Have you ever been out on a run and experienced back pain that kept you from performing your best? You are not alone. Back pain is highly prevalent worldwide, but in my experience, often the back is not the primary problem. Instead, it falls victim to some other mechanical fault, possibly the feet. When it comes to such a complex system like the human body, we must take a step back and figure out what is the actual perpetrator. So what do your feet have to do with it? Can your feet be the cause of your back pain? Is running the best exercise for your foot structure? What can you do to combat this problem? Let us take a look at several options.
Why are my feet causing my Low back pain?
Research has shown that static foot posture (foot posture while not moving), does not correlate with low back pain. However, the dynamic function of the foot does, meaning the static joint position of your feet is not the cause of your low back pain. Instead, if you are having low back pain due to your feet, it is likely a muscle or motor control problem. More likely than not, you are having problems absorbing the shock of your feet hitting the ground due to different variances each of us have with the structure and mechanics of our feet. If fact, as much as it pains me to say this, some people probably should not run as much, but would make for one fantastic cyclist. Keep reading as I explain further.
Too Much Pronation
During a normal gait cycle, the foot pronates in the early stage of the stance phase. As soon as your weight hits the middle portion of your foot, the foot flattens, and the entire foot touches the ground. You may have heard from your friends or health care providers that pronation or flat feet while running is terrible. That is not entirely correct. This thought can be either a common misconception or just an inadequate explanation. Foot pronation is excellent for the body. Pronation allows the muscles at the bottom of your foot to absorb shock when striking the pavement.
The pronation of your feet causes a chain reaction to the joints above. Your femur internally rotates and the pelvis tilts forward due to the tight fibrous connection. Without this mechanism, your joints would be extremely irritated, and your back might be the least of your worries.
With that being said, not all pronation is healthy. Some runners and weekend warriors overpronate. This mechanism makes the foot hit the ground and flatten too hard against the pavement due to the loss of your foot’s ability to absorb shock. Overpronation increases the magnitude of the femur and pelvic motion, which can contribute to not only low back pain, but also joint pain of the ankles, knees, and hips. Surprisingly, the relationship between overpronation of the foot and low back pain seems to be more evident in women than men. The correlation is most likely due to the different anatomical structures of a male hips compared to a female hips.
Too much supination
Like pronation, the foot needs proper supination. The supination mechanism is the unsung hero of our gait. Without supination, we would be unable to create the propulsion necessary to drive us forward in our run. This meaning you will have to utilize more strides to get from point A to point B. However, there can be too much supination.
Take off your shoes and look at the bottom of them. Do you see more wear and tear on the pinky toe portion of your shoe? This excessive wear might mean that you are over supinating during your run. Unfortunately, when we are over supinating, our foot is unable to absorb shock through pronation. By not allowing this shock to be absorbed in the feet, a cascade of shock is distributed to the joints above, leading to more wear and tear. Imagine driving a car without any suspension to absorb the shock of the road. Not only would that be an uncomfortable ride, It won’t be long before you have to start replacing parts due to the constant shock.
It’s not all bad news if you over supinate. A couple of different reasons can cause this mechanism. One could be that you are experiencing pain in the foot that your body is either consciously or subconsciously trying to avoid. This pain could be due to several different injuries. Another reason might just be due to your anatomy. Unfortunately, with the latter, it is hard to overcome genetics. You can call your parents and tell them that it is their fault you might never be an elite runner. While you are at it, you can also thank them for giving you a great advantage if you want to buy a bike and start cycling. Your parents provided you with a very rigid lever that is optimal for pushing pedals.
On the other hand, if running is your passion, then pack up your bags and head to the beach. You will be hard-pressed to find a better natural shock absorber than a beautiful sandy beach. Plus, who doesn’t want to feel like Rocky Balboa training for his next fight while enjoying the lovely ocean air? If moving is not an option for you, you are still in luck. Head out to a dirt trail and start running there. Sand and dirt trails will benefit you in the long run compared to hard pavement.
Will Strengthening My Feet Help My Low Back Pain?
Now let us get back to how we can help ourselves if we are overpronating. Current research demonstrates that exercises targeting your plantar short foot muscles (muscles at the bottom of your foot) significantly reduce the tendency to overpronate and helps absorb shock. Strengthening of these muscles has also shown improvement in hip mobility and the ability to control load transferring in the feet.
When it comes to strengthening the feet, it is essential to know traditional strength training does not necessarily change faulty movement patterns. You should focus on incorporating exercises that target proprioception and strength. Proprioception and strength can be challenged through a single-leg stance and various balancing activities. I recommend anyone experiencing foot pain and low back pain to practice the following free exercises.
Veles: Recommended Sets – 3 sets of 10
Kettlebell Circles: Recommended Sets – 3 sets of 5 rotations each direction.
Kettlebell Offset Balance: Recommended Sets – 3 sets of 10 second holds
Will Massaging My Feet Help With Low Back Pain?
The superficial back line is a line of fascia that begins at the bottom of the foot and travels up the entire back side of the body. When it comes to the superficial back line, there seems to be a strong relationship between the foot and the proximal posterior parts of the body, such as the low back. Self-myofascial release (SMR) techniques with a tennis ball or lacrosse ball as a warm-up for foot exercises often prove beneficial for those experiencing foot pain and back pain. SMR technique on the feet could provide relaxation of the superficial back line to better prepare an individual for training.
Not all back pain and foot pain are related. It is not out of the realm of possibilities to have two separate injuries. This post is to inform people a relationship between foot pain and back pain is a possibility to consider. It is common for individuals that are experiencing back pain to have a current or recent foot/ankle injury, which caused normal biomechanics to be altered. I always recommend everyone try the most cost-effective way of resolving their pain first. If you feel like your back or foot pain is an ongoing issue, please contact your local chiropractor or primary care physician.