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When you are walking down the stairs, your foot and ankle are plantarflexed and inverted. This means that your foot and ankle are pointed downwards and inwards.
The second part of walking downstairs requires your foot to lift before descending the stairs again.
When you suffer from certain foot conditions, you may experience foot pain when walking downstairs.
In this article, we will discuss the main reasons your feet may be hurting when walking downstairs.
The large Achilles tendon is the tendon that runs along the lower back of the leg and inserts into the back of the heel.
The Achilles tendon is responsible for plantarflexion motion.
Plantarflexion is when the foot and toes point downwards. This motion is required to descend stairs.
When the Achilles tendon is tight and gets overused, Achilles tendinitis occurs. This can cause pain in the back side of the heel.
If you have a weak and inflamed Achilles tendon, it can cause foot pain when going downstairs.
Resting and icing the Achilles tendon can help reduce inflammation.
Physical therapy is extremely beneficial to alleviate pain associated with Achilles tendonitis.
In physical therapy, stretching exercises, balance exercises, and ultrasound can be done to help improve the strength of the tendon and reduce pain.
Stretching exercises are key to reducing tightness. You can check out how to properly perform stretching exercises here.
Your doctor may also prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication to help relieve discomfort associated with Achilles tendonitis.
Shoe gear is also important.
Make sure to buy a shoe that has a good arch and high heel counter. The heel counter is the back portion of the shoe.
A high heel counter will contour your heel well and support the foot properly when descending stairs.
You can go to your local running shoe store where they can measure your feet and recommend a shoe that is appropriate for your foot structure.
Tibialis Anterior Tendonitis
The tibialis anterior muscle is a muscle that originates in the front of the leg and inserts into the inner foot.
It is a very strong tendon that is responsible for pulling up your foot when walking and also when going down the stairs.
If you notice pain or weakness on the top inner part of your foot when walking downstairs, you may have anterior tibial tendonitis.
In most cases, anterior tibial tendonitis can be treated conservatively. RICE therapy and anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce pain.
Physical Therapy can be beneficial to help strengthen the tendon so that you can go down the stairs more comfortably.
The extensor tendons are the tendons that run along the top of your foot.
In addition to the tibialis anterior tendon, the foot extensor tendons are responsible for lifting your foot.
The extensor hallucis longus tendon inserts at the big toe and lifts it when walking downstairs.
The causes of extensor tendonitis include wearing improper shoes, overuse, and walking on an incline. It can feel very tender.
If your extensor tendons are sore, you will have top of foot pain when walking downstairs.
Extensor tendonitis can be treated with rest, ice, and elevation. You should limit your activity for several weeks until the symptoms subside.
Physical therapy for extensor tendonitis can be beneficial to improve strength and reducing pain from tendonitis.
Heel Spurs and Plantar Fasciitis Can Cause Foot Pain When Descending Stairs
Plantar fasciitis is degeneration and inflammation of the plantar fascia, the ligament that supports the arch. In some cases, a heel spur may be present.
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis causes heel pain and arch pain when walking down the stairs.
Plantar fasciitis and pain associated with heel spurs can be treated with daily stretching exercises.
Plantar fascial stretching should be performed three times daily for 15-20 minutes.
It’s important to do the stretching exercise correctly. Here’s a stretching guide on how to perform the exercises correctly.
If the inflammation is severe, your doctor may suggest a steroid injection and even surgery alleviate painful symptoms associated with the condition.
Ankle Instability After an Injury Can Cause Pain When Walking Downstairs
When you sprain an ankle, it creates ankle instability. This is because there are mechanoreceptors in the ankle that are innervated by nerves that are injured during an ankle sprain (1).
Ankle injuries affect proprioception.
Proprioception is your body’s ability to be able to sense its location and movement.
If you have sprained your ankle multiple times over the years, you may struggle with stability when going down the stairs.
This can place you at risk for further injuries and falls.
Physical Therapy can help improve balance and proprioception.
Wearing ankle braces can also provide ankle stability when descending stairs.
The Zenith ankle brace from Amazon provides great support and stability when going down stairs.
In flat-footed people, walking down stairs can place a considerable amount of load on the foot and strain the arch of the foot, causing pain.
Orthotics can be beneficial when walking and going down the stairs.
In J. Zhai’s study in The Journal Of Physical Therapy and Science, they found that orthotics corrected the abnormal structure of the foot and also corrected plantar pressures when their subjects walked down the stairs (2).
In other words, wearing simple arch supports can help disperse pressure throughout the feet and help alleviate pain when descending stairs.
For orthotics, you should wear Powerstep Protech Insoles. These insoles have a firm but comfortable arch in them, and a deep-seated cushion heel to allow for heel stability.
If you need a more customized fit, you can visit your local foot doctor to obtain custom orthotics.
Custom orthotics are custom-made to fit your feet, and can last for many years.
When Should You Seek Treatment For Painful Foot Problems and Injuries?
If you are experiencing pain from foot problems when walking downstairs, it’s important to learn when to seek professional help.
While mild discomfort may be manageable with at-home remedies and self-care, certain situations warrant medical attention, such as in the case of foot injuries.
If your pain is severe, persistent, or accompanied by swelling, redness, or warmth, it’s time to consult a Podiatrist.
Your Podiatrist will assess the bones, ligaments, and tendons in your foot, and provide a diagnosis based on your symptoms. They will then provide treatment recommendations for the problem.
Ignoring the warning signs and delaying treatment may lead to further complications.
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- Michelson, J. D., & Hutchins, C. H. R. I. S. T. O. P. H. E. R. (1995). Mechanoreceptors in human ankle ligaments. The Journal of bone and joint surgery. British volume, 77(2), 219-224.https://online.boneandjoint.org.uk/doi/abs/10.1302/0301-620x.77b2.7706334
- Zhai, J. N., Qiu, Y. S., & Wang, J. (2016). Effects of orthotic insoles on adults with flexible flatfoot under different walking conditions. Journal of physical therapy science, 28(11), 3078-3083.
- Ghaderi, F., Shahmoradi, E., Moghadam Salimi, M., Asghari Jafarabadi, M., & Goljarian, S. (2021). The Effect of Heel Height of Shoe on Ankle Muscle Activation Pattern in Women with Functional Ankle Instability during Stair Descending. Muscles, Ligaments & Tendons Journal (MLTJ), 11(4). http://www.mltj.online/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Salimi.pdf
- Chen, J., Kadakia, R., Akoh, C. C., & Schweitzer Jr, K. M. (2021). Management of anterior tibialis tendon ruptures. JAAOS-Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 10-5435.https://journals.lww.com/jaaos/Citation/2021/08150/Management_of_Anterior_Tibialis_Tendon_Ruptures.2.aspx
- Mazzone, M. F., & McCue, T. (2002). Common conditions of the Achilles tendon. American family physician, 65(9), 1805.https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2002/0501/p1805.htm
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