Low Back Pain? Your Feet Could Be the Culprit
The feet are incredibly important and yet, strangely overlooked. “We stand upright in the presence of gravity carrying our own weight on two feet—an achievement we take for granted, yet one unique to our species,” says Pete Egoscue, author of "The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion." Like Pete, I often work with people looking to find relief from low back and other chronic pain. When I ask to see them walk as a part of their intake assessment, many don’t understand why. Yet, how you stand and walk can play a key role in your pain. Indeed, the stabbing, throbbing, aching in your low back could be a symptom, not the cause, of your discomfort.
What Your Feet Can Tell You
When I look at a person’s feet, I am looking to see if he/she walks “straight” or “waddles.” If your feet automatically go into a “V” shape when you’re standing or walking—instead of facing straight out in front of you—the whole structure of your body is at least somewhat off balance, or “out of alignment.” This primes you for injury.
Think of it like this: if you are driving around in a car with low pressure in one of the tires, you’ll become aware pretty quickly that the car has lost some of its structural integrity. The tire with low pressure wears unevenly, creating “symptoms” such as being more susceptible to a blowout. If you don’t fix the affected tire,, the tread on the other three tires will begin to wear disproportionately, because one tire isn’t doing its job well. Fuel economy suffers. The tire with low pressure puts a drag on the car’s functionality as well as its safety.
Now imagine that your feet are your body’s equivalent of the tires. If there’s an imbalance in your feet, shoe wear will likely be uneven. As a result, you may develop weakness and dysfunction in your ankles, knees and hips, making them vulnerable to injury, as the body (like those three other tires on the car) tries to compensate for the imbalance. For example, your hips (connected to the low back by various muscles and tendons), in particular, may begin to “lock” into position in an attempt to make you more stable. This can cause pain in both your hips and your low back. This compensatory action may then travel up the body, affecting the neck and head, as the body struggles to stay upright against gravity. That struggle takes a toll—eventually, we start to lose the energy and vitality we experience when we are more properly aligned and balanced structurally…from the feet up.
How Do You Know if You Have an Imbalance in your Feet?
You could choose to see a health professional for a gait analysis (assessment of how you move). A gait analysis usually is performed by a podiatrist, physiotherapist, or neuromuscular therapist. This type of assessment is becoming more common as many specialist running and sports shops are acquiring the equipment and staff trained in doing gait analyses.
If time is a challenge, just asking a friend to watch you walk could provide some valuable information. Simply do the following:
1. Stand approximately 30 feet from your friend.
2. Walk towards your friend. Ask him/her to notice the position of your feet as you’re walking: are your toes pointing in (pronation or “pigeon-toed”), pointing out (eversion) or straight forward (square)?
3. Next, walk away from your friend. Ask him/her to again look at the position of your feet as you’re walking away. Hint: You’re more likely to walk authentically this time, since you won’t feel as though you’re being watched.
4. Ask your friend what he/she saw. If you walk with toes pointed in, it may be a sign of underlying orthopedic issues. It is important to find out why your feet are turning inward to prevent further imbalances. Consider seeing an orthopedic specialist. If you walk with your feet pointing out, away from the mid-line of the body, start paying attention to how you are walking for a few days. Consciously make an effort to “square” your feet with your knees and walk with toes pointing straight ahead. This is the way to keep your body aligned, reducing the chances of injury to the low back and other parts of the body.
Changing how you walk may feel strange at first, but over time it will feel more normal. Everyone is different, and everyone makes changes at their own pace. How long it takes to improve low back or hip pain depends on the nature of the imbalance and how conscientious you are about modifying your gait.
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