Why Foot Pain (Often) Has Nothing To Do With Your Feet

Movement is the axis for everything. When we move in relation to our physical surroundings, our brains receive neural stimuli and our bodies circulate more of our life blood. In other words, moving doesn’t just satisfy your body, it nourishes the heart and mind, too!

When movement is painful, however, it often starts a negative cycle. We naturally seek to avoid the pain and discomfort either by changing the way we move or avoiding it all together. Either way, our bodies soon “forget” the proper form of motion as well as the positive feeling of moving freely without supplementary support and without discomfort.

This negative cycle is problematic wherever you experience it in your body but it’s especially troublesome when it occurs in your lower body because so much of our functional movement depends on our hips, legs and feet. Even if you have a desk job, you still need to walk, sit down, rise from your chair, negotiate steps – and when these common motions are painful, it makes for a challenging day. If you are an athlete or take part in athletic endeavors, not being able to run, jump, pivot or push with power through your legs and feet significantly limits your performance.

That’s why I’m posting a series of articles that will provide a framework for better understanding lower body dysfunctions. This first article covers an area I always get a lot of visits on – feet!

Something is afoot!

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Foot pain is often not the result of problems with your feet. In fact, lower body dysfunction almost always starts in the hips. (Even upper body dysfunction can emanate from the hips – EVERYTHNG is connected 😉 – but that’s for another post.)

We need to start at the foundation and correct the causation before moving on to alleviate the symptoms.

Even though we generally make contact with the ground through our feet, the actual foundation of all lower body movement is our hips. When the hips aren’t working well, other muscles and joints will work to take on more load and more of the job of moving. This is NOT what we want.

We need each muscle group doing its job and allowing for proper joint centration. If my hips are misaligned then my gait and feet are working in a manner that isn’t ideal and eventually there will be a breakdown that manifests as a foot issue.  Think plantar fasciitis, bunions, etc. With any soft tissue foot pain – say plantar fasciitis, for example – we see a possible atrophy of muscle, a falling arch, excessive movement of the ankle, of over pronation or supination (internal or external pressure or movement of foot). When I see any of these symptoms, I look first to see how the hips are functioning. It’s the same when I see adhesions or scar tissue from overuse in the foot trying to compensate for improper gait cause by hip misalignment. See the connection?

To truly solve these foot problems, we need to start at the foundation and correct the causation before moving on to alleviate the symptoms. If you only work the symptoms, any relief will be short-lived because the root cause is still present. If you experience persistent foot pain even after adjusting your gait and trying out all manner of shoes or inserts, I recommend getting an assessment of your hips, by an expert in movement or manual soft tissue therapy. Do this sooner rather than later and you might just save some $$ on those inserts!

It’s Hip to Be Square

Now that we’ve addressed any hip issues, let’s look at the foot. We DO need to make sure we are allowing the foot to move as it needs to. This means strengthening the muscles within the foot so it can move, spread and contract without limitations.

Take a look at the shoes you have on right now (or the ones you most recently had on).  Do they taper from wider at the midfoot to narrower at the toe? Perhaps they’re heels with a very pointed toe.  Or maybe they’re work boots. Wider across the balls of your feet but rounded and narrow at the actual toes and with a hard immobile sole.

Which of these shoes is better for your feet?

Neither one!

Take off your shoe and look at your feet. Spread your toes naturally. Do they come to a point?

No, feet are squared off at the toes. They need to spread and feel the earth under you to send the correct signal to the brain.  When we put our feet in traditional shoes that don’t allow for proper foot movement or for building foot strength outside of the shoe, then bad things happen. Think of how much we move our hands, we need to move our feet like that. Well, not eating with our feet, but you get the idea!

So get out of your shoes when you get home. Allow your feet to flex and extend, to grip and spread. It will make for happy feet!  Then start building strength. This is what healthy feet need to keep them functional and doing what we demand of them every day!

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