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One thing frequently leads to another, and this is certainly true in the case of poor foot function. If your feet aren’t working properly the effects may be experienced further up the body – in knees, hips, back and even give cause headaches.

Many people know the old song which includes the gem:  ‘the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone’ etc and anatomically it’s absolutely correct, but you might not realize the consequences of all that inter-connectivity.  It means that if you have problems with your feet – which may not cause any pain – these may be reflected in pain elsewhere in the body. 

So the knee pain you get when you run or walk upstairs; your one-sided hip pain; your back pain and even your tension headaches may all be due to your feet not functioning as they should.

There’s more to walking than you might think

Because most of us do it with such ease, walking seems very simple and not something we normally thing about. But it’s actually a complex and carefully orchestrated succession of events, enabling us to move forward by passing our bodyweight over our feet. This is well summed up in the description of walking as ‘controlled falling over’ (think about this next time you walk!).

At any one time in the gait (walking) cycle, we have one foot in contact with the ground and the other foot is in the air – at the end of what is called the ‘swinging leg’.  This leg has swung forward from behind, to in front, of us and in this position it touches down to ground – with the heel striking the ground first (‘heel contact’).  There then begins the process where bodyweight is transferred to this leg from the other, which then loses contact with the ground and becomes the swinging leg.

At the same time as the transfer of bodyweight from one leg to the other, the foot which has contacted the ground needs to flatten out to accept the bodyweight and then lift up again as we propel ourselves forward for the next step.  The foot undergoes two major manoeuvres – called pronation and supination

If you read running magazines you will often hear of pronation used almost as a ‘dirty’ word, but you now know that it is a natural part of the normal gait cycle.

What is pronation and supination?

Pronation is essentially where the foot rolls inwards and lowers the arch, as it absorbs the shock from heel contact and accepts the transfer of bodyweight. It lasts for a fraction of a second, before supination starts.  This is where the heel rises and the foot rolls outwards, so that the front outer part of the sole is the last part to leave the ground as the next step is taken.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Neale’s Disorders of the Foot. 8th Edition. Published by Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh, UK
  • Valmassy RL. Clinical Biomechanics of the Lower Extremities. Published by Mosby, Missouri USA
  • Perry J. Gait Analysis. Normal and Pathological Function. Published by Slack, New Jersey, USA
  • Photo courtesy of Ralph von der Heyden by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/rvdh/3557615878/
  • Photo courtesy of Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/oneras/4464716994/
  • www.medicinenet.com/tension_headache/article.htm

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