Can Foot Pain Cause Knee Pain? Here’s How To Protect Yourself
- Foot conditions, such as over pronation, flat feet, osteoarthritis, and plantar fasciitis can contribute to knee pain.
- Knee pain and injuries can, in part, be alleviated with preventive treatment and healthy foot habits.
- Consistent practice of foot, leg, and hip strengthening and stretching exercises can help reduce the risk of foot and knee pain long term.
- Supportive footwear with a deep heel cup can help improve alignment and reduce foot and knee pain.
Everything in our bodies is connected. From bones and joints, ligaments and tendons to muscles and soft tissue, our various body parts work together in every movement we do.
So, can foot pain cause knee pain? Short answer—yes. There has been a widely studied link between foot pain and knee pain. Just as shoulder tension can lead to headaches or tight calves can lead to Achilles tendon pain, our foot-knee connection is no different.
Below, we’ll explore the link between foot and knee pain and dig into examples of foot and knee pain conditions, specific treatment options, and practical steps to help alleviate and prevent pain.
The Anatomy of the Foot and Its Impact on the Knee
Composed of 52 total bones, 66 joints, and over 200 muscles, ligaments, and tendons, our feet are masterpieces of anatomy. They are capable of flexing and pointing, walking and running, jumping and dancing, rolling in circular movements, stabilizing lateral movements, and more.
With this degree of complex biological structure and important functions, can a foot injury cause knee pain? Absolutely. Our feet have the capacity to become injured in a variety of ways or develop chronic pain conditions that can impact other parts of the body—including our knees.
Let’s dig into a few warning signs of knee injuries and conditions.
Symptoms of Knee Pain
So just how might your body tell you something was going wrong with your knee? There are a few key symptoms you may encounter.
If you experience any of these symptoms for more than a few days or weeks, we recommend seeing a podiatrist or orthopedic doctor to get an official diagnosis and treatment plan.
- Swelling and stiffness. As a response to inflammation, injured knees often swell or stiffen as a way to send extra needed blood to stimulate healing and protect themselves from further injury.
- Redness and warmth. Another symptom of inflammation, knee pain may present as redness or warmth in the affected area. The Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (RICE) method is a tried and true method for acute inflammation.
- Weakness or instability. Knees that have ligament, tendon, cartilage damage by present with a feeling of weakness or instability—an inability to “trust” the knee with standing or walking properly.
- Popping or crunching noises. Some conditions may elicit a popping or crunching sound. This may indicate a knee whose cartilage may be worn down.
- Inability to fully straighten the knee. A common symptom of a variety of knee pain conditions, the inability to fully straighten the knee must be addressed by a doctor and physical therapist to ensure the knee can return to normal function.
Common Causes of Knee Pain
Knee pain can occur from a variety of causes, including injury or chronic conditions.
Let’s take a look at some common knee conditions that cause pain:
- Osteoarthritis. The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that leads to a loss of cartilage and subsequent damage to the surrounding bone.
- Torn Meniscus. Often caused by sudden and forceful twisting, a torn meniscus is damage to rubbery knee cartilage. Since a meniscus cannot heal on its own, meniscus tears are often treated with surgery.
- Ligament Injuries. An ACL injury is one of the most common knee ligament injuries. This injury is often treated with surgery and often has a long recovery time.
- Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome. Often felt as a dull ache under the knee, patellofemoral pain syndrome, or runner’s knee, is an overuse injury treated by rest and strengthening exercises.
- Tendonitis. An overuse injury, knee tendonitis—or irritation of the tendon—commonly occurs in athletes and active individuals or in beginners who have rapidly increased their training load.
- Bursitis. Knee bursitis is fluid-filled sack near the knee joint, often caused by pressure from excessive kneeling or a sudden injury.
Common Foot Conditions That Impact the Knee
Foot pain conditions can lead to gait abnormalities and a loss of healthy alignment. When this occurs, knee pain can often result.
Here are few common foot pain conditions that can lead to knee pain if left untreated:
- Flat Feet. Flat feet, also sometimes referred to as fallen arches, can be genetically inherited or developed over time by walking on hard surfaces without supportive footwear. It can lead to a variety of alignment and foot pain pathologies.
- Overpronation. Often linked to flat feet, overpronation is the excessive rolling inward of the foot and ankle. This misalignment can add stress to surrounding tendons, muscles, and tissues and can contribute to plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, ankle injuries, and knee injuries.
- High Arches. Arches that are very high have a reduced ability to absorb shock, which can lead to foot and knee pain. Those with high arches also tend to supinate, or roll their feet and ankles excessively outward along their outer foot. This misalignment can affect the knee if not treated.
- Plantar Fasciitis. An overuse or underuse injury, plantar fasciitis occurs when the band of tissue underneath the foot becomes irritated and inflamed, often resulting in heel pain.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis. An inflammatory condition which can affect any joint of the body, rheumatoid arthritis can cause pain, swelling and stiffness in feet or knees.
- Bunions. The misaligned big-toe or pinky-toe joint, or a bunion, can cause pain and changes in a person’s gait. Any changes in walking stride risk negatively affecting the knee joint.
- Achilles Tendonitis. The irritation of the largest tendon in the body, which attaches the heel bone to the calf, Achilles tendonitis can lead to tight calves and other foot and knee pain conditions.
The Knee’s Response to Foot Pain
As foot pain progresses, our bodies naturally compensate in an attempt to alleviate pain. Even small changes in our gait or alignment can have negative effects on the surrounding tissues, muscles, joints, and tendons.
Researchers have asked many important questions about the knee’s relationship to the feet, like “what foot problems can cause knee pain?” and “can being flat footed cause knee pain?” and “can foot pronation cause knee pain?”
Several studies have documented clear evidence that knees are affected by feet.
One such study found that 25% of people with symptomatic osteoarthritis knee pain also had foot pain.
Another study from the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research found a statistically significant link between foot pronation and knee osteoarthritis. The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport noted that “the complex biomechanical function of the foot is known to directly influence tibio- and patellofemoral joint biomechanics associated with acute and chronic knee injuries.”
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Diagnosis and Treatment
Have you had nagging knee pain for a few weeks that just isn’t going away? Or had a sudden injury that has left you unable to walk properly? Perhaps you’ve had ongoing foot pain that’s led to knee pain. It may be time to see a doctor.
For knee or foot injuries, we recommend seeing a podiatrist or an orthopedic doctor that specializes in feet or knees. After your doctor examines your knee or foot, they may order imaging test(s) to properly diagnose your condition.
Here are a few common imaging procedures a doctors may order, depending on your unique scenario:
- X-rays. Used to detect bone injuries—such as breaks, fractures, and stress reactions—X-rays use radiation to see beneath muscle tissue and directly at the bone underneath. Since stress fractures often take weeks or months to show up on X-ray, an MRI may be ordered if a patient is experiencing bone tenderness but nothing shows up on X-ray.
- MRI. Best for testing soft tissue injuries, tendon and ligament injuries, or less severe bone injuries that may not appear on X-ray, an MRI—Magnetic Resonance Imaging—uses strong magnetic fields to take pictures of the inside of the body. MRIs are more involved and expensive than X-rays but can detect a wide range of conditions.
- CT Scan. A CT scan is a series of fast X-ray images that are put together to get a picture of a specific area that needs assessment. A CT—Computed Tomography—scan is able to detect more detail than a normal X-ray and thus may be used to get to the bottom of painful symptoms.
- Ultrasound. An ultrasound can be a fast and efficient method for evaluating the soft tissues, muscles, bones, and tendons around knees and feet. They can detect ligament sprains, muscle strains and tears, arthritis, and other musculoskeletal conditions.
Once your doctor has assessed and diagnosed your condition, it’s time for treatment.
Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe various treatment options—sometimes multiple—to help you recover and rehabilitate to the activities you may wish to return to.
Here are a few examples of common treatment protocols for foot and knee injuries.
- Physical Therapy. A physical therapist is a highly trained medical professional, specializing in the treatment and rehabilitation of physical injuries or chronic pain conditions. A physical therapist will develop a unique plan of exercises and modalities to help you recover.
- Medications. Pain medications, including NSAIDs—Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs—can help reduce pain and inflammation in acute injuries. Since these drugs can be harsh on the liver and kidneys, it is typically not encouraged for long periods of time.
- RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). The Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (RICE) method is one of the most common and effective treatments for newer injuries where inflammation is present in the form of pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
- Injections. Steroid or cortisone injections may be ordered for chronic inflammation that doesn’t respond to the RICE method. These injections can help reduce soft tissue inflammation and pain and help you return to activity faster.
- Surgery. In rarer cases—or if your condition has not responded to other forms of treatment—your doctor may recommend surgery. Conditions such as knee meniscus tears or ACL repairs are common candidates for surgery.
Preventive Measures to Protect Your Knees
Now that we’ve unpacked the answer to “can foot problems cause knee pain?” we can dig into how to help prevent knee pain from starting.
With the foot-knee connection clearly established, we know that a part of supporting knee health is to develop healthy foot habits. Here are some ways you can help develop and maintain healthy feet and knees.
- Proper Footwear. The connection between healthy feet and properly supported feet is clear. Be sure to always choose supportive footwear with plenty of heel cushioning, arch support, and shock absorption.
- Orthotics. The use of orthotics, or a uniquely supportive insole, can help feet and knees with any irregular pathologies to maintain proper biomechanics and healthy alignment.
- Strength Training / Regular Foot Exercises. A strong foot is a healthy foot, and a strong knee is a healthy knee. Discuss with a physical therapist or athletic trainer for a consistent training program to strengthen the muscles and tendons in your feet, calves, knees, quads, and hamstrings to help prevent injury.
- Training or Activity Modification. It’s important to increase any training regimen slowly and carefully. A rule of thumb for many activities is to not increase your training load by more than 10 percent per week. If any pain occurs, modify your activity level or practice relative rest from any activity that causes pain.
- Avoid Prolonged Standing. Those who stand all day, such as teachers and parents, retail workers, and healthcare workers, are at an increased risk for foot pain conditions. Be sure to take breaks and wear supportive footwear to help your feet stay healthy.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight. Each step we take exerts about three pounds of pressure per pound of body weight on our feet—and even more when we are running or jumping. Maintaining a healthy weight can help alleviate extra pressure on our hardworking foot and knee joints.
- Regular Foot Check-Ups. Our feet change as we age and adjust activities in our lives. It’s important to treat any new pain or discomfort with care and see your doctor regularly for routine checkups.
What can cause knee pain without injury?
Knee pain can occur for a wide variety of reasons—from misaligned joints to weak surrounding muscles to underlying health conditions. If you experience knee pain that lasts for more than a few days, we recommend consulting your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Can flat feet cause knee pain?
Yes, it is possible for flat feet to contribute to knee pain. People with flat feet have a tendency to overpronate—or walk with their feet and ankles rolled too far inward. This gait abnormality can result in a misaligned ankle joint, which can cause excess tension on the knee joint and its surrounding tendons, ligaments, and muscles, leading to knee pain.
Can weight play a role in foot and knee pain?
Yes, weight can indeed play a role in foot and knee pain. Every step we take exerts about three pounds of pressure per pound of body weight—and even more when we are running or jumping. That means the more we weigh, the more pressure gets exerted on our feet and knees. As part of a healthy diet and exercise routine, maintaining a healthy body weight can help alleviate excess pressure on these parts of our bodies.
Can wearing high heels cause knee pain?
Wearing high heels throws our bodies into a completely unnatural foot alignment, putting our feet, ankles, knees—and even hips and back!—at risk for pain and injury. Learn more about how high heels negatively affect our feet and knees on our blog, Why High Heels Harm Feet.
How do I know if my knee pain is serious?
Not all knee pain is equal, so it’s important to listen to pain signals and stay aware of how your knee is feeling. Watch for signs of inflammation, including redness, warmth, and swelling. If you experience knee pain that lasts for more than a few days or weeks, we recommend consulting your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
How often should I replace my shoes to prevent foot and knee pain?
Podiatrists recommend replacing footwear every 300–500 miles, or between about six months to one year. Waiting to replace footwear until they “wear out” can lead to foot, ankle, and knee pain, since the shoe no longer provides the support necessary for healthy alignment and shock absorption. Additionally, since footwear often wears out unevenly based on our unique stride, worn-out footwear can emphasize any existing foot and knee issues, leading to increased risk for pain and injury.
Are there specific exercises to strengthen the feet?
Absolutely! There are a wide variety of specific exercises to strengthen the feet. From towel curls to heel raises to banded resistance work, there are plenty of options to help keep feet strong and healthy. A physical therapist or athletic trainer can recommend specific exercises for your unique situation.
Can physical therapy help in alleviating knee pain caused by foot problems?
Yes! Physical therapy is a fantastic way to help alleviate and prevent knee and foot pain conditions. Physical therapists will assess your unique body and situation and create a personalized plan to strengthen and condition the muscles and tendons that need it. They will address knee pain at its source to help encourage long-term health.
Alleviate Foot and Knee Pain with KURU
Alright, let’s recap—can foot pain cause knee pain? We hope you now feel confident to answer, “yes!” To keep your feet and knees as healthy as possible, it’s essential to prioritize quality, supportive footwear.
At KURU, we know 77% of Americans experience foot pain (which can lead to knee pain!), and we’re here to change that.
Our shoes feature built-in orthotics that work with almost any foot type to help encourage healthy alignment and protect feet and knees alike. Each pair is built with patented heel-hugging technology, ergonomic arch support, and shock-absorbing cushion for Pain Relief Beyond Belief.
Find your perfect pair of the best shoes for knee pain at KURU Footwear. Every pair of KURUs provides superior support for those experiencing foot or knee pain—from women’s sneakers and trail shoes to men’s sneakers and sandals. Heel the Difference™ of healthy heels today!
- Concurrent Foot Pain is Common in Those With Knee Osteoarthritis. National Library of Medicine (July 2015)
- The Influence of Foot Biomechanics on Knee Function. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (September 2017)
- Foot Characteristics and Mechanics in Individuals with Knee Osteoarthritis. Journal of Foot and Ankle Research (March 2021)
- Abnormal Biomechanics of the Foot and Ankle. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy (July 1987)
At KURU, we’re on a mission to help you Heel Better™ with footwear technology designed to relieve foot pain, so you can live a life you love. Since launching our innovative technology in 2008, we’ve received more than 29,000 five-star reviews from thousands of customers who tell us their KURU shoes helped them with conditions (such as plantar fasciitis) and got them back to doing what they love. Explore our comparison guide to find the best shoes for plantar fasciitis for you.
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