Lower Limb Biomechanics and the role of Footwear and Orthotics

The biomechanics of our lower limbs refer to the way the joints of our feet, knees, hips, and all the muscles, tendons and ligaments in between, work together to create movement.

Each person’s biomechanics will vary, and sometimes when certain joints or muscles aren’t working to their full potential, others will have to work harder to compensate, and this can result in lower limb pain or functional problems.

imagesAs physiotherapists, we are trained to analyse posture (how the ankle and foot rests) and gait (how the lower limb including the foot and ankle move in relation to one another to allow walking forward propulsion of the lower limb a.k.a walking).

It is necessary to carry out a thorough assessment of the joints, muscles and nerves of the lower limbs we can determine how these influence posture and gait.

Deviations from what may be considered ‘normal’ in terms of effective and efficient lower limb function may be implicated in the development of pain symptoms, often to an ‘overloading’ of certain structures such as the Achilles tendon or the plantar fascia for example.

When we look at a client’s gait, we are looking to observe correct movement happening at the correct time during the gait cycle.

What we hope to see is:

Heel strike → Pronation (foot becomes mobile adapter) → Neutral → Supination (foot becomes a rigid lever) → Toe off

If this pattern looks to be altered, or movements are happening at the wrong time, it can cause tissue stress through the lower limb and may lead to injury.

Sometimes, in addition to specific exercises, orthotics may be prescribed to help encourage more ‘normal’ or neutral biomechanics through the feet and lower limbs.

Orthotics can help to:

  • Give support
  • Improve mobility
  • Realign
  • Assist force transfer and help with shock absorption
  • Comfort
  • Reduce tissue load or stress

Can footwear help?

Footwear can also play a big role in helping to support and correct lower limb biomechanics. Footwear can offer stability and help to distribute pressure. Depending on the type of foot you have, certain styles and features may suit better than others. For example, if you have a foot that tends to pronate excessively (roll inwards), then most of the time you are looking to find a shoe that will help to provide your foot with more support, and a completely flat shoes may not be the best option.

Sometimes specific footwear needs to be combined with an orthotic for best results.

If you are in pain about the ankle and foot area which is associated with walking, running or sports, you may benefit from lower limb biomechanics assessment.

To book an appointment with me, or for further information, please call our reception on 01-2834303.

By Katie Farrell BSc, MISCP

Chartered Physiotherapist


Brukner P. Brukner & Khan's clinical sports medicine. North Ryde: McGraw-Hill; 2012.

Cornwall MW, McPoil TG. Relationship between static foot posture and foot mobility. Journal of foot and ankle research. 2011 Dec;4(1):4.

Mills K, Blanch P, Chapman AR, McPoil TG, Vicenzino B. Foot orthoses and gait: a systematic review and meta-analysis of literature pertaining to potential mechanisms. British journal of sports medicine. 2010 Nov 1;44(14):1035-46.

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