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Can Foot Problems Cause Back Pain?

Updated: Jan 15, 2022

Anyone who has had to wear a walking boot or surgical shoe knows how life changing it can be when you’re in pain and can’t walk normally. So, foot health can affect your day to day living…but can it actually be the source of your lower back pain?

If you have rigid feet, the answer is probably yes.

Rigid feet and foot types

Genetics determine your height, your bone structure, and even your foot type. Some people are born with flexible feet that have a lot of movement. These feet move in the arch area, in both an up-and-down as well as side-to-side direction, a combination movement called pronation.

Other people are born with rigid feet that bend at the toes and ankle but hardly at all in the arch area. They pronate very little or sometimes not at all! These feet have traditionally been deemed athletic and are often termed, “quick feet” for their more efficient gait.

To explain foot type and gait efficiency, consider a foot with an arch that flattens and rolls inward as it steps down. This foot then has to roll back outward to realign itself before the heel can lift off the ground and take the next step. This takes time and energy. But it also has a secondary purpose – shock absorption.

How rigid feet cause back pain

Rigid feet don’t waste time pronating. They keep going, one step after another, pounding the ground, heel to toe with every step. They miss out on the shock absorbing benefits of a pronating foot. The impact of ground force translates up the leg, knee, hip, and into the lower back, resulting in pain. Of course, not all back pain is caused by rigid feet and a hard hitting gait style. There are many conditions like spinal stenosis, lumbar herniated disc, spondylolysis, and others. However, many lower back problems like osteoarthritis and lumbar degenerative disc disease become more painful for someone with a rigid foot.

How do you know if you have a rigid foot?

An easy at home test is to compare your arch height while sitting and standing. It’s best to sit on a couch or with your leg resting on an ottoman, your foot relaxed. Look at the curve of your arch. Now stand up and see what happens. Does your arch lose shape? Does it flatten? A little? A lot? People with rigid feet will see little to no difference in the shape and height of their arch when they stand up.

Another at home test is to listen to your walk. Yes, listen to those steps. Do people say that they can hear you coming from down the hallway? Has anyone ever mentioned that it sounds like you’re stomping when you’re really just walking around normally? If so, you probably have a rigid foot. Rigid feet walk hard and tend to pound the ground.

The best way to find out your foot type is to have them evaluated. A gait analysis is helpful for anyone with foot or lower extremity pain as often small variances in your usual walk can cause discomfort and limit activity. Sometimes old injuries, surgeries, and certain medical conditions will cause people to walk differently. If not addressed, imbalance can develop into muscle strain and overuse type injuries. Most of these issues can be safely and easily improved with the use of a custom orthotic.

Can custom orthotics help lower back pain?

A simple and cost effective way to address this pain is a custom molded, custom built orthotic. This is a full length insole that is built to provide cushion in the high impact areas (ball of foot and heel). It should have an arch that comfortable meets the natural arch – not so much that it presses against the foot and resists pronation but just enough that it meets the foot when it is fully on the ground, helping to disperse the ground reactive forces.

Curious if foot problems could be causing your lower back pain? If you are in the South Shore, MA area and would like to schedule a consultation, call us at 781-901-4896.

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