Why physiotherapists need to stop telling people to push through their heels

There is a huge mistake physiotherapist, exercise physiologists, personal trainers and many more make that is causing injuries.

Firstly, read this blog to find out if you have been a victim firstly, then keep on reading to find the fix.

Have you ever been told to push through your heels with exercises?

Don’t worry you aren’t alone.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why?

Before I get to the “why” of this big mistake, let’s first talk about why it’s completely not functional.

People told to push through their heels commonly have back, hip, knee and/or heel pain. The exercise might be a bridge, a squat or a deadlift. More often than not these people have pain with stairs, running, bending over, lifting and so on.

So if I asked you when you go up stairs do you push through your heel or through your toes?

What about when you run? If we are about to take off in a race do you push through your heels or on your toes?

Stand up and try this right now – put all your weight on your heels and bend over to touch your toes. Feel which muscles are working.

Now put more of the weight through the balls of your feet and bend forwards. Don’t worry, you can keep your heels on the floor but just don’t put much of your weight through them.

I bet it felt easier doing it on the balls of your feet.

Pushing through your heels is the complete opposite of life. Yet it is taught by many people who give out exercises. Even during my uni days as an undergraduate and then doing my masters this is still taught. And trust me I’m embarrassed to say I was also one of these people who taught people to push through their heels.

But why did it all start in the first place since it’s so unnatural.

Let’s talk about some research and how that works.

Research can only happen if there is money to fund it. So there is lots of money for drug research, wound care and other medical things. Then a lot less money for physiotherapy.

In the early days of research we only got money to research things that compliment doctors. A big one being knee replacements. We stuck electrode pads to people and found out after knee replacements it was hard to turn on your quads (muscles at the front of the thigh).

Then we found out that if we told these people to push through their heels they could use their quads more.

Now as time goes by we have even better ways to research and a bit more money. Instead of sticky pad electrodes we can insert fine wire electrodes in to people. This means that now we know that not only does pushing through the heel makes it easier to use your quads and back.

So all those manual handling talks… they actually encourage this. (and on another funny note there is research coming out soon showing “safe lifting” is actually causing more back pain)

So what to do instead…

As a simple rule of thumb – if your hips are straightening then push through your ball of your foot.

But because we’ve been so trained to push through our heels it’s hard to make the switch all on your own.

Think about your running shoes and how they have a big heel. And now your brain just wants to use your heel.

That’s where our unique Elite Physiotherapy approach helps. We can do some really gentle hands on treatment to quickly get you on the ball of your foot. Then we pair this up with the perfect exercise to reinforce this habit and integrate it into life.

If this blog has triggered any questions I’d love to hear them. Please get in touch with us on (07) 4999 9773 so I can help you with any aches or pains.

This is a really common problem, so please share this article with your friends. Then they too can start the journey to living the lives they want.

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