Why Feet Hurt

Sore

We are born barefoot and are genetically built to stand, walk and run with our feet interacting with the ground.  Our feet are built to be both shock absorbers and rigid levers for us to push off with.  They have allowed human beings to navigate over uneven ground, hard, flat planes and soft, spongy meadows for thousands of years.  It is only relatively recently that we started flattening out our world with concrete and supporting and cushioning our feet with fancy shoes and orthotics.  The feedback our bodies get from our feet is a crucial part of posture, balance and movement development, but we tend to cut that off almost immediately by putting our children in stiff, cushy running shoes as soon as they can walk.  As people grow up, the role of work, fashion, and sport dictate their footwear choices and it usually comes at the cost of body awareness, foot strength and balance.  As a result, it is almost the norm for people’s feet to slowly deform over time and develop bunions, hammer toes, fallen arches and plantar fasciitis.  Ultimately footwear choices become less and less about fashion and more and more about cushioning and supportive comfort as we age.  This path is a major source of balance and pain issues throughout life.

The mechanics of our feet are closely tied to those of our hips.  Tightness or weakness in one will directly affect the other, which ultimately affects the whole body.  There are 3 main arches to the foot.  The main one being the medial longitudinal arch, this is the part that will pronate (flatten) or supinate (arch up/over).  There is also a smaller lateral arch along the outside of the foot, but the most overlooked arch is called the transverse and is suppose to dome up the front part of the foot.  This arch collapses in most people due primarily to wearing shoes all the time, only walking on flat ground and our tendency to try to walk overly erect.  The muscles on the bottom of the feet get extremely weak, the muscles in the calf get way over worked and as a result the mechanical support and leverage the foot can provide is lost.  Pain, bunions, hammer toes and plantar fasciitis follow closely behind.

The foot is made up of a lot of little bones that require muscle tension along the length of the foot to hold them all together.  When this muscle tension weakens the bones won’t lock up together effectively and the arches will collapse.  The result is typically poor shock absorption for the body and poor load transfer of the work that is done by the rest of the leg.  In other words, the hip and leg muscles work to extend your leg backward to propel you forward, but a lot of that energy is lost in the foot if it doesn’t have the strength to lock up into a rigid lever to push off.  This is an example of inefficiency of movement and when it happens with every step you take, the result is usually a tightening of the hip muscles and eventually pain in the foot, knee or low back.

When the mechanics of your feet are compromised your glutes are not able to do their job properly.  When your glutes aren’t working well, your deep rotator muscles underneath them and you groin muscles get completely over worked trying to stabilize your hip.  These muscles play a key role in the alignment of your pelvis and the orientation of how your hips sit in their sockets.  The deep muscles in the hip tend to rotate the leg outward, while the groin muscles tend to rotate the leg inward.  How your leg functions depends on which muscles are winning the tug-of-war.  Typically if the hip muscles are winning, the leg rotates outward, your foot overly supinates and you put most of your weight on the outside of your foot; if your groin muscles are winning, the leg rotates inward, your foot overly pronates and you load too much weight on the inside of your foot.  If your leg becomes bowed or knock kneed it can get more complicated, but as you can see there is a close relationship between your feet and your hips.  There is a trickle-up and a trickle-down effect; both are equally important.

Unfortunately the accepted practice of dealing with foot issues is to try and solve everything by giving people stiffer and more supportive shoes and orthotics; this practice usually helps people that pronate and hinders people that supinate.  The pronaters are happy with their motion control shoes and orthotics, but become very reliant on them and run into trouble when sandal season comes around.  The supinaters want to believe their orthotics are helping them because they paid $500 for them, but they usually either make no difference or make the person worse.  Cushioning and support are good for your feet when you are in pain.  When you are not in pain, giving your feet a chance to do some work and experience the ground is the best thing for them and the rest of your body.

It is not realistic to expect everyone to stop wearing shoes, but there are a growing number of flatter, more flexible shoes on the market that protect your feet while allowing them to work.  Women will always wear high heels, but if they don’t want killer calves, ugly feet and a painful back, they should consider switching it up occasionally to flats and take their shoes off as much as possible.  It is easy to opt for the shoe that is the warmest and cushiest, but I warn you that what feels good in the short term may be very harmful to you in the long run.  The best compromise is to buy a variety of shoes and use the flat ones as training tools to strengthen your feet and become aware of your posture.  The videos on Why Things Hurt.com will further teach you how your feet and the rest of your body are more connected than you realize.

If you found this interesting, you may like the following:
Shoes: Good support or coffins for your feet

 

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21 Comments ↓
  • Jennifer

    So I just need to go for the most flat and flexible shoes I can find or do you have any other guidelines? Are flip flops ok? I love my rainbows.

  • Brent

    It somewhat depends on the structure of your feet, but in general if you want to get your feet stronger and prevent future problems you should find a shoe that has a fairly flat profile and keeps you close to the ground like the New Balance Minimus or the Merrell Glove shoes. The weaker and floppier your feet are the more you may have to ease yourself into the minimalist shoes. You definitely need to walk well in them before you attempt running. It is partly the shoes and partly how you walk in them…..addressing the posture of your mid back with affect the impact on your feet….check out the "everything your mother taught you about posture is WRONG" article or click on the Read Me First link on the right side of the blog for some more direction.

    Flip flops are OK if they stay snug to your feet and don’t slide around too much….but again it depends somewhat on your foot type, body type and foot strength.

    I will write another article soon with better guidelines for people to follow.

    Next month the members section of this website will be switching to $5/mo instead of $65/yr….their are over 50 videos explaining the concepts and demonstrating exercises to address foot and body issues.

    Hope this helps!

  • Have you ever considered creating an e-book or guest authoring on other blogs?
    I have a blog based upon on the same information
    you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information.
    I know my subscribers would enjoy your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an email.

  • hank

    Hi Brent,
    My name is Hank and I am a 24 year old chef. I spend tons of time on my feet and two years ago I started having problems that seem as though they will never ease up.
    Spending my days with my feet, which are constantly crammed into shoes, I feel like it will never get better. I tried Birkis, Croc’s, and Danskos work shoes in that order, the pain started with the Birkis after wearing cheaper industrial kitchen shoes the earlier part of my career. None of them seemed to help. I have very high arches which has led to hammer toes, and an extremely collapsed transverse arch. My toes are buched up and sometimes barely touch the ground.Especially my pinky toes. I deal with numbness at times, which has gotten better with my latest orthotics.
    I have been to 3 podiatrists and have had two sets of insoles made. I got completely screwed on the first set and the second set seems to help much better (at times). My foot problem seems to control my life these days and I sometimes feel like it is never going to get any better. Especially when unqualified doctors tell me that there is not much I can do. Both feet are effected though one seems to be much worse than the other.
    I just taped my feet for the first time today the way that you show in your video. AMAZING! This is the best I have felt walking around the house in a while. After hearing a little bit about my personal situation what exercises and physical therapy procedures would you recommend for me other than the taping? Not just involving my feet but after all the bad pressure and foot problems what would you recommend for the rest of my body (hips, knees, back, exc.). I’M TO YOUNG FOR THIS SHIT!! HELP!!!!!!

    • Brent

      Hey Hank

      I would try the Merrel glove line of shoes for standing in the kitchen all day. If you haven’t already read my article on IMS (intramuscular stimulation) and have some of that done in your calves and hips….if you are in the States you may have trouble finding someone that does IMS, if so try searching Kinetacore’s website to find someone that can do dry needling. Read my article on Why Hips Hurt and How to Stand. Foot pain is a whole body thing so you need to understand how your feet are connected to your overall posture especially your mid back. If you look in the video section of the site watch in this order:
      Everything your mother taught you about posture is WRONG
      4 point neutral spine
      How to stand
      Weight bearing tripod
      Lift ankle + flex foot
      Toe foot and calf stretches
      Ankle skewer forward lean
      One leg stand forward lean
      (there are others but that will get you going)
      Try taping your feet once or twice a week and start working on your posture. It takes quite a while to strengthen feet up, but the right pair of shoes goes a long way….look into the Merrel’s.

      good luck!

  • Michelle

    I have been having a lot of pain in the balls of my feet for about 6 months now. It started with one foot, but now it’s both. I went to the podiatrist at first and he said that some of the bones in my left foot are too close together and are pinching a nerve. He gave me a shot in my foot and some metatarsal pads. The shot helped for awhile, but the metatarsal pads just irritated it more. I kept moving the pads around trying to find a comfortable position, but no luck. Now both feet feel like I’m walking on bones as if there were no padding in the balls of my feet at all. They even keep feeling like they are burning after I stop walking too. I’ve tried working on my gait by focusing on a heal to toe motion rather than a flat foot motion. I think it might be helping my feet but now my left knee and hip hurt a lot. What can I do to be able to walk without pain? It even hurts to drive my car and ride my bike since my foot hits the pedal with the ball of my foot. Sigh.

    • Jjc

      I have exactly the same problem. PLEASE REPLY !!!

      • Brent

        your doctor probably thinks you have mortons neuroma. typically for the balls of your feet to get that sore the toe extensor muscles and tendons (the ones on the top of your foot that run up to the outside of your lower shin) are way overworked, too tight and are really winning the tug-of war with the the toe flexor muscles on the bottom on the foot. The result is that the metatarsal heads (the bones under the ball of your feet) get exposed and have too much impact with the ground. Your transverse arch in the front of your foot drops and you can pinch some of the nerves in your forefoot.
        I would first off try to find some one to do IMS or dry needling of your toes extensors and the muscles between your toes called the lumbricals to help better balance the muscle tug of war in your foot-ankle. You should read my plantar faciitis post on this site and try the toe spreader tape job shown there….it usually helps alleviate forefoot pain. Make sure you wear flat shoes with a wide toe box and a bit of cushioning like the new balance minimus zero shoe. The video in the members section called lift ankle flex foot can help too.
        Keep in mind I have not assessed you so take this advice for what it is and use common sense.

    • Brent

      see the comment below yours for a response….sorry for the delay!

  • flat feet

    I am a 53 yr. old female with fallen arches?( I have an arch but when I stand up my feet flatten out). A physical therapist has made me some insoles to help with the foot pain, it has helped some. I had plantar faciitis about 8 yrs. ago. My job involves standing and walking on my feet 7 1/2 hrs. a day, 5 days a week. My feet and legs hurt! but the one thing I have complained about forever is that when I walk my feet push forward in my shoes, and my big toes on both my feet hit against my shoe. People tell me its because my shoes are too small, I don’t think so, I wore a size 11 when I graduated from high school and now I have a size 13, and 12,1/2, pair of shoes and they push forward in both. My foot is narrow so I buy a AA but they usually slip at the heel part but feel snug around the toe area. The right foot hurts worse than the left and also the inside of my right big toe rubs against the inside of my shoe and I end up with an ingrown toenail. A new pain that has developed is that the tops of my feet hurt mostly the outer side and around the ankle, again mostly the right one, but I think it might be from a really bad sprain, I fell on it 7 yrs. ago. My next step is to try the Altra shoe and see if that helps. Any suggestions as to what is going on with my feet and how to get out of pain would be greatly appreciated.

  • Roberta Salvo

    I have had bilateral foot pain for over five years. Prior to this I wore many custom made orthotics to no avail. I have flat feet, my arches fall in, causing pain in the arches, I also have ball of the foot pain, I have a bunion on the left foot, along with hammertoes and basically my feet ache and throb. Once I got out of orthotics, all hell broke loose, my feet hurt in the orthotics, now my feet hurt all the time. I recently saw a chiropractor, which he says I have soft tissue pain in my feet and my calves, peroneals and the tib hurt so badly, it seems my feet are taking all the blunt. He is doing Active Release to get the tension out. I need to get out of this, what would you suggest. Don’t know if this is the correct thing to do. He telling me it going to take 10 to 12 sessions and really not giving me any other advice. Please let me know what you think I should do.

    • Brent

      A.R.T. will likely help to a point. I used to do a lot of it until I learned to do IMS dry needling. Read my article titled What is IMS and see if you can find someone in you area to try that or "dry needling" your calves. Consider having the chiro treat your low back if he isn’t already. Try changing shoes. Try the tape job I show in my plantar Fasciitis post and or some of the foot strengthening ideas in the how to strengthen your feet post? I can’t give you anything more direct without seeing you to know what is going on, but that is my best generic advice. good luck

  • I have never read so much clarity about the foot pain as this website offers. Thank you for sharing.

  • Paul

    I have had bilateral foot pain for over seven years. My foot has totally collapsed, my metatarsal heads head the ground especially the big toe joints are taking a pounding. I have flat flexible feet, my left foot hurts the most, I do have a bunion on that foot causing alot of instability in the foot. My left hip, knee and lower back are also hurt due to the pain.

    My question is it too late to rehabilitate my feet. My nerves are really sensitized in my feet and legs.

    Wearing shoes has become a problem, as nothing feels comfortable. I wore orthotics and motion control for over six years and once I got out of them my feet went to pots. My ligaments and tendons were so weak, as an orthopedic wanted to fuse the bones in my feet, but she also mentioned that I had hypermobility in the joints of the forefoot. I don’t believe this would solve anything but just create more problems up the chain.

    So if I start with my feet and rehabilitating them and work up the chain, will this probably get better. Please help if you can with any suggestions. I am going to subscribe to your site, as you are amazing. Too bad I am not able to find someone like you where I live. I really need some advice. Thank you.

    • Brent

      It’s never too later to try! I would encourage you to not think of your foot pain as only a foot issue….when it is happening bilaterally and the nerves are very sensitized you should really start by tracking back to what each side has in common….the spine. There may be something in back and/or abdomen that is affecting your feet. I would try to seek out someone with an osteopathic background in visceral/neural manipulation and see what they think…..try here iahp.com to search for someone in your area.

      Don’t assume that trying to strengthen your feet will help, but experiment with different shoes and consider trying to tape up your feet temporarily to see if it feels better or worse. I wouldn’t get the fusion surgery. I have seen more people get worse than better. Can’t really give you any specific advice but I hope that helps.

      Don’t bother signing up for this site….I am about to redo it all and have already put all the videos on YouTube…just type in my name and look for the channel…..in a few months they will all be embedded on this site and in September my book will come out!

      Best of luck

      • Paul Salvo

        Brent, Thank you so much for all the information you provided.

        I was just about to sign up. You site is amazing and I wish I could come to Vancouver to see you. I have been to PT’s and have no knowledge like you do.

        Thank you so much, I will go to U-tube and view your videos.

        Look forward to your book. Where will I be able to purchase it, I live in US?

        Paul

        • Brent

          it should be available on Amazon in September. If you go to the most current Blog page there is a sign up for the mailing list about the book

      • Paul Salvo

        Sorry to add another comment. I did an osteopathic doctor last summer telling me it is chronic metatarsglia and plantar fascitiis and sent me to PT. Went for four months without any help. Told him of the knee and hip pain, but said we will deal with that later. You have no idea how difficult it is to find a good professional that will deal with the whole body. I will try to find another osteopathic with visceral/neural manipulation techniques.

        I also read the post from Michelle which is basically what I am dealing with (metatarsalgia), that dry needling or IMS may help in the toe extensors and lumberical muscles. I bones in my ball of feet hurt and they literally throb as the metatarsal heads are on the ground.

        Also is it necessary to tape both feet, as the left foot is more painful. When you say tape the feet temporarily, can I wear the taping for an extended period of time (everyday).

        When will this site be available again? I do want to buy your book.

        Thank you again

        Paul

        • Brent

          if you are going to tape your feet I would do both otherwise you might throw your pelvis out of whack as you walk. The tape can stay on for 2-3 days as long as your skin is tolerating it. If you wear it all the time your skin will get irritated which isn’t worth it so try some days on and some off. You can still sign up for this site, just know that the members section will be disappearing in a month or two and the design is going to change

          • Paul Salvo

            If I sign up to Why Things Hurt for $5.00 a month and then you remove it will I still get charged or do just stop the payments. Once you launch the new site, will I still be able to access the site with my name and password.

          • Brent

            I’ll just disconnect the Paypal part of it should you should stop being charged. The new site will be entirely free and won’t require you to sign in

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