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Are Your Feet to Blame for Lower Back Pain?

Published May 16, 2017
| Written By BackerNation Editorial Staff   | Medically Reviewed by Allen Conrad, BS,DC,CSCS
Tags:  Feet Orthotics

Could your feet be to blame for your acute back pain?

While you may not give a lot of thought to walking or the process of walking, the truth is how you walk may be contributing to your acute back pain. Over time, walking incorrectly can lead to conditions like sciatica, bulging discs, disc pain and other degenerative spine disorders due to a common condition know as overpronating.


The Problem of Overpronation

Overpronation happens when your foot turns inward causing your leg to also turn inward. Not only does this condition affect your knees but can cause pain in your hip and lower back. One quick way to tell if you are overpronating when you walk is by looking at your shoes from behind. Look for excessive wear on the inner side of your shoes — notice the wear pattern on your heels —to see if they tilt inward when on a flat surface.

If you have knock knees — a condition where your knees touch and your legs turn inward — or flat feet, chances are you probably overpronate.

Dylan Brogan of Spinal and Sports Care, a chiropractic and sports health center in Sydney, Australia, said, “The feet are the foundation for your body and excessive pronation of the feet will frequently lead to altered lower limb and pelvic biomechanics which increases the risk of injury throughout the body especially during walking and running. This can cause problems throughout the entire body as force is transferred up through the legs from the feet all the way up to the neck/head.”

Brogan outlined the following pain signals and symptoms that are common to overpronators:

  • Tension and pain felt in the arch and sole of the feet.
  • Shoes wearing down faster on the outer side of your shoes.
  • Pain that may be felt in the ankle, shins, knees, hips and lower back during standing or physical activities such as running and walking.
  • Increased tension in the lower leg musculature.


Are Orthotics the Answer?

According to the specialists at Foot & Ankle Center of Washington, in Seattle, Washington, “the term ‘orthotic’ can refer to almost any device which is worn inside a shoe. Items called ‘orthotics’ can be found in infomercials, retail stores and even at trade shows. There are three very different types of ‘orthotics’ – custom, customized and off-the-shelf. The educated consumer should be aware of each type.”

They further describe the differences as such:

  • Off-the-Shelf. These cost typically $30-50 and work very well for the majority of people.
  • Custom orthotics. Prescription medical devices made from an exact mold of of your foot based on information from your gait analysis. These types of orthotics can be made weight bearing or non-weight bearing as well.
  • Customized orthotics. Created by a computerized system where the patient is asked to walk across a force plate which then shows pressure distribution on a computer display.


Conclusion

Apart from the wear pattern of your shoes, some potential early warning signs of overpronating can include ankle sprains, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, Achilles tendonitis, hammer toes, soreness in the feet, and hip, knee or lower back pain. If uncorrected, overpronation can turn acute lower back pain into chronic pain that could not only endanger your spine health, but other aspects of your physical health.

If you suspect that your feet may be the cause of your lower back pain, especially if you feel it radiating through your knees and hips, a discussion with a podiatrist, sports medicine physician, or foot and ankle fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon may shed some light for you. For some people, it may be as simple as a change in footwear and for others more corrective measures are needed.

Updated: July 19, 2019

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Contributors and Experts

Dr. Allen Conrad, BS,DC,CSCS is a Doctor of Chiropractic and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).
Jerry Nichols, MD is board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation with Carilion Clinic.
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