I have a 23-year-old son who is 190cm tall and has large feet (size 13), with hammertoes on both feet. He goes to the gym and occasionally cycles for exercise. He has trouble running, as his toes are permanently arched upwards and the bones are fused in this position, which causes the calluses on the toe joints. Are there any yoga exercises he could do to reverse this condition or at least stop it from getting any worse? Any tips would be greatly appreciated! Linda Westrupp, Oakdale, NSW
Linda, I am going to address this reply to your son. If your toes are actually “fused”, then only surgery will fully correct them. However, the practice of yoga will help arrest the development of hammertoes by conditioning the rest of the foot and, should you need corrective surgery, help prevent its recurrence.
Obviously you grew very rapidly during your adolescence. This will have contributed not only to the condition of your feet but I imagine tightness in other areas of the body. I see this often in the taller AFL footballers I treat. For you, as with these athletes, yoga offers great possibilities, not only in encouraging healthy feet but in the development of greater strength and agility overall.
Each foot contains 26 bones, more than 30 joints and some 100 muscles and ligaments. They must deal with enormous forces and yet be highly manoeuvrable. The basic yoga standing poses will develop both strength and flexibility in your feet and legs. When practising these poses, be mindful of pressing the weight evenly through all four “corners” of the feet (big toe and little toe mounds, inner and outer heel).
I suggest you raise the ball of the foot on the edge of a thick book, yoga block or, if in an Iyengar Yoga class, a /4 round block. This will help release the toes and stretch the plantar fascia, which runs the length of your sole and is likely overly contracted, painful and prone to cramp.
It is also important that you lengthen the tops of your feet and, to the extent possible, your toes. I suggest you regularly sit in Vajrasana (kneeling, buttocks on heels) and Virasana (Hero Pose). Given the presence of calluses, you will initially need to raise your shins on blankets and lower them over time.
It takes discipline but persevere. Any regular yoga practitioner will tell you the benefits of practice are immense and physically, nothing changed more radically than their feet!
Tim Oddie is a certified Iyengar yoga teacher with 20 years experience. He is director of Geelong City Yoga and has a special interest in yoga within elite sports. For details on his workshops and retreats, visit www.geelongyoga.com.