From The Ground Up

Problems with foot and ankle alignment can affect overall health

A person’s wishes for their car are much the same as the wishes for their physical health—a strong, unblemished body, a muscular engine and the best fuel for it, a long life and a lot of mileage. Equally important is the alignment of the tires to reduce wear and tear. Similarly, we humans can’t get very far without checking the alignment of what moves us forward.

“Mal-aligned feet and ankles can result not only in pain localized to the foot or ankle itself—and difficulty with shoewear—but such conditions also can affect joints higher up or aggravate existing conditions,” says orthopedic surgeon Christopher W. Nicholson, MD. “My colleagues who treat painful and arthritic hips and knees often refer these patients to me when a foot/ankle deformity exists.”Christopher W. Nicholson, MD

Deformities that affect the alignment of foot and ankle can be differentiated as flexible or fixed. Flexible deformities can be manipulated into a normal position and are more likely to respond to treatments such as inserts or braces than the fixed type. However, Dr. Nicholson says that even the fixed deformities can sometimes be treated conservatively. Still, there will be exceptions.

“In the rare but inevitable case that conservative treatment fails to provide adequate pain relief or correction, most foot/ankle conditions can be corrected surgically,” Nicholson says.

All of these levels of treatment can be beneficial to those whose foot conditions affect their body above the knees. For example, Dr. Nicholson says it is not uncommon for patients who have an otherwise normal spine anatomy and alignment to have a foot or ankle condition that causes, or contributes to, back pain.

“When conditions co-exist, successful treatment often involves addressing both the painful joint and the foot/ankle deformity,” Nicholson says. “As an orthopedic surgeon, I treat not only the foot and ankle but, if needed, areas further up the leg that contribute to the pain.”
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