Those who experience back, hip, and knee pain while walking, running, working, or exercising may find that the source of their discomfort resides much lower in their bodies – perhaps in their feet, said Gopal T. Raghunath, PT MS, DPT, CSCS, owner/clinic director of Buffalo Grove Physical Therapy & Sports Rehabilitation, P.C.

Made up of 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, the feet are complex structures designed for shock absorption and propulsion. Any functional deficiencies within the feet can negatively affect muscles and joints up through the legs and into the back.

“Pain in the spine, hips, and knees can often be caused by an ailment in the foot, resulting in gait abnormalities,” said Dr. Raghunath. “When dealing with such issues, you have to take into consideration the entire kinetic chain, from the feet up through the body. Assessing how your body moves globally, starting with the feet, is often key in identifying the underlying causes of pain and dysfunction in other parts of the body.”

Are your knees, hips, or back sore? Check your feet.

Such assessments may find your feet to be the cause of these dysfunctions, or they may determine your feet are innocent bystanders (so to speak) in a more complex chain of movement-related deficiencies.

For instance, an improper step brought on by issues in strength, balance, flexibility, gait or improper footwear, Dr. Raghunath said, can lead to painful foot conditions such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis and bunions, to name just a few. Such conditions, along with the issues that caused them, can justifiably create back, hip, and knee problems.

“It’s common to take our feet for granted – that is, until they start to hurt,” Dr. Raghunath said. “It’s at this point when the rest of our bodies are most susceptible to injury because, to compensate for the pain and possibly a lack of flexibility or proper movement, more of the impact and stress normally absorbed by the feet is transferred up throughout our kinetic chain.”

Dr. Raghunath suggests stopping such potential chain reactions, before a chronic condition is manifested. As a physical therapist, he is able to analyze a person’s foot type and gait, then suggest footwear specifically designed for the shape of his or her feet. Physical therapists are also trained to identify deficiencies in strength, flexibility, balance and musculoskeletal makeup that may affect the feet.

“By achieving the right balance between flexibility and strength, plus wearing shoes that are appropriate for your foot type, your feet will feel great,” Dr. Raghunath said. “And of course, the rest of your body will benefit, as well.”