Things you should know about foot problems

Foot pain - you are not alone!

If you suffer from painful feet you are far from being alone. Many people suffer from painful feet, but most wait until the foot pain, whether arch, heel or metatarsal pain, becomes unbearable before confronting the problem.

There are multiple ailments that could be at the root of these problems, and it is essential to diagnose the foot problems correctly. Then the right individual solution be found; be it orthopaedic footwear or a simple orthotic device. We can advise you on the best course of action for your individual needs to relieve foot pain.

Why do foot problems start?

The foot possesses an amazing support mechanism. However, the low arch, pronating foot is simply unable to support itself as this system fails. As force reaches its peak on the ball of the foot the heel lifts, the arch collapses and all supporting muscles and ligaments become susceptible to injury. Our feet support our whole body weight so when things go wrong this can cause problems elsewhere in the body. At the same time, changes in body posture can lead to problems in the feet.

Orthotic insoles can correct pronation problems

Insoles correct foot posture and restore the heel to its natural position and relieve foot pain. At the same time the arch is supported and the foot is in a more stable position. Once the foot is corrected in this way the legs are no longer twisted and the knee, hip and lower back are returned to a normal position. Muscles and joints work more efficiently and painful symptoms are resolved.


Common Foot Problems Causing Painful Feet

Foot Pronation

As we walk the heel hits the ground and the foot pronates, which causes it to roll inwards and the arch to lower. At the same time the leg bones twist inwards leaving the arch unstable. The foot must recover from this position to provide a firm platform to support the body as the heel leaves the ground.

Patients with lower arch feet who pronate too much are left with an unstable midfoot, no secure platform and less ability to absorb shock. If the foot stays in this position the arch will continue to fall and the heel appears to lean over.

Arch pain due to foot pronation

The arch of the foot is supported by a tough ligament-like band called the plantar fascia. It follows the contours of the sole of the foot and helps to lift and support the arch as we walk. It is a very strong structure and helps to return energy into our step. When the arch of the foot is forced to lower too much it can become damaged and small tears appear. This causes inflammation (plantar fasciitis), which creates pain. The pain occurs more frequently in the morning and after rest. Plantar fasciitis is found to affect more women than men.

Heel pain due to foot pronation

Heel pain is a very common complaint. Heel pain may be due to walking on hard surfaces, irritation of the nerve supplying the skin under the heel, inflammation of the fat pad and arthritis of the joints around the rear foot. The plantar fascia is anchored to the underside of the heel bone and continued stretching caused by excessive pronation can cause inflammation and pain. This may give rist to a heel spur. A similar problem can arise within the Achilles tendon at the back of the ankle. Because there are several potential causes, it is important to have heel pain properly diagnosed.

1st toe joint pain due to foot pronation

Excessive pronation causes more pressure to fall on the inner border of the foot as the foot rolls inwards. This high pressure prevents the big toe joint from bending correctly as we walk. The joint becomes locked causing inflammation (arthritis) or it may buckle (hallux valgus) and cause a swelling at the side of the joint known as a bunion.

Ball of foot pain due to foot pronation

If the foot is pronated excessively, pressure is not distributed if the foot is pronated evenly across the ball of the foot. Uneven pressure and stresses may produce a local reaction in the skin causing callus or corns, in the bones and joints causing arthritis and hammer toes or between the joints causing trapping of the nerve (Morton's neuroma). For this problem orthotics reduce the pressure over the painful area and relive foot pain.

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Ankle pain due to foot pronation

Most ankle sprains affect the outer side of the ankle, which has just three small ligaments supporting it. The method of injury is a turning of the foot inward at the ankle (an inversion sprain).

There are two types of ankle sprains, and if left untreated they can cause a lifetime of pain and disability.

  • In the first foot type, these ligaments are weak or thin, they cannot provide proper support, and any twist or turn of the ankle will tear or injure these ligaments, causing a painful sprain. Each subsequent sprain will weaken these ligaments further.

  • In the second foot type susceptible to ankle sprains is the pronated foot (the foot rolls inwards and your walk on the inner side of the foot). This foot type causes a shortening and weakening of the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle. Thus, any twist of the ankle will injure and stretch these shortened ligaments until they tear, causing pain and serious sprains. If ankle sprains continue to occur, the ankle ligaments may be completely destroyed. Orthotics can be used to support the falling arches (in in of the feet) therefore stabilizing tendons and ligament thus relieving pain.
  • Leg pain due to foot pronation

    As the foot rolls over and the heel bone tilts, the leg bones will also twist inwards. The muscles in the leg will work to control this movement and will become strained if the foot rolls too much. This causes the muscles to become fatigued and patients often describe a feeling of "tired and aching legs". In severe cases the muscles will pull on the leg bones causing a reaction that is more painful called shin splints.


    Hip pain due to foot pronation

    The twisting action of the legs and the rolling in of the foot during pronation is controlled by muscles acting on the hip. Muscles emerging from the backside exert a pull on the outer side of the thigh and resist excessive twisting. Continues pronation of the foot creates too much internal rotation of the thigh and muscles become weakened. As a result the hip and pelvis drop into a poor position. The extra pull on the supporting muscles can cause painful symptoms by irritating the large (sciatic) nerve passing into the back of the thigh. This can result in pain that radiates down the leg.


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    Knee pain due to foot pronation

    As the leg bones twist inwards during pronation the position of the bones at the knee joint change. The kneecap bone (patella) will not glide smoothly when this happens and may become inflamed and painful. At the same time the muscles around the knee will become weaker and fatigued. The knee joint becomes less stable and pain may develop at the sides or front of the joint.

    Back pain due to foot pronation

    The inward rotation of the leg that occurs as the foot pronates causes the pelvis to lean forwards (anterior tilt) and drop. This increases the curvature of the lower spine and the muscles become tight and sore. If the foot pronation occurs more in one foot than the other, this will cause the pelvis to become uneven. The leg will become shorter on the more pronated side and the lower spine may tilt in the opposite direction to prevent leaning. As a result, muscles and joints become painful and walking becomes less efficient.

    Corns, bunions, fallen arches or heel pain?

    If you suffer from obvious foot problems such as corns, bunions, fallen arches or heel pain there is an 80% chance that you have or will develop a postural problem which can result in hip, back and knee pain and eventually lead to 'wear and tear' arthritis. Our feet are more fundamental to our health than most people realize and treating them with care and respect will only benefit you in the long run.


    Common foot problems causing painful feet and joints

    Listed below are some of the most common foot problems with descriptions of the types of foot and joint pain, symptoms and possible options for treatment.

    Achilles Tendonitis

    Irritation and inflammation of the tendon that attaches to the back of the heel bone. This can be caused by improper warm up or over training.

    Treatment for achilles tendonitis

    This can be treated with ice, rest or anti-inflammatory medications. Chronic pain or any swelling should be professionally examined.

    Heel Spurs

    Growths of bone on the underside of the heel bone. Heel spurs occur when the plantar tendon pulls at its attachment to the heel bone. This area of the heel can calcify to form a spur, which can lead to heel pain.

    Treatment for heel spurs

    With proper warm-ups and the use of trainers, strain to the ligament can be reduced leading to reduction of the heel spur and reduction in heel pain.

    Bunions

    Misaligned big toe joints which can become swollen, causing the first joint of the big toe to slant outward, and the second joint to angle towards the other toes. Bunions tend to be hereditary; they can be aggravate by shoes that are too narrow in the forefoot area.

    Treatment for bunions

    Surgery by a podiatric physician is often used to correct the problem.

    Hammertoe

    A condition that usually stems from muscle/tendon imbalance, in which the toe is bent in a claw like position. It occurs most often with the second toe, when a bunion slants the big toe toward and under it, although the other three toes can be affected.

    Treatment for hammertoe

    Selecting shoes and socks that do not cramp the toes will alleviate the problem. A custom orthotic device placed in the shoe may help control the muscle/tendon imbalance.

    Neuromas

    Enlarged benign growths of nerves, common between the third and fourth toes. These are caused by tissue rubbing against the nerves. Pressure from ill fitting shoes or abnormal bones can also create this condition as well.

    Treatment for neuromas

    Treatments can include orthotics, although sometimes removal of the growth is necessary.

    Sesamoiditis

    Sometimes know as "the ball bearing of the foot" the sesamoids are two small bones. They can inflame or rupture under the stress of exercise.

    Treatment for sesamoiditis

    Sesamoiditis can be relieved with proper shoe selection and orthotics. A metatarsal pad can be placed away from the joint to redistribute the pressure of weight bearing to other parts of the forefoot.

    Plantar Fasciitis (heel pain)

    Plantar fasciitis (more commonly called Heel pain) is commonly traced to an inflammation of the base of the foot. People with vary flat feet or very high arches are also more prone to plantar fasciitis. If you don't treat plantar fasciitis, it may become a chronic condition. Because plantar fasciitis changes the way you walk, you may develop symptoms of foot, knee, hip and back problems.

    Treatment for plantar fasciitis

    A podiatric physician can evaluate arch pain, and may prescribe customised orthoses to help alleviate the pain. Research has shown that arch supports are the best treatment for heel pain.