“My back hurts.” Most of us have uttered this phrase in frustration at some point in our lives. We tend to think that back pain is just that, back pain. The same goes for foot pain. We tend to think foot pain is just the result of shoes that don’t fit well or an injury directly to your feet. But there can be a link between foot pain and back pain.
Centrally located on your body, the spine impacts every part, including your feet. Keeping your back healthy could mean relief for your foot pain.
To understand the link between the back and your feet and solve your pain, we need to understand how your spine and feet are connected.
Your Spine’s Anatomy
Dancing, walking, picking up a bag of chips from the bottom shelf at the grocery store. All of these activities are made possible by your back. Your spine has four main roles in your body:
- Protection for the spinal cord and nerve roots that send signals to your brain and throughout your body.
- Range of motion and movement by offering forward, backward, and side-to-side bending in addition to enabling a plethora of other movements.
- Structural support by the spine makes it possible for us to sit, stand, walk, and hold our head up.
- Attachment base for soft tissues provides an “anchor” for body structures such as ligaments, tendons and muscles.
The Bones and Soft Tissues of Your Spine
The spinal column, sometimes called the backbone or vertebral column, is made of a series of 24 individual bones called vertebrae. The vertebrae are grouped into 5 regions:
The vertebrae are separated by intervertebral discs, which act as shock absorbers to cushion the vertebrae and distribute the body weight evenly. The core is composed of a gel-like substance that allows the intervertebral disc to withstand forces of compression and torsion.
Ligaments hold the vertebrae to each other and tendons fasten muscles to the vertebrae. The spinal column even has joints, called facet joints. They link the vertebrae together and give the spine its flexibility and movement.
The Nerve Structures of Your Spine
The center of each vertebrae is an open space that holds and protects the spinal cord (nerves) of your central nervous system. The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves that act as a messenger that sends signals from the brain to the body and vice versa. These nerves, that start at the base of the brain, pass through the spinal column and branch off through spaces between the vertebrae to the body. These nerves enable feeling and motor function.
The Anatomy of Your Feet
Your feet have 28 bones, 33 joints and 112 muscles, ligaments, tendons, and other soft tissues. All of these structures work together to provide these main functions:
- Weight-bearing function to support your body weight
- Providing balance during movement and standing still.
- Shock absorption during walking, running, and other propulsion activities.
- Flexibility to handle uneven terrain and changes to your center of mass.
Together these functions make it possible for you to play sports, navigate stairs, sit and stand, and so much more.
Your feet are generally divided into 3 main regions, the hindfoot, the midfoot, and the forefoot.
The hindfoot is the part of the foot that’s behind the ball of the foot and includes the heel. The hindfoot begins at the ankle joint and stops at the transverse tarsal joint. This is the first part of your foot to hit the ground when walking forward.
The midfoot is the area of the foot that connects the tarsal bones to the metatarsal bones. Think of this region as the middle of your foot.
The forefoot is the part of the foot behind the toes.This is the last part of your foot to leave the ground when walking forward.
The Link Between Your Back and Your Feet
Picture a chain with each link connecting to the one before it and the one after it. These seemingly individual links come together to form a single chain. The human body is like a chain in that the bones, soft tissues, nerves, and other elements, come together to form an overarching structure; your body. Like a chain, when one structure (or link) is out of place or not functioning properly, it can lead to symptoms that tell us something is wrong.
The back and feet are vital components of your body. When one or both of these experience pain or discomfort, it’s not unusual for it to affect the other. This is largely due to nerves that exit the lumbar region of the spine branch into the lower extremities and into the feet. This connection is why many patients report they are experiencing foot pain when the issue is actually in their low back.
Low Back Conditions and Foot Pain
The largest nerve in your body, the sciatic nerve, runs from the lower back, down to the back of both legs. When pressure, damage or irritation occurs to the sciatic nerve, it can result in mild to severe pain that radiates throughout the lower body. Your back and feet work together to support you day to day. So when one isn’t functioning properly, it affects the other.
Common low back conditions that cause pain and other symptoms in the foot include:
- Bulging Lumbar Disc
- Herniated Lumbar Disc
- Lumbar Disc Degeneration
- Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
- Pinched Nerve
- Facet Joint Issues
Foot Pain Caused by the Spine Problems
Spine experts and podiatry experts have tools and techniques to assess if foot pain is caused by a spine condition.
Difficulty walking can be a result of spine issues. Your back, spine and spinal cord work together to help you walk. Indications include limping, walking abnormally, experiencing discomfort in your feet, or notice yourself changing the way you walk to ease pain.
Foot drop is another red flag that can alert you that your foot pain is related to the spine. Oftentimes people have a hard time lifting the front part of the foot and as a result end up dragging their foot as they walk.
Those suffering from foot drop may compensate by raising their thigh when walking or climbing stairs (which is referred to as steppage gait) and this helps them not drag their foot. However, doing this can cause you to slap or throw your foot on the floor each time you take a step.
Heel walk can also be related to spine issues.. Heel walk is a result of you walking on your heel when you’re unable to bring the foot upward. Heel pain can result from repeatedly placing the bulk of your weight on your heel and usually intensifies over time. Generally people who have heel pain either limp or walk with an abnormal gait to attempt to balance out their weight.
Back Pain Caused by the Foot Problems
Aches and pains in the lower back are often thought to be due to injuries caused by heavy lifting or age-related wear and tear. However, if you’re experiencing pain in your lower back, it’s possible that your feet could be the culprit.
Everything from the way you walk to the shoe you wear can impact your foot health and thus your spine health. When the function of the foot is impeded, such as being positioned improperly, it can cause the hip and lower back to become misaligned as well as leading to pain in these areas. Foot problems can cause a domino effect of pain in your ankles, knees, hips and your back.
Common foot conditions that cause pain and other symptoms in the low back include:
Spine and Podiatry Experts in NJ and NY
Your back pain and foot pain could be connected and a comprehensive treatment is your best path forward for pain relief.
If you are experiencing low back pain or foot pain and are undecided about if and when to visit a specialist, we caution you to not wait until the pain worsens to seek medical help. By ignoring your foot or low back pain, you’re putting yourself at risk for more serious issues if your condition worsens or the underlying cause is severe.
At Oasis Orthopedic & Spine, we have specialists in both back pain and foot pain. Together, these leading physicians can help diagnose your pain and create a treatment plan that is fit for your specific condition. We pride ourselves on exhausting all conservative, non-surgical treatment options before exploring minimally invasive surgical treatments.
Meet the Oasis Specialists Who Can Help You Find Pain Relief
Anissa Hashemi, DPM
Dr. Anissa Hashemi is a board certified podiatrist by American Board of Podiatric Medicine and a member of American Podiatric Medical Society. Dr. Hashemi is dedicated to all aspects of foot and ankle conservative and surgical procedures.
Keith Johnson, MD
Dr. Keith Johnson is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist. Dr. Johnson specializes in sports medicine and post-traumatic joint and soft tissue injuries with a focus on arthroscopic, minimally invasive surgical treatments of injuries.
Sujal Patel, MD
Dr. Sujal Patel is a board certified and fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon and specializes in minimally invasive and robotic spine procedures.
Ralph Wheeler, MD
Dr. Ralph Wheeler is a board certified radiologist and interventional pain management specialist with a focus in minimally invasive pain management for the treatment of persistent, painful spinal conditions.
If you’re ready to meet with one of these Oasis experts and find a solution to your pain based on your specific needs, fill out our quick pain assessment tool below.
Oasis Orthopedic & Spine offers telehealth appointments in addition to in-person appointments.
We are dedicated to your safety during COVID-19 and are actively practicing the COVID-19 Safe Care Protocols at all of our locations so you can find the pain relief you deserve.