The system includes "tractioning" each toe, which involves pulling the toe, twisting it gently clockwise and counterclockwise, then "scissoring" the toes -- pushing one toe up, while pushing the toe next to it down.
Ruth Phillips of Century City says the toe mobilization system worked well for her problem: a crooked second toe. Finklestein, she says, was able to straighten that toe over the course of a month of triweekly toe-stretching treatments.
Finklestein encourages clients contemplating surgery for bunions or hammer toes to consider exercising first. She also endorses weekly wearing of toe stretchers to stave off injury.
"Toe stretching improves jumping, flexibility, mobility, strength and balance, which translates into more efficient movement," she says.
She even goes so far as to say that exercise can alter the form of the foot -- which is not as far-fetched as it sounds, according to Richie.
It's not an everyday occurrence, but he says he's seen people "literally raise the arch with persistent exercise."
The beauty of foot fitness, Lo says, is that the exercises are simple and can be done at home. The tools are even simpler -- primarily tennis balls and rubber domes to roll the feet over.
Sery has found that embarking on a foot fitness regimen has some unexpected perks: It's great fodder for cocktail party conversation or an ice breaker when talking to clients.
"I tell them about my foot class, and I have them all in stitches," she says. "When I tell people I've got Japanese toe stretchers, they tend to picture me hanging upside down."
And there are other, less tangible benefits, says Erin Holloway, who also attends Lo's class.
"Feet are truly a metaphor for how you move through life," says Holloway, a licensed acupuncturist and health education specialist. "If your feet are hurting, you're not going to want to walk on them -- and move forward with your goals, with your life."
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Want to put your feet through a workout? The following exercises are relatively simple and can be done at home. They're only a few of the many exercises recommended by foot experts, however. To expand your repertoire and ensure you're doing the exercises properly, you may wish to attend a foot fitness class or consult with a foot specialist.
* The towel curl. This is one of the safest exercises, says Seal Beach podiatrist Dr. Douglas Richie. While sitting with feet flat on the floor, try to grip a small towel by curling the toes over the towel. Even if you are not able to actually grip the towel, the attempt is still good exercise. To exercise the individual toes, try this with marbles or tissues. This exercise strengthens toes and arches.
* The calf raise. In a standing position, raise and lower the heels off the floor while rolling up onto the balls of the feet. Do this while bending the toes into the floor as if standing on tiptoe. A more ambitious variation of the drill is to do it one foot at a time. This exercise strengthens the arch, toes and Achilles tendon. Do not do this if you have a strained arch, as you could strain the arch further.
* The tennis ball roll. While seated or standing, roll the foot gently over a small ball, such as a tennis ball. This is good for maintaining the arch.
* The toe massage. While sitting with one foot on the opposite knee, massage the ball of the foot, in between each metatarsal. Repeat with the other foot.
-- Janet Cromley