Biomechanics is an arguably nerdy term for people to really spend much time caring about. However, the biomechanics of your feet play a major role in how well you move and feel. Learning more about your own biomechanics can help you get the most out of your feet, keep them healthy and help them age gracefully. This post will take a look at the ins and outs of biomechanics.
Defining Foot Biomechanics
We can define biomechanics as:
“The study of the mechanics of a living body, especially of the forces exerted by muscles and gravity on the skeletal structure. The mechanics of a part or function of a living body, such as of the heart or of locomotion.”
A definition of foot biomechanics would look something like this:
“The study of foot mechanics, namely, the forces exerted by the joints, muscles and tissues of the feet.”
Foot biomechanics are essentially patterns of foot movement. Naturally, these movement patterns vary from person to person, but nature intended us to walk a certain way. Maladaptive habits can easily shift the natural movement patterns we were born to adopt, leading to many of the foot problems we see today.
What Ideal Foot Biomechanics Look (and Feel) Like
Your stride consists of six stages: strike, stance, pronation, supination, heel lift and swing.
- Strike - A normal stride begins with your heel making contact with the ground first.
- Stance - As you move forward, your weight also rolls forward onto your midfoot.
- Pronation - Next, the arch of your foot relaxes and rolls inward, briefly, so that your weight evenly distributes through your feet.
- Supination - As you continue forward, the foot rolls back to the outside slightly.
- Heel lift - It then rests on your toes to push off.
- Swing - This culminates in the final part of the cycle, where you lift your entire leg and move it forward to plant the heel on the ground again.
Then the cycle repeats.
Of course, a deviation in this pattern at any stage can be considered faulty biomechanics of the feet. Many of these deviations are so slight that they’re unnoticeable. However, if left unchecked, they can cause foot pain and discomfort over time. They can also increase one’s risk of foot injuries and affect other skeletal structures such as the knees, hips and spine.
Common Injuries and Ailments Cause by Poor Foot Biomechanics
- Hip & knee pain
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Morton’s Neuroma
- Foot & ankle pain (especially when walking or running)
- Lower back pain
- Achilles tendonitis
- Arch & heel pain
- Callous (hard skin)
- Shin splints (pain in the front and inside of shin)
Even when there is no pain or discomfort, poor biomechanics can still put excess pressure and load on the feet. This is a big deal for athletes because poor movement patterns can reduce speed, agility and coordination. But even the average Joe can find themselves more tired or worn out if their feet have poor biomechanics due to inefficient motion.
Poor foot biomechanics often stem from genetic causes, poor gait habits, neurological disorders, or even physical defects.
What Poor Biomechanics Looks Like (And If You’re Affected)
As we mentioned above, any deviation in the normal six-step gait cycle could be considered poor (or faulty) foot mechanics. But some deviations are extremely common today. You or someone you know could very well have a fault in foot motion and not even know it.
Flat feet are some of the most common biomechanical problems seen these days. When there is no arch, the feet collapse completely and fail to distribute weight evenly, resulting in pain and shoes wearing out fast. Over-pronation occurs when the ankle rolls too far downward and inward, which can put a strain on the big toes and lead to rotation of the leg itself. Over-supination, the opposite of overpronation, occurs when the foot rolls too far outward.
And there are many other faulty motions that can occur apart from these three.
With that said, a gait analysis will determine whether you have faulty foot biomechanics. Essentially, the gait cycle we mentioned earlier - your gait cycle - will be observed through the eyes of a podiatrist. They will do this through a combination of methods including:
- Clinical Examination - A physical therapist will determine the level of strength, range of motion (ROM), and muscle tone in your feet.
- Video Documentation - Analysts will videotape you as you walk to see a live, play-by-play “reel” of your gait cycle.
- 3D Gait Kinematics/Kinetics - This test analyzes joint motion (kinematics) and the forces transferred through your joints (kinetics).
- Electromyography (EMG) - This analyzes how your foot and leg muscles work while you walk to provide insights on how they affect your gait (for better or worse).
These tests provide both an exterior and interior look at your foot biomechanics. With both visual and physical data at hand, therapists can identify whether your feet move well or need support.
How Custom Orthotics Can Help
If you’ve got feet that know how to move, then you don’t need to worry about a thing - just keep practicing good movement habits. But if your feet have lost your groove, then orthotic support can help restore the natural movement patterns responsible for healthy movement.
Orthotic solutions such as custom orthotic insoles can help your feet to develop healthy arches and redistribute weight on the feet when they land. Orthotic footwear - shoes, slippers, sandals, whatever they may be - are also helpful because they’re built to support and cushion the feet.
They may feature deep and wide toe boxes that allow you to place orthotic insoles, but also provide room for the feet and therefore, less pressure. They may also contain extra cushioning and responsive material that bends and flexes with your feet.
Here at Orthotics Direct, we sell a variety of orthotic insoles and shoes, which we recommend to your unique footprint, all of which can help improve your foot biomechanics.
Walk a Mile in Your Shoes - The Right Way
We all have unique feet in terms of how they look and how they walk. Of course, many of us develop ineffective motion patterns over time, leading to pain and even injury. It’s important to identify these unhealthy movement patterns so that they can be corrected early on. Understanding your foot biomechanics makes that possible. No one will walk the exact same journey in life, but we all should strive to walk our paths in the healthiest way possible.
Looking for orthotic insoles and footwear that can help you walk without pain? Get in touch with us to help you find the perfect solution for you!