The health of your feet can make a big impact on the health and function of your entire body – quite literally from head to toe.
Abnormalities with the foot structure, such as flat feet (foot pronation), can throw off the normal alignment and function of joints in the lower extremities – hips, knees and ankles – as well as farther up the chain in the entire musculoskeletal system, including the pelvis and spine.
If these foot abnormalities aren’t identified and corrected, eventually you may begin to experience foot pain, knee pain, hip pain, back pain and even shoulder or jaw pain. You also may notice an abnormal gait or pain while exercising. This can easily lead to chronic joint damage in the knees, ankles, feet and even lower back.
Your feet don’t even have to hurt in order to cause problems elsewhere in the body. In other words, having symptom-free feet does not necessarily equal problem-free feet. Mispositioned joints may not be painful, but they can cause biomechanical problems, neurological deficits, inefficient compensatory movement patterns, poor posture and areas of excessive wear and tear throughout the rest of the skeleton.
Most of us rely on our feet to perform the basic activities of our daily lives. Fortunately, the human foot has adapted wonderfully to the demands of walking, jumping, running, climbing and other functions. For example, our feet need to be both flexible and stable to handle the demands of upright weight-bearing. This sort of dynamic foundation for your body is only possible thanks to a closely coordinated combination of nerves, muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones in the foot, which all come together in an elegant three-arched shape called the “plantar vault.”
You can feel the plantar vault by running your hand along the middle portion of the underside of your foot, or the arch.
The plantar vault has several important jobs. It helps you maintain your balance and propel you forward as you walk, jog, jump, skip, dance or however else you move. When functioning properly, the plantar vault also safely absorbs the impact of your heels as they strike the ground during movement. This is important, because it helps weight evenly distribute throughout the body.
The three bony arches that make up the plantar vault in each foot include:
• Medial longitudinal arch (A-C)
• Lateral longitudinal arch (B-C)
• Anterior transverse (metatarsal) arch (A-B)
Together, these three arches form an extremely strong, supportive and yet flexible plantar vault that we rely on for movement.
Over time, one or more of the arches in your feet will weaken due to gravitational pressure. This process is completely natural, but it can be expedited by injuries, repetitive trauma, obesity, leg-length discrepancies, improper posture, footwear (especially high heels or flip-flops) and age-related changes in the structure and integrity of connective tissues like tendons and ligaments.
Once an arch or multiple arches have weakened, the weight of the body will shift away from the weakened arch and start to apply pressure and stress to the other arches as a natural compensatory strategy. Unfortunately, this can cause pain in the foot or elsewhere in the body, and may even start to strain the remaining arches.
You need the best possible support for all three arches in your feet to relieve and prevent pain, optimize your posture and help you stay active.
My studio, PhysioFit, offers complimentary foot scans.
Kim Gladfelter is owner, physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness, 1000 Fremont Ave., Suite 108, Los Altos. For more information, call 887-6046 or visit physiofitpt.com.