To fix chronic joint pain, particularly in the legs and lower body, look no further than your feet. From athletes to everyday walkers, proper care for tired, weak, or painful feet could be the way to achieve fitness goals.
Dr. Michael Nirenberg, a podiatrist who has practiced in Crown Point since 1992, said by helping his patients’ feet and ankles work correctly, issues in the knee, hip, or back can be handled.
He said he got into podiatry more than 30 years ago, after watching his father struggle to find a remedy for his knee pain. His father eventually saw a podiatrist, receiving a custom-fitted shoe insert known as an orthotic. His father’s knee pain was gone about a month later.
“To this day, if he stops wearing custom-made foot orthotics for any length of time and starts doing a lot of walking or running, his knee pain comes back,” Nirenberg said.
At his practice, Friendly Foot Care, Nirenberg conducts biomechanical exams to determine whether a patient’s foot arch is too low or too high.
Either of these extremes raises the risk of injury, he said.
Once the foot is assessed, a custom-fit orthotic can be made with a mold.
“(The orthotic) is built so it will push your foot and your ankle, and your whole lower leg for that matter, to work as correctly as possible for that person,” he said.
By examining his patients’ gaits and foot structures, he can also assign targeted stretches before and after exercise to reduce chance of injury. Again, the stretches are tailored to the individual and workout.
Picking a game
Paired with the right stretches, orthotics can offer solutions for athletes iwho play basketball, volleyball, soccer, running or even walking, Nirenberg said.
“An orthotic is a little different than an arch support because it’s custom made just for that athlete to allow them to do their sport better,” he said.
Dr. Robert Clemency III, a podiatrist at the Community Neuroscience & Sports Medicine Center in Schererville, said the most common chronic issues active individuals experience in their foot and ankles include overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis and stress fractures.
More acute traumas he sees among athletes include ankle and foot fractures, tendon ruptures and ligament strains or tears.
Clemency said depending on the severity of the injury and its location, it can take one week to three months to rehabilitate, starting with a period of rest.
“This is followed by a period of recovery that focuses on restoration of function through various physical therapies such as gait training, range of motion/stretching and strength exercises tailored to the specific injury or need of that patient,” Clemency said.
He said it is vital for athletes to recognize the structural limitations of their bodies from age-related changes or a previous injury.
“Once recognized, those movement issues can be improved through exercise programs geared toward modifying and improving form and (are) ultimately vital in the prevention (or) reoccurrence of injury,” he said.
Shoe selection is another crucial component to promoting foot and ankle health.
“I recommend being fitted appropriately for the right shoe for your foot and for that I recommend two stores locally: Fleet Feet in Schererville and New Balance in Merrillville,” Clemency said.
Amanda Porter has worked at Fleet Feet in Schererville for more than three years.
She began running in 2011 after seeing running groups from Fleet Feet pass her house every Saturday morning.
When customers come to Fleet Feet, the staff helps them learn about their feet by using a 3-D foot-scan and a dynamic walk-plate, she said.
“The more I learned about myself and what was going on, I realized that cushion wasn’t always a great thing,” Porter said.
Following the birth of her third child, Porter began running marathons and noticing issues arising in her hip, knee and feet.
After experiencing a flare-up of foot pain while running the Chicago Marathon, she learned from a clinic held at Fleet Feet the cause.
In the same way pain in the upper joints of the leg can stem from movement deviations in the foot and ankle, biomechanical issues can domino from higher joints into the foot or ankle.
When the physician at the clinic described how hip alignment can affect the feet, lightbulbs started to go off in her head, Porter said. Her hip was making her foot hurt.
She said moving without pain comes from balancing proper footwear with proper stretching and exercises.
“If you don’t do your exercises, the shoes aren’t going to help you, and if you do your exercises and you’re in the wrong shoes, it’s not going to help either,” she said.
If you are hurt or suffering from chronic foot or ankle pain issue, Nirenberg recommends a clinical exam with an ultrasound or MRI, if necessary.
He said an X-ray is sometimes not enough to diagnose an ankle sprain. Missing a ligament injury could result in a weakened ankle for life, he said.
Clinics featuring podiatrists, physicians and more are included in Fleet Feet’s distance tailored running programs. It also hosts public clinics on running form and kinesiology.
These public clinics are announced on the store’s Facebook page —.www.facebook.com/FleetFeetSchererville
“We rely on our doctors and the clinics that they do. They teach us quite a bit,” Porter said.