It happens to many of us. We decide to go for a run and then, whammo, our knee starts to ache. We start to wonder whether this is just normal aging, arthritis, or a leftover problem from all the sports we played in high school or college.
While any of those causes are distinct possibilities, a less considered source is your feet.
How Foot Problems Can Affect Your Knees
Your feet have a big job to do. Made up of 26 bones, 30 joints, and over 100 ligaments, your feet are a remarkably complex system that must provide a steady base for your entire body.
It’s hard enough for your feet to provide needed support if you have normal arches and no foot pain. But because many of us have flat feet, overpronate, or supinate (roll our feet in or out), and have foot issues like heel pain, bunion pain, or ball of foot pain, our gait is bound to affect not only our knees but our hips and back as well. And the effect on our feet is compounded if we’re athletes.
Anytime you must adjust the way you walk to accommodate pain or another foot problem, that problem is likely to reverberate throughout your body.
And studies bear this out. A strong association has been found between specific foot conditions and knee pain. One study showed patients with flat feet had significantly greater knee pain than patients with normal arches.
In another study, men with right foot pain were five to seven times more likely to have pain in their right knee or both knees when compared to men with no foot pain.
5 Strategies to Keep Your Feet From Contributing to Knee Pain
1. Custom Orthotics
Improper foot alignment is one of the most significant factors in causing knee pain in runners and other athletes. When you run you place seven times more stress on your feet than when you walk. And running or working out excessively can cause even more strain on your feet.
Custom orthotics can rebalance your feet so that your body as well as your feet stays in alignment. Orthotics can also help with shock absorption so that your body doesn’t have to take on as much stress.
In addition, if you have other types of foot problems such as heel pain, Achilles tendonitis, or ball of foot pain, custom orthotics will also help alleviate your pain over the long term. When your feet aren’t in pain your body won’t need to accommodate itself to the pain throwing off your gait and affecting your knees.
Our office offers two types of orthotics. A traditional orthotic that can be modified significantly in our lab and a 3D-printed orthotic which is ideal for athletes who may need different levels of support from front to back.
2. Improve Your Running and Playing Technique
How you run and play sports can also impact your feet and your knees. So, what are the components of running correctly?
It’s important to have proper body alignment when you run or play sports. Keeping your head high, your shoulders open and tummy tucked and your hips facing forward will help.
Avoid lifting your knees too high when you run to avoid too much impact with your foot strike.
Keep a slight bend in your knee making sure it’s not fully extended, don’t overstride, and try to land on your midfoot when it’s directly underneath your body. If you land too far in front of your body, it will be like putting the brakes on with every foot strike. This will put a lot of unneeded stress on your knees.
3. Proper Treadmill Running
Running on a treadmill is different from running on pavement. To protect your knees read my blog, “9 Ways to Prevent Foot Injuries When Running on A Treadmill”.
4. Purchase the Right Shoes for Your Sport and Foot Type
Buying the right shoes for your sport and your foot type is critical in preventing foot and knee injuries. Every sport has different hazards and shoes are designed to limit those hazards. Eg. Shoes for high-impact sports need to be shock absorbing (like running) while other shoes need to support the foot and ankle through twisting movements (such as basketball and soccer). Be sure to buy running shoes for running, soccer shoes for soccer, and so on.
To learn more about how to buy the right shoes for your foot type and other important considerations visit, “How to Buy the Best Running Shoes”. While this blog is specific to running, there is also great information for people involved in other sports.
5. Weight Loss
The more you weigh the more impact on your feet and knees when you run or play sports. As mentioned above, running puts seven times more stress on your feet and body than walking. If you’re carrying a few extra pounds that needs to be multiplied by seven to come up with the correct amount of stress added. If you’ve already tried many of the other methods of relieving your knee pain and have had limited success, it’s a good idea to see if losing weight could make a difference.