Poor foot alignment cause of many muscle aches and pains
28 March 2014
Poor foot alignment is often at least largely responsible for common back and other muscle and joint pain throughout the body – and its impact can be easy and inexpensive to rectify.
Because the feet usually don’t feel sore, they are seldom mentioned to health practitioners of various types and therefore are rarely taken into consideration.
I’ve had numerous clients over the years where a thorough massage and pair of off-the-shelf orthotics from a pharmacy or shoe store has fixed or relieved back and other pain they’ve suffered for years.
In one case, an 80-year-old client had been on multiple strong medications for back pain for years – with their consequent many often-debilitating side effects. But after a comprehensive massage to loosen muscles and realign posture, and buying a $45 pair of generic orthotics from a pharmacy, the chronic pain disappeared.
No one had bothered checking her feet before.
I always check the foot alignment (as well as hip and jaw alignment) of every new remedial massage client.
I am a remedial massage therapist, not a podiatrist. But I also have studied under a highly experienced podiatrist and that helps me to take a big picture perspective of what happens with body posture and alignment from the ground up.
From a massage perspective, just massaging the feet will basically have little or no change effect at all on foot posture, even though having the feet massaged usually feels great for most people.
The therapist needs to particularly consider the calf and shin muscles that move the feet. They are in the top half of the lower leg. Below that to the tips of the toes are mainly just long tendons of those muscles and the small ligaments holding the 26 feet and ankles bones in each foot together.
It’s almost impossible to change your actual foot posture – e.g. high arches or flat feet. But it is possible to change the way the feet strike the ground and therefore minimise or nullify the effect poor foot alignment will have on the rest of your body.
The therapist also needs to take into account a range of other alignment issues and muscles pulled out of balance by the compensatory effects of foot problems.
To begin to understand why the feet are so important, you first need to consider that the whole weight of the body when standing is supported on the feet, and particularly the ankle joints.
Most people don’t realise that when walking, running or jogging, the big Tibia bone in the lower leg and Femur bone in the thigh rotate via the knee joint. Those two bones are meant to rotate in synch/unison.
However, they can only do that if the ankle joints are in their correct neutral position. So if you have ankles or feet arches rolling in or out, or perhaps the main (medial) arch rolling out and the ankle rolling in, the ankle joint simply can’t be in neutral.
The rotation of Tibia and Femur is very subtle and you don’t even realise it is happening. When rotation is out of synch, the hips are pulled out of alignment and a myriad of muscular and postural compensations start happening from there, leading to pain anywhere in the body and even headaches.
In normal gait, the heel is meant to strike the ground first with two degrees of outwards rotation on the outer heel. As the foot comes down, it should roll in six degrees and then as the foot begins to lift off it rolls back out six degrees. The foot lifts off the ground, that leg speeds up as the other foot is on the ground, gets ahead of the other leg and then goes through that strike and roll motion again.
Try exaggerating the foot strike and roll for yourself and see just how much the knee turns.
Some of your knee pain also may originate from poor foot alignment and those bones rotating out of synch.
Most people also don’t realise the foot has four arches. The main (medial) arch is the one everyone knows about and refers to. But there is also a lateral arch down the outside of the foot, a transverse arch across the top of the foot and a metartarsal arch over the ball of the foot.
All four of those arches need to be in their correct alignment for the ankle joint to be in neutral.
When buying shoes, thongs or sandals, something to be wary of is just buying a particular brand or style purely for the initial comfort. Comfort is important, but some popular brands have a cork base, seem to fit your feet like a glove and are exceptionally comfortable. Over time the cork base can mould to your existing foot shape and if that is not correct it could prolong rather than help a range of problems.
Another important aspect involving the feet that is rarely ever considered by any therapist/practitioner is the role of proprioceptors and the muscle responses and compensations they trigger.
Proprioceptors are a neurotransmitter – like a nerve terminal. Every muscle in the body plus the middle ear has them. They act to monitor the body’s balance, position and movement. Your brain needs to know at any given time exactly where every part of your body is.
Say, for example, you had one arm extended right out to one side and the other arm extended out to the other side. Do you think your brain would allow you to walk through a doorway? Of course not. Because of proprioception, it knows your body won’t fit through a doorway with the arms extended.
Because the whole weight of your body is supported on your feet, and particularly the ankle joints, there are many proprioceptors there. So if feet aren’t in their correct alignment, the brain will get signals to compensate by triggering muscular and postural changes to keep you in balance.
Many of those changes will eventually transform into pain – until you correct or at least mitigate the original problem of the feet being out of alignment.
Theoretically, if people had a regular regime of foot, leg and hip exercises and stretches they could overcome many or most of the problems generated by their feet.
In reality, very few people would ever stick to such a regime.
Realistically, once you reach the end of your teen years/early adulthood when your bones have hardened, the shape of your feet at that time is what you’re stuck with. However, you can change what happens when your feet strike the ground.
That’s why many pharmacies and some shoe stores carry a range of generic orthotics and orthotic thongs, sandals or other footwear that suit many situations – especially ankles rolling in and low medial arches.
Podiatrists are the foot specialists and can provide custom made orthotics. But insist on getting rubberised orthotics that support your feet while allowing them to flex and move, as they should. Never accept very hard, rigid, inflexible orthotics – even with some padding on top. In my opinion, they will not only damage your feet more but also cause other repercussions throughout your body.
Each foot has 26 bones, all attached by small ligaments. The two feet represent more than a quarter of all the bones in the body.
We were never meant to wear shoes. We were meant to be able to walk over sand, rocks and uneven ground, etc. The reason for so many bones in such a small space is so all those bones and ligaments can move and flex to accommodate all the different surfaces we might stand on.
Hence the need to avoid rigid orthotics (e.g. made out of resin, fibreglass, hard plastic, etc., even with a bit of padding on top).
Some more specialised shoe stores also have measuring equipment that shows the exact pressure points in your feet and can give you much cheaper semi-generic customised, rubberised orthotics ideally sorted to your feet.
If you’re experiencing any type of muscle pain or headaches, make sure your therapist not only gives you a thorough massage but always checks your feet alignment and treats you accordingly.
For some other information on feet, see the Foot Facts section of Did You Know on the Articles Page.
David Hall ©
TOWNSVILLE REMEDIAL MASSAGE THERAPIST
Mount Louisa-based Townsville Massage and overall musculoskeletal therapist specialising in Remedial Massage for all types of muscle and/or joint aches and pains, headaches and migraines and preparation for and recovery from exercise, sporting and fitness activities, include Defence fitness tests. I guarantee the best value for money remedial massage in Townsville. CALL NOW on (07) 4774 6973 or 0438 774 819 to book an appointment.