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Are Your Feet the Cause of Your Back Pain?

Back pain can result from a number of factors: poor posture, injury, excess weight, poor sleeping position or a spinal condition, to name a few. But have you ever stopped to consider that the cause of your back pain may be a problem with your feet?

You’ve heard the song. “The foot bone’s connected to the heel bone. Heel bone connected to the ankle bone. Ankle bone connected to the shin bone. Shin bone connected to the knee bone. Knee bone connected to the thigh bone. Thigh bone connected to the hip bone. Hip bone connected to the backbone,” and so on. But it’s true: From the tip of your toes to the top of your head, every bone in your body is connected. And your feet form the foundation of your entire musculoskeletal system.

In fact, each foot contains 26 bones. Together, both feet contain one-quarter of all the bones in your body. If one of those bones is injured, misaligned or otherwise compromised, it can have a ripple effect throughout the rest of your body — one you’re likely to feel in your back.

With every step you take, you put the force of as much as five times your body weight on each foot. The feet should act as shock absorbers for that pressure, but if that pressure isn’t distributed properly due to flat feet, improper footwear or another problem like inward pronation or outward supination, it can lead to pain in your back.

Excessive inward pronation causes the leg to turn inward, which then affects the knees, hips, lower back and your overall posture. If only one foot pronates (turns inward) while the other remains in a neutral position, the stress this misalignment places on your lower back can be even more severe. On the other hand, supination (a condition in which the feet roll outward) strains the outside of the leg and can also lead to problems in the hips and lower back.

You may be able to reduce the pain in your back, knees or hips caused to dysfunction in your feet by wearing proper footwear or orthotic insoles. When selecting new footwear, here are a few tips to remember.

  • Look for shoes that provide enough cushion to reduce the impact on your body that results from your foot striking the ground as you walk and run.
  • Avoid wearing high heels that are taller than two inches. Such heels can increase your risk of back pain and may impair your posture, leading to further injury.
  • Don’t spend too much time wearing flat shoes, such as flip-flops, thongs or sandals that do not provide sufficient arch support.
  • Get fitted for the right athletic shoe. If your shoe is too tight, oversized or not made to fit the pronation/supination of your foot and your walking gait, you may end up experiencing back pain.
  • Replace your shoes often. The soles and support insoles of your shoes wear down over time. When your shoes break down with age and use, they are no longer able to provide the necessary support for your feet and the rest of your body.
  • Consider being fitted for orthotic insoles to provide solid arch support and prevent pronation or supination.

In addition to not providing proper support for your feet, some medical issues that affect the foot may lead to back pain. These conditions include plantar fasciitis, bunions, Morton’s neuroma and metatarsalgia. If you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions, seeking treatment may help improve your lower back pain.

Finally, if you are experiencing pain in your feet, don’t hesitate to see your doctor before a problem that originates in your foot causes you more pain in your knees, hips and back.

About Vivek Kushwaha

Vivek P. Kushwaha attended the University of Texas at Austin where he earned his B.A. from the College of Natural Sciences. He then earned his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio, Texas.

Make an appointment with Dr. Kushwaha for diagnosis and treatment. Make An Appointment