Ask the Doc……
“I’ve just come from my annual physical. No one I’ve ever seen seems to think that examining my feet or that looking for any mechanical problems that I might have is important. Is it?”
For nearly 50 years I have emphasized the critical importance of one’s feet and legs to their overall health. Indeed, we are like moving buildings with a foundation, our feet, and a skeletal framework that supports our many rooms; i.e., the heart, lungs etc. We can decorate and preserve the rooms to the highest standards but if termites are eating at our foundation our building will not function very well or last long.
Dr. Walter Bortz II, a professor at Stanford University, is one of the world’s most distinguished scientific authorities on aging, longevity, and living a healthier life. He and I share many fundamental beliefs quite important to you regarding your feet and legs, as well as our beliefs on osteoarthritis. According to Dr. Bortz, “the most important organ of an older person's body is not the heart or lungs or kidneys or brain but the legs. When the legs stay strong the rest of the body follows. ‘Noodle legs’ are forerunners of disease.”
Why do we both feel so strongly about this and how can we possibly believe that the optimal alignment of our feet and legs are more critical than one’s heart or lungs? Because quite simply, if you cannot remain active, you will deteriorate very rapidly and are far more likely to succumb to the common ailments many face, including obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and many other risk factors. Studies have shown that even Olympic world class athletes can lose a great deal of conditioning in just two weeks.
Although the prevailing belief is still that osteoarthritis is primarily due to age and weight…..certainly factors…..but by no means primary causes, Dr. Bortz once again thinks as I do, stating that this disease, “has a simple mechanical cause,” and “that the health of our joints is precisely tuned to the compressive forces that act across the joint. When the vectors are misaligned or overloaded or under loaded the joint becomes unsteady and starts to rattle. This burden of malfunction becomes an arthritic joint. Evidences of its extent are bone spurs which actually are reflections of the joint's effort to heal inflammation, almost like a skin scab.”
Bortz further states that “abnormalities such as flat feet, or knock knees, or bow legs “are directly linked to the arthritis we see in the knees and hips of the elderly and simply attribute to age. He also agrees with the critical importance of pediatricians in preventing arthritis, stating that there needs to be “a much energized effort in ‘well-baby’ exams so that their later in life symptoms do not come too late for simple corrective action.”
The good doctor further notes that “arthritic joints represent an immense profit center. Our hospitals and hospital wings have beds dedicated to joint replacement surgery” and uses as an example the “outrageous $180,000 hip replacement cost” a friend of his just incurred, adding that “orthopedic training programs clamor for recruits. Who can argue against this logic when med students are in debt $100,000? A quick payback.” He also fully agrees with me regarding our current use of drugs, stating that, “drugs too are a billion-dollar growth industry promising remedies to reduce joint inflammation with modest, at best, results.”
All of this Bortz feels is due to the fact that, “medicine defaults its primary mission of assuring the human potential by adopting the wrong fundamental strategy, repair instead of prevention -- because it pays,” and adds that “we need a new specialty, preventive orthopedics.”
The bottom line is that the most neglected aspect of our health……the optimal alignment of our feet, and thus the joints they support, i.e., the knees, hips and back, may just be the most important aspect of our health. As Dr. Bortz states, “our ultimate goal of 100 healthy years has its best chance of realization with good joints to gird it.”
A former reconstructive foot and ankle surgeon, past Clinical Instructor of Medicine at Emory, and Fellow of the American College of Rheumatology, Dr. Pack practices in Greensboro and Atlanta. He treats athletes at all levels and works with patients who have arthritis and want to remain active. In the 2004 Olympics he had a silver and gold medalist, and helped the UGA Golf Team (2005 NCCA National Champions). For further information please contact him directly at 770-335-9201, via email at email@example.com, or see his website at www.drloupack.com. His new book, The Arthritis Revolution, Latest Research on Staying Active without Pain Medication or Surgery, is available on LuLu.com or Amazon.com.