What is Sports Podiatry and how can it help me?
Sports podiatry addresses pain and injuries which result from biomechanical issues typically in the lower limbs. This can be through specific sports activities or merely from when we walk or run.
Sounds simple enough, but because our foot interacts with our lower limb, it’s not just a case of treating foot pain. Sports podiatry is also involved treating injuries and ailments which may cause ankle, shin, knee, hip or lower back pain.
An Active Population
It's good news that people in the UK are becoming more and more active. As a result of this however, sports podiatry services are increasingly in demand. According to the Active People Survey undertaken by Sport England in 2104, 15.6 million adults now play sport at least once a week, that’s 1.7 million more than in 2005/6, and according to a recent Fitness Industry Report, one in seven people are members of a gym.
One of the main tasks of a sports podiatrist is to analyse the way the foot interacts with the ground, assess the forces the lower limb has to deal with through the chain of motion and then facilitate healing. The ultimate objective is to get you working better than before the injury, and ultimately pain free.
Tools of the trade
A sports podiatrist will use tools such as visual assessment, joint ranges of motion, functional strength, pressure plates and video measuring tools. The treatment plan may include correctional foot orthoses, but may also include exercises, taping, gait retraining, shoe advice and even acupuncture.
Biomechanics either looks to enhance performance or reduce the risk of getting injured during sport and exercise. The human body is especially at risk if there is a mechanical misalignment, which in turn could be the result of any imbalances, for example leg length differences or a stiff big toe. Biomechanical assessment provides the podiatrist with an understanding of the structure and function of the human body and helps to identify factors causing discomfort.
But that is not all biomechanics can do for you! It also considers the interaction between you and your equipment, such as your shoes, surfaces and in our case, we also work with cyclists and their bikes.
The use of insoles, (also called foot orthoses) can help to control the way in which your foot and legs work and can further reduce discomfort and pain. These could be simple off the shelf insoles, semi bespoke (where off the shelf insoles are adapted) or fully bespoke. This will depend on both the condition and budget of each patient.
Here, a sports podiatrist can analyse your body loading to find out the safest and healthiest way to perform a certain sport and further identify techniques to enhance your performance.
Video Gait Analysis
While biomechanics are suitable for all kinds of sports, video gait analysis is suitable for runners in particular. It can broadly be called `movement analysis`.
Some practitioners assess patients statically only. However, many injuries are caused by the changes that take place with the associated increased loading when walking or running. Gait analysis is a method that assesses the way the feet and body behaves through the entire gait cycle. But the subtlety of movement goes far beyond just looking at how the foot rolls inward (pronation) or outwards (supination). The experienced Podiatrist looks at the separate functional compartments of the foot and relates this to the rest of the body. Gait will often then be re-assessed after making changes such as different shoe / insole combinations, typically on the treadmill using slow motion video. A clear picture of change can then be obtained.
Finally, an individual picture of your gait is created covering everything from your mobility, stability, flexibility and functional strength. This in turn will help a sports podiatrist to find ways to reduce pain and find the perfect insole – whether this be off the shelf or custom made (and shoe) to support you through your running. You can see an example of what we did with one of our customers who was training for an Ironman competition here
So, what can a sports podiatrist can do for you?
Assess and manage podiatric needs
Carry out physical biomechanical assessment
Give advice on what you can do to prevent injuries or recover, e.g. stretching and strengthening exercises, taking into account the specific type of sport you do
Do a full posture/movement analysis screening
Assess your lower limb functions using video gait analysis and pressure plates.
Evaluate your current foot wear for your chosen sports and give recommendations on suitability and possible alternatives
Injury diagnosis and creation of an appropriate management plan
Provide tailored foot orthoses to reduce damaging forces within injured tissues
David, our lead podiatrist carries out gait analysis for running, walking and cycling, He says…. The first step is acknowledging the first signs of injury. Many sports people believe their re-occurring pain can be worked through. Sometimes this may be the case. But often injuries go incipiently from the acute to chronic phase, where early intervention may have prevented deterioration.