a workout can ease pain and improve mobility.
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Just a few minutes of extra focus on your feet can help ease tension, boost your workout performance and alleviate aches and pains. (Not to mention make you an all-around better-moving human being.)

"Our feet are the only thing connecting us to the ground," says Kelsey Decker, CPT, education coordinator for StretchLab, a boutique flexibility and mobility studio. "If working properly, they provide us with movement, stability and balance."

While you probably take the time to strengthen, stretch and rehab other, larger parts of your body (think: your tight shoulders and achy hamstrings), chances are you're overlooking your feet.

"Our feet might be the most forgotten piece of our kinetic chain in regards to prep work, exercise and recovery," says Chelsea Long, MS, CSCS, exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. "Most of us — coaches and physiologists, included — don't think to foam roll, strengthen or stretch our feet until we experience acute soreness or pain."

Home to some of the most weight-bearing bones, muscles and cartilage in your body, your feet "displace and absorb force so your muscles can properly load your joints and transition those forces into power," Long says. Tightness, sensitivity or pain in your feet can affect pretty much everything about how you move.

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The Benefits of Rolling Your Feet

"Just as with anywhere else on the body, there are many benefits to rolling out your feet," Long says.

In foam rolling (technically known as self-myofascial release, or SMR), you essentially give yourself a deep-tissue massage with a little help from a simple tool (a foam roller) and your own body weight to address tightness in muscles and connective tissue called fascia.

Foam rolling has become a staple in many warm-ups and cooldowns — and a must-have on active recovery days — but there are specific benefits to working on your feet.

1. Improved Fitness Performance

One major reason to roll out your feet before your next workout: "When your feet are primed for movement, the rest of your body will follow," Decker says. That means you'll be better able to run, jump, change direction and more.

Rolling also increases blood flow to the area, Long says, which can help your muscle fibers contract at a faster pace, allowing you to produce more power in whatever moves you do.

2. Pain Relief

Tight muscles and fascia in the feet can be sources of ongoing pain and soreness — especially for anyone who spends long days on their feet or wearing heels.

Rolling out your feet can not only help relieve discomfort there but also ease tension in your calves, hamstrings, glutes and lower back, since issues in the feet can exacerbate pain in those areas, Decker says.

3. Plantar Fasciitis Relief and Prevention

Plantar fasciitis — a condition in which the thick band of fascia that runs along the bottom of your foot from your heel to your toes becomes inflamed — can cause a lot of pain, particularly in the arch or heel, Decker says.

Along with other recovery techniques like stretching, rolling out your feet (especially your arches), can help ease the pain and discomfort associated with plantar fasciitis — and help ward off future issues, she explains.

4. All-Around Better Movement

"Since our whole body is connected, focusing on the feet promotes physiological balance that supports our awareness of the position and movement of our body," Decker says.

Basically, rolling out your feet can ultimately help you move with more ease and coordination in everything you do in life.

The Best Tools for Rolling Out Your Feet

  1. Traditional Foam Roller: It's easy to keep your foot stable on the large surface area of a cylindrical piece of foam, Decker says. Plus, a traditional foam roller provides gentle, all-around pressure. We like the SPRI High-Density Foam Roller ($21.62, Amazon).
  2. Tennis Ball: If you can handle more targeted pressure and a less-stable surface beneath your foot, opt for a tennis ball, Long says. You'll be able to hone in on the heel, arch or ball of your foot more precisely. Try the Wilson's U.S. Open three-pack ($4.99, Amazon) or up the ante to a lacrosse ball for even more intense pressure.
  3. Water Bottle: A sturdy S'well or Hydro Flask can be a great tool for targeting your feet, Decker says. Since these bottles are hard, increase pressure gradually and carefully. Long recommends filling a plastic bottle with water, freezing it, then gently rolling your feet to soothe swelling and inflammation if you’re dealing with more significant pain or plantar fasciitis.

How To Roll Out Your Feet

Once you have your tool, it's time to get rolling. Start with gentle pressure and work up to more intense rolling. If you're feeling particularly sensitive, start with a frozen plastic water bottle to partially numb your feet, Long says. Then try rolling these three areas.

Heel

  1. Place your ball, roller or water bottle beneath your heel, keeping your toes on the ground to use as a pivot point. (If using a roller or water bottler, position it as if it's an extension out of the back of your foot.)
  2. Keeping the ball of your foot planted, roll back and forth from right to left across your heel.
  3. Pause at any tender spots for 10 seconds and take a few deep, relaxing breaths.
  4. Continue for up to 45 seconds.

Arch

  1. Place your ball, roller or water bottle below your arch, just in front of your heel.
  2. Push into that spot for 10 seconds and take a few deep, relaxing breaths.
  3. Repeat in the middle of your arch and at the front of your arch, just behind the ball of your foot.
  4. Then, roll up and down the entire length of your arch for 30 to 60 seconds.

Ball of Your Foot

  1. Place your ball, roller or water bottle beneath the ball of your foot.
  2. Push your foot into your tool and try to grip your toes around it. Hold for five seconds and repeat five times.
  3. Then, from the gripping position, try to stretch each of your toes up and away from your tool one at a time for 5 seconds each.
  4. Finally, roll up and down (or side to side) on the ball of your foot for 30 to 60 seconds, pausing for 10 seconds on any tender areas.

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