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Are Feet at Fault for Back, Hip, and Knee Woes?

If you are having problems with back pain, shin splints, knees, or hips, look to your feet. Although these ailments might seem totally unrelated to one another, they can sometimes be linked to problems that start with your feet and how they're built, foot experts say.

When you walk, you put the force of as much as 5 times your body weight on each foot. If the foot doesn't absorb that shock or redistribute it properly, you can develop problems elsewhere.

Often this occurs in people who have hyperpronated feet, also called "flat feet," because the arch appears to be flattened and closer to the ground. If you have flat feet, your feet tend to roll inward when you walk or run. That extra motion creates secondary stresses farther up in your legs. Because of the excessive foot motion, the muscles on the inside of your leg must work harder to pull your foot up. When you use these muscles excessively, particularly in running, shin splints can occur.

Flat feet can lead to tendinitis in your Achilles tendon, which runs down the back of your leg, because that tendon has to compensate when you push off with your feet.

Poor foot architecture can cause tracking issues of the kneecap, leading to anterior knee pain. And although flat feet don't cause you to be knock-kneed, people who are knock-kneed sometimes have flat feet; their feet rotate inward to compensate for the misalignment of the knees.

Another foot problem is hypersupination the feet are rolled outward with what seems to be a rather high arch. Hypersupination causes stress to muscles on the outside of the leg.

Either flat feet or hypersupination also can lead to problems in the hips and lower back.

What to do with those feet

How can you tell if your aches and pains are caused by your feet? You'll need a physical examination and a history of activities you've been doing. If you aren't feeling any lower back pain except after you've run 2 miles, there could be a relationship.

If you are having foot problems, first try changing the kind of surface on which you run. Then consider changing your footwear. Make sure your shoes aren't worn out. Find a shoe model built for your type of foot. Some athletic shoes are designed for people with flat feet and have higher arches to provide better support; other manufacturers build shoes that are more cushioned and have lower arches for feet that tend to hypersupinate.

For other foot problems, you might need over-the-counter or custom-made arch supports for your shoes. You may need to talk with your health care provider if you are experiencing problems with your feet.

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