Feet problems and Parkinson's

Physiotherapist Bhanu Ramaswamy explains how Parkinson's can affect your feet and suggests exercises that can help keep them healthy. 

Did you know that in your feet there are:

  • 26 bones in your ankle and foot (that’s nearly a quarter of the total number of bones in your body!) 
  • 33 joints 
  • more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments 

These individual parts work together to keep your whole body balanced upright when you're stood up. 

As you get older, your feet will naturally change because of the shoes you wear, how active you are and what work you do. Sometimes medical conditions can also affect your feet.   

Each of these things will affect your feet in different ways. Sometimes the shape of your feet can change over time, or affect how you move, including your balance. 

How can Parkinson’s affect your feet?

If you experience stiffness, you may gradually develop a stooped posture. This can affect your feet in two ways:

  1. Your body will compensate for your weight being at the front of your feet, and cause your toes to ‘claw’ as they grip the ground or your footwear. Over time, your toes get stuck in this position, which can affect your balance. 
  2. The second change is in the length of the muscles around your ankle to cope with the shift in your weight. The changes in position mean that some muscles get stretched, while others shorten. Both of these changes alter how well you walk and mean you don’t put your heel down first as much as you used to.

    The heel striking the ground is the body’s signal to the brain to generate the power to push forward. If you’re not doing this it means that your steps will be shorter, you’ll have less power to propel yourself and it will be harder to balance when standing on 1 leg to step the other forward. 

Balance problems

You can also experience balance problems if your brain isn’t getting the right messages from your body about moving and which areas are bearing weight. 

This means the brain can’t work out how to move the body safely. Without signals from the rest of the body, the brain begins to judge things visually. For example, looking at the ground while walking, rather than looking straight ahead.

Muscle strengthening and balance exercises can help with this issue. But it’s important to get professional help to understand which areas of your body you need to work on.

If the condition of your feet affects how your body moves, ask your GP if you can be referred to a physiotherapist who specialises in neurology.

Feet exercises to do at home

These exercises can helplook after your feet.

Exercise 1

  • Stand upright beside a chair or table, with your feet a few inches apart.
  • Gently move your weight forwards. Make sure your toes don't curl and your heels remain on the floor.
  • Stay in this position for 5 seconds before moving back to upright. Again, keep your feet glued to the floor – don’t lift your toes. 
  • Repeat this exercise a few times, forcing your feet to relax as your body moves over them. 

Exercise 2 (good for swollen feet)

  • Sit on a chair and bring 1 foot up to rest on the other knee.
  • Gently massage the soles of your feet in a long, steady stroke from the base of the heel to the end of each toe.
  • Do this 5 times on each foot to stretch and loosen the skin, muscles and joints.
  • If you have become stiff at the knees and hips, you may find getting into this position difficult. It’s worth practising, but if it’s not possible, see if you can find a willing friend or family member to massage your feet for you!

Read more about footcare and Parkinson’s