Are your feet doing their job?
Did you know that the cause of your headaches or back pain might be your feet?
Our feet play an important role in absorbing shock as we walk or run, preventing jolts from moving further up our bodies. We have 26 bones, 33 joints and around 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments in each foot. With so many moving, integrated parts, dysfunction in a few of these can lead regions may not be immediately painful, but they can lead to issues in other regions of our bodies.
Foot Pain Causes Problems
Stiffness in the forefoot (around the balls of your feet) or in the joint at the base of the big toe where the plantar fascia attaches (a long flat ligament that support the arch of your foot) can be particularly detrimental to your foot’s shock absorbing ability: we need 90 degrees of big toe extension (that means being able to pull the big toe toward the sky) to allow the plantar fascia to tighten sufficiently: This big toe extension tightens the plantar fascia and turns our foot into a rigid lever for effective push-off when walking or running. If we don’t get this, the foot remains more flexible when it needs to push-off so our foot has to work harder while it is loaded. Some parts of the foot get overloaded and end up with repetitive strain type injuries.
Overtime, some regions of our foot will become stiffer, which is problematic for walking on uneven surfaces or maintaining our balance. A flexible foot is required to adequately adapt to different surfaces and make those small adjustments that maintain our balance.
Stiffness in our foot, means it cannot function as it is cleverly designed to. Therefore, joints and muscles and other tissues become overloaded, leading to conditions such as plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinopathy.
The Role of our Body in Foot Pain
Past lower-limb injury, pain, our movement habits (jobs, hobbies etc) all contribute to how we move. It is really common for an injured foot to have some residual stiffness or dysfunction long after the pain subsides. Over time however, this can influence the rest of our body as we have to shift our weight off the painful or stiff side.
But our feet are amazing and adaptable and respond to load over time (as does all our body tissues). So feet can still be dysfunctional, even with little discernible previous injury. Did you realize that a twist in our spine/trunk will influence the type and amount of load through the feet.
Test Your Feet
Stand in bare feet and feel your feet in contact with the ground (hard surfaces work best). Notice the contact points of your feet into the ground. Do you have more weight through one foot or the other?
- Do the insides and outsides of your feet have the same amount of pressure?
- Do the front and backs of your feet have equal pressure
- Try bending forward – does the pressure/weight-bearing surfaces across the foot change?
- Stand up again and try gently twisting your whole body – does the weight bearing change through your feet (left vs right) – it should.
Now, stay in a slight twist one way and notice how your feet feel against the floor. If you had a slight twist in your body 24/7 – how might this influence your feet if you always walk and stand with your feet in this manner?
So in this way our feet can influence, and be influenced by, our knees, hips, pelvis, spine, neck and head. This means symptoms such as back pain, shoulder pain, hip impingement and headaches can have an underlying cause anywhere in the body.
My feet are flat or my toes are stiff – will orthotics fix my problem?
Some people have naturally flatter or describe their feet as “rolled-inwards”. For some, this leads to greater strain being put on the Achilles tendon at the back of the foot. But flat feet can still function beautifully if they have enough options to move as both a stiff, rigid levers (when they are meant to push off when we walk or run) as well as flexible, adaptable feet (when we walk over rocks or balance on one leg for example).
It’s not to say that orthotics are wrong – they are very helpful for the right person. An individualized approach to assessing feet and determining if the problem with the foot is from the foot itself, or from somewhere else in the body is necessary.
Dealing with Foot Pain
Many people struggle with persistent pain in a particular area, and treatment focused only in this area may lead to pain reoccurring. Looking in more detail at the mechanics of the entire body for other contributing areas is the only way to achieve long-term results.
If you’re feeling stiff or getting aches around your foot or persistent pain somewhere else in your body, try rolling your foot over a tennis ball, golf ball or other rolling object. If one of your feet is noticeably more tender than the other it may be a clue that this foot isn’t moving properly or that it’s taking more of your weight when you stand.
By Chris Brook & Emily Eglitis (Physiotherapists)
Chris Brook is a Physiotherapist at PhysiYoga Strathalbyn. If these tops don’t have an effect on how you feel, or you’re suffering from aches or stiffness in one or more parts of your body then book in for a detailed assessment with Chris or one of our physiotherapists.
At Physiyoga we use ConnectTherapy which is a whole-person approach to assessing each individual client. We take the extra time with our appointments to screen the entire body and look for any past injuries or issues that may contribute to a part of the body moving non-optimally. We’ll look for a way to get you feeling good and get your body moving how it’s meant to.
Abboud, R. J. (2002). (i) Relevant foot biomechanics. Current Orthopaedics, 16(3), 165-179.
Salathe, E. P., & Arangio, G. A. (2002). A biomechanical model of the foot: the role of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Journal of biomechanical engineering, 124(3), 281-287.