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Many people come to physical therapy thinking one thing is wrong, only to discover the cause of their pain is something entirely different. 

When Missy began lower extremity physical therapy for her knees, she thought running was the culprit. 

“I continuously heard from people that running was bad for my knees, so I started to believe it and assumed that my years of distance running wore down the cartilage in my knees,” said Missy. 

She was partly correct. She was partly misinformed.

Running can actually strengthen your knees, but if your feet need to be strengthened or your stride is off-balance, it can cause problems higher up in the body. The same is true for folks with back and hip pain.

In Missy’s case, her gait problems led to a misalignment in how her foot tracked. Over time, this caused the cartilage underneath her knee to deteriorate.

“Pain in the back, spine, hips, and knees can often be due to an abnormality in the feet or gait,” said Barrett Ford, PT. “You must take into consideration the whole kinetic chain, from the feet up through the body. Knowing what’s going on globally, starting with the feet, can often be the key to identifying the underlying causes of pain and dysfunction in other parts of the body.”

Physical therapists are specially trained to analyze a person’s foot type and gait, then suggest footwear specifically designed for the shape of his or her feet. They are also trained to identify deficiencies in strength, flexibility, balance and musculoskeletal makeup that might be affecting a person’s feet.

Imagine your feet as the roots of a tree. They help stabilize your body during movement. If your body is not in proper alignment, decreased strength, stiffness, and eventually, pain can persist. If tightness causes your body to compensate for the inability to move in a normal path, physical therapy is critical.  A lower extremity physical therapist will help you understand where to strengthen and stretch to align the patterns in your kinetic chain. From your feet up to your head, every step makes a difference.