By Guillermo Escalante, MBA, ATC, CSCS; Photography: Rich Baker; Model: Elie Neufeld
Our bodies, much like houses, require a balanced foundation that allows anything placed above it to be symmetrical. Since the foundation of our body is our feet injuries, tendon tightness or alignment issues to the feet can potentially cause problems up the kinetic chain to other bodyparts. According to Brad Katzman, DPM, owner of the Family Foot Centers in Ontario and Fontana (CA), common foot problems that can create potential knee, hip or back pain with weight trainers include a tight Achilles tendon (stemming from the gastrocnemius and/or soleus) plantar fasciitis, pes planus (flat feet) and pes cavus (high arches).
Katzman says a shortness of the Achilles tendon is common among bodybuilders. The tightness may result from lack of flexibility in the gastrocnemius (the more visible muscle on the posterior lower leg) or the soleus (the deeper calf muscle). The inability to perform a squat or a leg press without keeping the heels firmly on the floor or on the leg press platform is an immediate warning sign that you may be suffering from tightness of the Achilles tendon. Another sure sign of a tight Achilles tendon is pain along the forefoot.
A relatively common foot problem seen in bodybuilders, says Katzman, is plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the plantar fascia, the long tendon sheath that runs along the bottom of the foot from the heel forward. This condition is often very painful in the morning when you take your first step out of bed. The sensation is usually described as a sharp stabbing pain (much like stepping on a thumb tack) beginning at the heels and moving toward the balls of the feet. Potential causes of plantar fasciitis include old or faulty footwear, aggressively advancing the aerobic portion of your exercise program, lack of flexibility to the plantar fascia/calves, or overtraining the calves with resistance exercises such as calf raises without adequate rest between training sessions. Since plantar fasciitis usually occurs to only one side at a time, it can throw the body’s foundation off balance as the bodyweight will usually be shifted to the pain-free side during weight-bearing activities such as squats, deadlifts and bent-over barbell rows. Once the bodyweight is shifted unevenly between the feet, unnecessary forces can move up the body and potentially affect the knee, hip or lower back.
Pes planus and pes cavus, otherwise known as flat feet and high arches, respectively, are relatively common foot malalignment problems that may not be detrimental initially; however, over time Katzman believes bodybuilders with these issues can develop some compensatory problems to other bodyparts. As with plantar fasciitis weight-bearing exercises can create problems for these two conditions. Flat feet, for example, can create excess forces on the inside portions of the ankles and/or knees that can put unnecessary stresses on the medial ligaments and/or tendons of these joints. Over time the excess stress can lead to medial knee pain (pain on the inside of the knee) or to another condition known as posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (pain along the shin down toward the ankle). Contrarily, high arches are usually classified as rigid feet. Katzman says a rigid foot doesn’t absorb shock well and commonly leads to low-back pain.
Clearly problems with the body’s foundation can lead to potentially detrimental issues in other parts of the body, which can adversely affect your training. Taking care of your feet by following some of the tips in “Foot Care Guidelines” will help keep your feet healthy so that other bodyparts don’t become affected. If you’re experiencing problems with your feet, seek help from a foot expert such as a podiatrist to determine your best options.
Foot Care Guidelines
Shortened Achilles Tendon
1) Determine if tightness is coming from the gastrocnemius or the soleus.
2) Stretch the affected muscle three times for 30 seconds.
3) If unable to determine which muscle is causing the problem, stretch both muscles.
1) Ice the affected area for 10-15 minutes, 2-3 times per day.
2) Stretch the gastrocnemius and soleus three times for 30 seconds.
3) Take the highest dosage recommended for an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen.
4) Seek advanced care from a medical professional if pain persists.
Flat Feet/High Arches
1) Obtain an orthotics consultation from a licensed medical professional to determine which type of orthotic will most benefit you.