Recently, my middle daughter Katarina, age 7, has been waking up during the middle of the night complaining of leg pain. At first we thought the discomfort was due to growing pains, but after visiting with her pediatrician, we learned that the problem was coming from her overly pronated or flat feet! As a Medical Exercise Specialist, I understood the diagnosis; however, as a protective and concerned mother, I wanted to know if this pain was common and what we could do to fix it!
A certain amount of pronation (or flattening of the foot) is desired to absorb the shock when walking or running. Your weight is being transferred from your heel to your forefoot, naturally rotating your foot inward and flatting the arch. In Katarina’s case, there was too much internal rotation of her feet and flatting of her arches when she walked or ran, causing increased stress to the muscles, tendons and ligaments of her legs. This can ultimately lead to injuries or chronic conditions such as plantar fasciitis and shin splints. We all know that our bodies are not made perfectly, and that our modern environment can really amplify those imperfections, but can we do anything to correct this painful movement pattern?
Before we get to the fixes, I’m sure you are probably wondering if you have pronated feet. Here’s one way to find out: pick a warm day outside and soak your feet in water. With your wet feet, talk a walk on a dry pavement. Take a look at your footprint. A normal foot will leave a print of the heel, connected to the forefoot by a strip about half the width of the foot on the outside of the sole. If your feet are pronated, you might not be able to tell the difference between the rear and the forefoot. If you don’t want to go through this exercise, your physician can likely determine if you have pronated feet.
Once it has been determined that you have overly pronated feet, what can you do to correct it? There are many leg and ankle/ foot exercises that can help you re-align the foot and ankle, and improve your gait. I’m going to focus on heel raises since this is a simple movement that can be done anywhere, anytime. Strengthening the muscles of the calf is important because the calf provides stability to the lower leg and strength to the arch of the foot. Start by standing with your feet shoulder width apart and toes pointed directly forward. You might want to hold onto a wall or counter for balance. Lift yourself up on your toes as high as your heels will go without causing pain or making your ankles roll. Hold this position for about 5 seconds, then slowly return to the starting position. (You can also do this seated if standing is too intense.) Repeat this sequence 7 more times. You can practice this movement up to 3 times a day.
If you would like to learn more about how to keep your feet functional and healthy, and/ or would like an exercise plan to alleviate foot discomfort, we would be happy to help. Just email us at [email protected], and we can schedule a consultation to connect you with the right exercises and/ or professionals to get you back on your feet.