Knee pain? Could it be your feet?

Feet on a rocky beach
Pilates Lennox Head

Written by Bridgid Pearse

June 25, 2023

Knee pain is such a common barrier to midlife movement and fitness. If you suffer lack of strength in mid-life, feet are often to blame.

Our feet are the absolute foundation of our movement health. Often as people age and try and stay active, it’s their feet that stops them.

Today we’re going to talk about foot strength and how important it is especially for avoiding knee pain. I want to teach you one exercise to help you build strength in your foot to support your whole body weight.

Alignment – how your feet could contribute to your knee pain

Alignment is essential to understand to help with knee pain. Your knee is the middle child between your foot and your hip. Alignment (or lack of) is usually at the heart of knee pain. Alignment begins in our feet.

If your weight is always slightly on the outside of your feet, then pressure and tension will travel up the outside muscles of your calf to the lateral (outside) of your knee. Over time this will cause wear and tear and eventually pain.

If your arches are flat and your feet roll slightly in then the muscles on the medial (inside) calf will take the load up to the medial knee.

Understanding this connection between your feet, where the weight falls and how this affects your knees is the first step (pardon the pun) in solving your knee pain.

Try this test

First, we’re going to do a little test. Where your weight in your feet? Stand up, bring your feet about hip width apart bring your attention to your feet. I want you to feel where the weight is strongest falling through your feet. So you might notice that your hips are forward and you’ve got quite a lot of weight in your toes. A good way to test this is just to rock forward and back. Be aware of how it feels when the weight is in different parts of your feet. And then just relax and notice where your body relaxes into and how that falls into your feet. If you’ve got a lot of weight in your toes, which most of us will have, then the exercise I’m going to give you will be great for that.

One exercise to strengthen you feet and reduce knee pain

The exercise I’m going to teach you is called short foot. It’s not a new exercise by any means. But I was recently reminded of it and it is a really great one for bringing strength into the foot to support the body weight in alignment.

So what we want to do is have a barefoot and come off weight so you’re sitting down and you’ve got your foot just spread happily on the ground. And then what we want to do is spread the toes as much as you can.

Then I want you to push the heads of the metatarsal so these long bones, we’ve got what we call the ball of the foot that goes from the big toe all the way to the pinky on the other side. We’re pushing all of these, that ball of the foot all through all your toes into the ground and pulling them back towards your heel.

You want your arch to gently lift and leave the toes as relaxed as you can. Now, relax it and try again. You may feel muscles activate right up your leg.

Now you want to try and keep the toes fairly relaxed. I still struggle with this a little bit. We don’t sort of want to see the toes taking over and the ball of the foot lifting off. We want the ball of the foot anchored sliding back towards the heel to engage the arches of the feet. We have three arches in our feet. And this will work the medial one and the transverse one particularly coming across the side. So that’s your short foot and I love doing this unweighted without any load, but it’s great when you come to standing work.

Watch the full video below for the short foot plus other standing exercises to boost your foot strength.

Pilates Lennox Head

I am Brigid Pearse a Diploma certified Pilates instructor, Pregnancy and Post-natal Exercise Specialist, an ex-dancer and a mum. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. For more way to move to nurture your body sign up for my weekly newsletter below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates

Pilates Goonellabah

Thanks for reading!

I am Brigid Pearse, comprehensively certified Pilates teacher, ex-dancer, and mid-life mum. In group classes, workshops and private sessions I help women learn to move well for life.

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