You probably know that the health of your feet can affect the rest of your body. Reflexology is so popular these days that many of us could probably point to the spot on the foot that corresponds to the colon. On an even more obvious level, it’s common knowledge that a “dropped arch” can lead to knee pain and many other leg and back problems.
An explanation of simple biomechanics easily explains the effect foot posture has on knee, hip or lower back pain. Yet this is all just the tip of the iceberg in how your foot impacts on your overall wellbeing. Disordered mechanics of the foot can cause common problems such as period pain or headaches. If this seems a long bow to draw, a quick look at the anatomy and function of the foot will show it’s not so far-fetched after all.
Picture a 35-year-old businesswoman who presents with pain in her left foot and knee after spraining her ankle 12 months ago. Like many people, she believed her ankle would regain its former movement after the swelling subsided. She had no other medical history of note and was otherwise healthy. However, when examined she had a “plantar flexed left ankle” (toes pointed), dropped medial arch, rotation of the leg, a twist through her pelvis on the same side and compensatory changes in the spine from bottom to top.
On further questioning of her general health it emerged that since her injury she had developed markedly painful periods and regular headaches. If this sounds like a bizarre case, it’s not. This is actually quite a common situation. Damage to the foot and the structures around it can have far-reaching effects in the body.
The basis of health
The importance of good posture to general health has long been accepted. The mechanics of the foot are in a literal sense the basis of your posture. Podiatrist Andrew Scown describes the effects of altered foot mechanics as wide and varied, from foot, knee and hip pain to headaches, fatigue and even increased appetite. So how could the foot have such significant effects on parts of the body so far removed from it?
“The options really are quite endless as to the effect foot problems can have on the person as a whole,” says Scown. “After correcting the biomechanical function of someone’s foot and ankle complex, I am often told they no longer suffer headaches or their energy levels have increased, with one woman recently reporting a marked reduction in appetite!”
To understand this, it helps to consider for a moment the nature of your body. The structure of the human body is intimately related to its function. Since the body is a unit, every aspect of it affects every other aspect. The body’s mechanical movement therefore, or lack of it, provides a complex interplay with your physiology.
In anatomical terms, the body is made up of a number of elements. There are “fascial lines”, which are continuous connective tissue pathways from the toes to the skull. There is also a system of tubes transmitting fluids from one chamber of your body to the next. The flow of these fluids (blood and lymph) is controlled by pressure differentials.
In addition to this pressure, control is also derived from electrical circuitry (nerves) found in the central nervous system (CNS — brain and spinal cord), peripheral nervous system (spinal nerves) and the autonomic nervous system (ANS — sympathetic and parasympathetic).
The interaction of all these systems determines how efficiently we function as a whole. So let’s start with how the foot feeds into this complex network.