6 Ways to Reduce Pain in Your Feet, Legs and Back

Sage advice from a Canadian pedorthist.

Pedorthic Association of Canada Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Are you suffering from sore feet, legs or back? Whether it’s a chronic issue or a new one, pain can put a full stop to your fitness goals. Jeff Grimshaw, Canadian Certified Pedorthist and President of the Pedorthic Association of Canada, shares his expertise in preventing and minimizing lower limb pain.

1. Visit a pedorthist

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As one of the few healthcare professionals trained in the assessment of lower limb anatomy and biomechanics, Canadian Certified Pedorthists are highly skilled in easing foot and lower limb pain and improving mobility. They help a range of problems, including plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, runner’s knee, painful bunions, and shin splints. Pedorthists are also experts in custom-made orthotics and footwear.

A visit to a Canadian Certified Pedorthist starts with a biomechanical and gait assessment. “We examine your posture, the entire body as well as your feet, and then we watch you walk. We record it, slow it down and teach you about normal and abnormal walking patterns. We also check your range of motion to see if tight muscles are contributing to your problem.”

2. Start at the bottom

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Your feet may be the weak link in the chain that’s causing pain higher up in your body. “Your feet are figuratively and literally the furthest thing from your mind, so people don’t think of them. Even at checkups with your doctor, they’re not looking at them. Your feet carry your body, and if they’re not doing the right things, they’ll keep you sidelined from being healthy.”

Many changes happen to our feet over time: arches flatten, feet widen, ligaments weaken, joints stiffen, the fat pads lose their cushioning, and it becomes more uncomfortable to walk barefoot on hard surfaces. The feet aren’t able to absorb impact as well, so more impact translates up the body. Our knees are next in line to take some of that load, followed by our hips and back. The feet also become less stable and can roll in or out. “That alters the framework of the body. You have to rely on other muscles to compensate, which can result in aches, pains and tightness.”

3. Pay attention to your footwear

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“Make sure you’re choosing the right footwear for the activity you’re doing. That’s the biggest thing people do wrong and what lands them into a pedorthist’s office.” Your footwear can be the difference between pain and comfort. A supportive shoe provides a proper base for stability, and proper cushioning places less stress on your joints and improves muscle function.

When shoes wear out, they lose their stability and cushioning, which can increase abnormal foot movements and increase stress and strain. “People often wear shoes that are worn out. Their first sign that something’s wrong is they get an injury or their body starts hurting. Often you should be most suspicious of your shoes when something like that happens.” As a guideline, you should replace frequently used shoes within 8-12 months. Runners should replace their shoes sooner, anywhere from 4-8 months depending on their mileage. It’s not a running shoe per se, it is how that running shoe is used that affects its longevity.

What should you look for in footwear? Focus on the 3 Fs: fit, function and features. Your pedorthic assessment will help you understand what the function of your shoe should be for your gait and foot type, and what features are important for your activities. A basketball shoe, for example, should have a higher top and more heel control to help prevent ankle sprains.

4. Get custom-made support

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You may need support from an orthotic, especially if you have flat feet, high arches or alignment issues. Orthotics can be helpful for those who get tissue stress because of tight muscles, spending hours on their feet or subjected to heavy load.

An orthotic is inserted into the shoe to hold the foot in a neutral position and reduce excessive foot motions. “Most people tend to think of an orthotic as strictly arch support, but it’s not about that. It’s about aligning the foot underneath the rest of the body.”

That’s a key difference between custom-made orthotics made specifically for you by your pedorthist and off-the-shelf insoles. “Inserts sold at the drugstore are mostly arbitrary bumps that force your arch up and put something soft under your foot to feel comfortable. But feeling comfortable, while it’s important, does not mean alignment or function has improved. The goal of an orthotic is to improve foot posture and function while also delivering comfort at the same time.”

5. Try compression socks

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Typically, compression socks have been used for medical issues like varicose veins and circulation problems. Now they’re worn for many sports, especially endurance-based ones. Their purpose is to promote better circulation and reduce swelling that can cause leg pain and joint stiffness.
Compression socks help the calf muscles pump blood back up the legs after it’s circulated into the feet. “When you have more oxygen going to working muscles, you can be more efficient and have less fatigue and potential for cramping within muscles.” Some people use compression socks after exercise to help flush out lactic acid that builds up in the muscles.

Beware of ones that are too tight or ill-fitting — they can cause more problems than they solve. While sporting goods stores sell compression socks, a Canadian Certified Pedorthist who’s trained in compression therapy will ensure you have the proper fit.

6. Avoid training errors

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“Avoid the urge to run out and do an activity you’ve never done before and go full bore at it. You want to avoid rapid progression and doing too much too soon.” Pay attention to technique and overall posture, and always do a warmup and cooldown.

Jeff says stretching is the most underrated exercise. “Things like yoga and Tai chi have little harmful effect on the body with a lot of payoff in terms of your health and wellness — helping with flexibility, balance, co-ordination, functional body strength and promoting circulation.”

Before engaging in any activities, check with your doctor. Be on top of your wellness checkups, and don’t ignore injuries. “It’s best to address them as they arise or even before. If you can be more preventative in the first place, then you’re on the right track.”

A pedorthist can get you back on your feet

If you have pain in your lower body, see a pedorthist to get back to your active lifestyle. Find a pedorthist near you at pedorthic.ca.

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