Injuries to the muscles and ligaments around the hip affect both competitive and recreational athletes. These injuries can interfere significantly with sports enjoyment and performance levels, and they occasionally will end participation completely. Excessive pronation and poor shock absorption have been found to be an underlying cause or a contributing factor for many leg injuries.1 Functional orthotics which have been custom-fitted to improve the biomechanics of the feet and reduce the extent of pronation can help to prevent many sport-related leg injuries.
Lower Extremity Problems in Athletes
One study looked at the foot biomechanics of athletes who reported a recent foot or leg injury and compared them to an uninjured control group.2 The researchers determined that those athletes with more foot pronation had a much greater statistical probability of sustaining one of five leg injuries, including iliotibial band syndrome (which is due to excessive tightness of the hip abductor muscles).
This study helps us understand how providing appropriate functional foot orthotic support to patients who are involved in sports or recreational activities lowers their likelihood of developing both traumatic and overuse hip injuries.
In this paper, sixty-six injured athletes who ran at least once a week, and who had no history of traumatic or metabolic factors, were the study group. Another control group of 216 athletes were matched who did not have any symptoms of lower extremity injuries. The amount of pronation during standing and while running at “regular speed” was determined by measuring the angles of their footprints.3 The investigators found a significant correlation: Those athletes with more pronation had a much greater likelihood of having sustained one of the overuse athletic injuries.
Hip and Thigh Injuries
Many injuries experienced at the hip develop from poor biomechanics and gait asymmetry, especially when running. Smooth coordination of the muscles that provide balance and support for the pelvis is needed for optimum bipedal sports performance. This includes the hamstring muscles and the hip abductor muscles, especially the tensor fascia lata (the iliotibial band). When there is a biomechanical deficit from the feet and ankles, abnormal motions (such as excessive internal rotation of the entire leg) will predispose to pulls and strains of these important support muscles. The hamstrings (comprised of the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus muscles) are a good example.
During running, the hamstrings are most active during the last 25% of the swing phase, and the first 50% of the stance phase.4 This initial 50% of stance phase consists of heel strike and maximum pronation. The hamstring muscles function to control the knee and ankle at heel strike and to help absorb some of the impact. A recent study has shown a significant decrease in electromyographic activity in the hamstrings when wearing orthotics.5 In fact, these investigators found that the biceps femoris (which is the most frequently injured of the three hamstring muscles) had the greatest decrease in activity of all muscles tested, including the tibialis anterior, the medial gastrocnemius, and the medial and lateral vastus muscles. The scientists in this study theorized that the additional support from the orthotics helped the hamstrings to control the position of the calcaneus and knee, so there was much less stress into the hip joint and pelvis.
Excessive Pronation and Hip Injuries
Using functional orthotics to correct excessive pronation and to treat hip problems requires an awareness of the various problems that can develop. The following is a list of the pathologies that are seen in the hip and pelvis secondary to pronation and foot hypermobility:7
Iliotibial band syndrome Tensor fascia lata strain
Trochanteric bursitis Hip flexor muscle strain
Piriformis muscle strain Hip adductor muscle strain
Hip joint capsulitis Anterior pelvic tilt
These conditions will develop much more easily in athletes, who push their musculoskeletal systems, and who seek more efficient and effective functional performances.
In 2002, researchers at Logan College of Chiropractic recruited a total of 40 male subjects that demonstrated bilateral pes planus or hyperpronation syndrome. Subjects were cast for custom made orthotics; their right and left Q-angles were measured with and without the orthotic in place. Thirty-nine of 40 test subjects showed reduced Q-angle, which was in the direction of correction, suggesting that wearing orthotics can improve stability and levelness of the pelvis, thus protecting the body to some degree from hip injury.8
Excessive pronation and/or poor shock absorption have been shown to be an associated or causative factor in many leg injuries — from the foot itself, up the lower leg to the knee, thigh, and into the hip joint. The good news is that many of these conditions can be prevented with custom-fitted functional orthotics. Evaluation of foot biomechanics is a good idea in all patients, but is especially necessary for those who are recreationally active, or for anyone who has experienced hip problems.
To avoid potentially disabling hip injuries, competitive athletes must have regular evaluations of the alignment and function of their feet. Additional preventive measures include wearing well-designed and solidly-constructed shoes. When athletes are provided with custom-fitted functional orthotics, it can help prevent arch breakdown and biomechanical foot problems, and also treat numerous injuries of the lower extremities, including the hip joints.