Every single human being on this planet is wonderfully and uniquely different—the way we talk, the way we think, the way we interact with one another, the way we love, and what we believe.
This uniqueness extends to the way we walk, too. Some people have flat feet; others have high arches. Some pronate, some supinate. Alignment between hips, knees, and feet can vary wildly between different people when standing, walking, or running.
Anytime we talk about how the muscles, bones, and tissues of your feet, legs, and hips are shaped, how they interact, or how they move with and against one another, we’re talking about biomechanics. Your biomechanics are uniquely yours, but that doesn’t mean everyone is created equal. Poor or faulty biomechanics due to deformities, poor posture, or just bad habits can lead to pain and discomfort or increase your chance of injury. If you’re struggling with foot or leg pain or seem to keep suffering the same injuries and you don’t know why, a biomechanical analysis may hold the answer.
Steps: More Complicated Than They Seem
You may not be accustomed to thinking much about it, but every footstep requires a complex sequence of highly coordinated motions. The “stance phase” of your gait has five significant parts:
- Heel Strike: starts the moment your foot first makes contact with the ground, at the heel.
- Early Flatfoot: starts the moment your whole foot makes contact with the ground and continues until your center of gravity passes over the top of your foot. In this phase, the foot primarily acts as a shock absorber.
- Late Flatfoot: after your weight passes over the middle, your foot shifts roles, preparing to serve as a lever.
- Heel Rise: as the heel lifts off the ground, the now-rigid lever propels you forward.
- Toe Off: the moment your whole foot leaves the ground, beginning the swing phase.
Especially during the heel rise, your feet are subjected to forces significantly greater than your own body weight—2-3 times while walking, 4-5 times while jogging, and as much as 7 times while sprinting.
With as many steps as we take in a day (not to mention a lifetime) and as much force as our feet have to bear, even relatively minor malformations in your skeleton or misalignments in ankles, knees, and hips can build over time and cause major pain and conditions including arthritis.
What We Can Do
Of course, any time a podiatrist addresses a structural issue with your foot, they’re “doing” biomechanics. Repairing an acquired flatfoot, for example, can shift how you walk and move quite dramatically.
But taking biomechanics a step further—that is, with a gait analysis—can reveal new insight, especially for athletes. In a gait analysis, an expert watches and records how your legs and feet move together while you walk or run, and provides simple physical tests and exercises for you to perform. It may, for example, reveal knees that bend too far in or out, or legs that overstride and are too straight at impact, or any number of issues that simply looking at your feet at rest would miss entirely.
Maybe the answer is arch supports to raise a flat foot, or other orthotic devices that accommodate for an unbalanced heel strike. In other cases, physical therapy and targeted exercise could be your best choice—for example, strengthened glutes to keep knees in place. In many cases, eliminating pain and soreness requires no “treatment” other than unlearning bad habits, shortening strides and speeding up cadences. The more information you have about your biomechanics, the better able you are to find a solution that works.
Is foot pain, soreness, or constant, repeated injuries affecting your quality of life? Have you not been able to find any relief? Call Victoria L. Melhuish, DPM to set up an appointment at our office in Carson City. You can also reach us online or dial (775) 783-8037.