Biomechanics of the Foot: 7 Ways to Eliminate Pain from Head to Toe

In our practice of treating biomechanical issues and conditions of the feet, we often see problems associated with asymmetry. What is asymmetry? Two sides that are unequal – and yes, this happens in the body frequently, regardless of age, activity levels, or any conditions. Pain in the ankles, knees, hips, back, shoulders, or even the neck can be signs of restrictions, misalignments, compensations, weaknesses, and even disability. When the body has weaknesses, restrictions, or disabilities, it works to compensate them. Examples of these can include:

  • Muscles that are too strong or too weak,
  • Tendons that are too tight or too loose,
  • Nerves that are entrapped,
  • Ligaments and fascia that are damaged,
  • Joints that are damaged.

You body is quite intelligent and it recognizes when movement is difficult or painful and thus finds a more economical, less painful, way of moving. This is what compensation is all about. The way to stop these compensations from becoming permanent disabilities is to strengthen muscles and mobilize joints in the affected structures.

Let’s look at the pelvis as an example…

Your pelvis is being pulled forward by your quadriceps muscles, and it is being pulled backwards by your hamstrings muscles. In a perfect world, these muscles are equally-matched and have the same amount of laxity. We don’t live in a perfect world. Many people work office jobs and spend a lot of time sitting. As you sit, you quads are contracted and your hamstrings are relaxed. Over the course of several hours, compounded by days and weeks, your quadriceps muscles become more and more tight, causing more and more pull on the front of your pelvis.

This results in an anterior pelvic tilt, which then causes your spine, and your entire upper body to hang more forward. This changes your centre of gravity, and instead of having the force go directly through your spinal column, it applies force at an angle, causing back pain. In order to compensate for this, your body may activate your low-back muscles to ‘stabilize’ your spine, further contributing to the back pain you’re experiencing. This can go on and on, but it can be understood through Newton’s Third Law of Motion, the most famous: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Every time the body moves out of its unnatural state, it will react accordingly.

How can we correct these issues?

Now that we have a better idea of what the issues are and what’s causing them, let’s begin looking for ways to treat them. Remember, if you have neck pain, back pain, knee pain, or any other kind of ‘mechanical’ pain, it’s worth doing a head-to-toe analysis of your biomechanics. A Canadian Certified Pedorthist is an expert who is trained in assessing not only your biomechanics, but also analyzing your gait (walking/running pattern) and can offer a wide-range of treatments and suggestions. Here are seven things to consider when dealing with biomechanical issues:

  1. Posture
    • Don’t hunch over! A classic old tale that you’ve probably heard from a parent. Posture is an essential component of addressing biomechanical issues. The best way to treat your posture is to think about it – mindfully. Take time throughout the day to “check-in.” It can be useful to set a timer every 25 minutes, and to take a break from what you’re doing and re-centre yourself. Eventually, this will become a natural thing. Some people even keep post-it notes in places they go to regularly as ‘reminders’ to adjust themselves.
  2. Exercise
    • Staying active is a major component of reducing pain. You should start low-and-slow, and gradually build yourself up. If you’re lost on where to begin, most gyms have personal trainers that can help prescribe and build an exercise routine for you, and teach you proper form. Low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, and eliptical are great places for beginners.
  3. Weight Training
    • As with exercise, weight training is an essential component to adjusting imbalances. Weight training not only benefits your muscles, but it also allows your body to build stronger tendons, ligaments, fascia, and bones.
  4. Yoga
    • Asanas (yoga stretches) are very useful for balance and co-ordination as well as stretching and toning. Many of the postures are paired left and right. They can be used to measure and compare which muscles and joints require mobilization and the differential between each joint in a set. Since most mechanical problems start with muscle imbalance one can see the progress of “equalization” with continued use. This is particularly good for older people as they can start with mild postures and achieve a measurable effect as they become more accomplished. The best part is that you are never too old to start. Other than a mat there is little expense unless you require brand name spandex. The benefits also include rhythmic breathing to help your heart and lungs, and taking a gentle approach will ease your mind and help you relax. A little basic instruction by taking a beginner’s class locally and you have an outlet that lasts a lifetime.
  5. Pilates
    • Like yoga, Pilates offers low-impact ways to build your muscle tone and definition, and work on any imbalances you may have.
  6. Stretching
    • Performing dynamic (moving) stretches before exercising such as swinging legs, arm circles, squats, etc. is a great way to prepare your body for movement and lubricate your joints. After exercising, you should engage in static (still) stretching to ‘loosen’ muscles that have been warmed up.
  7. Orthotics
    • Last, but certainly not least, custom made orthotics from a Canadian Certified Pedorthist can do wonders for overcoming imbalances. Orthotics are not simply a ‘crutch’ to rely on, but they are a long-term solution that can gradually adjust your posture from the feet all-the-way to the head, and provide a basis to allow your body to adjust to its normal position.

Figuring out what is causing your pain is always a good first step and anything you can do to help yourself is worth a try, it may cost little or nothing and be more long lasting in improving your life. It’s worth your time to visit your local Pedorthist as they can help you determine not only the cause of your foot pain, but they can also explore most of your available treatment options with you. Custom orthotics could be a long-term fix if your job requires lots of standing and walking on hard surfaces.

More questions than answers? You can get more information on orthotics, footwear and pedorthic services at Thera-Ped Foot and Ankle Clinic by calling (506) 632-9397, or book an appointment today with our Canadian Certified Pedorthists.

Posted in , , , on July 24, 2023