Your feet are amazing structures that contain about one-quarter of all the bones in your body. These 26 bones are connected and supported by over 100 different tissues—your muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Now, the issue we’re exploring today is very much related to a substructure within this larger system, and this is the foot arch.
When you have foot arch pain, it can stem from a variety of potential root causes, some of which are related to structural variations. (Given the sheer number of parts they contain, all feet are truly unique.)
If you are suffering from a problem like this, it’s important to reach out and contact our team. We have been able to help many others who were in essentially the same situation, and now are able to perform favorite activities without the pain they previously felt.
With regards to how we might assist you in overcome arch pain, treatment options vary and will depend on your specific circumstances. That being said, we may prescribe custom orthotics no matter if you have either arches that are either fallen or abnormally high and causing problems.
Before we get too far into discussing how orthotics can help with foot arch issues, let’s take a moment to look at why you could be experiencing pain and difficulty in the first place.
How does arch anatomy affect foot function?
Foot arches are often taken for granted, but serve important functions. When we are simply standing up, the arches allow our feet to support the weight of the entire body with the least amount of force being placed upon them.
That’s already a pretty tall order when you think about the size of your feet—which are just a fraction of your total body mass—and how they have to support your bodyweight, but there’s more to the story!
While walking—not even running!—we place up to two times the weight of our body in force loads on the feet. And the amount of force is increased when we run and perform other high-impact activities. Your foot arches help to distribute the force loads in a relatively equitable manner, along with acting like a spring to keep feet moving forward.
Typically, when someone refers to a foot arch, they are referring to the medial longitudinal arch. This is the most prominent arch and it runs from the front to the back of the foot, along the inside edge.
The medial longitudinal arch uses the plantar fascia to absorb forces from ground contact (while walking or running) to reduce musculoskeletal wear and other damage risk. It also is instrumental in supporting bodyweight.
The lateral longitudinal arch runs in the same direction as the medial version, but is located on the outside edge of the foot. This particular arch is most visible in the feet of those who have cavus foot (high, rigid arches).
There is also a transverse arch, which runs perpendicular to the other two arches. This one cuts across the midfoot and plays an essential role in providing support and flexibility.
All three arches are formed by various tendons and ligaments, along with the tarsal and metatarsal bones.
From an engineering perspective, foot arches are strong and durable structures. Good thing, too, since they have to support all of that weight and assist with the force loads we just discussed!
Why does arch pain happen?
Different factors can be at work when pain is present in an arch, including injury, structural imbalance, or even a highly common condition—plantar fasciitis.
Injuries that cause issues are often related to the arch-related ligaments, tendons, and bones that have become weakened on account of overuse. In particular, posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD) is an injury that can result in a painful condition.
When we consider structural imbalance as the root cause of a pained arch, it will often be the matter of foot arches that are either too low (flatfoot) or too high (cavus foot).
Structural abnormalities like these can have an effect on pronation – the biomechanical process of rotating the foot inwards with every step. Individuals who have flat feet tend to overpronate, while those with cavus arch are likely to supinate (under-pronate).
How can arch pain be treated?
Treatment for a painful condition in the foot arches will depend on the root cause of the issue. In many cases, arch pain can be successfully treated with conservative (nonsurgical) measures. These might include rest, ice, stretching regimens, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Depending on your specific case, we may incorporate any of those measures into your treatment plan, and especially when supplementing a truly effective solution to arch pain—custom orthotics.
So why are orthotics so effective for arch pain. Well, it comes down to the fact that many instances of arch pain are related to pronation abnormalities.
Pronation is a totally natural inwards rolling motion your foot goes through during the ground portion when you take a step. This biomechanical process begins as the heel strikes the ground, and then continues until your toes push off the ground.
Foot arches are quite important in pronation, and when they’re either too high or too low the foot rotates either too much (overpronation) or not enough (supination).
Custom orthotics—not the flimsy shoe inserts you can pick up at retail stores and nationwide pharmacy chains—can be used to correct faulty motion.
These valuable medical devices are customized to work with your unique foot structure and gait.
In addition to improving biomechanics, orthotics can also improve structural alignment. This means they not only eliminate pain in the feet, but sometimes can also correct problems further up—into the ankles, knees, hips, and lower back as well.
It’s worth noting that in extremely rare instances, a severe case of plantar fasciitis might require a surgical procedure for optimal relief. Our policy is to always use nonsurgical methods whenever possible. Fortunately, this is successful for the majority of patients who suffer from foot arch pain.
Is arch pain preventable?
To avoid suffering from painful foot arches, start by choosing the right footwear. Wearing high heel shoes can be harsh on the feet, so try to limit pumps and stilettos to occasional events instead of wearing them on a daily basis.
If you have flat feet and are a runner or thinking about taking up running, pick up a pair of well-constructed shoes that are identified as being “motion control” models. This will help to prevent arch pain that develops as a result of overpronation.
Some individuals who overpronate think the answer to the problem is footwear featuring even more cushioning. We understand the thinking here—if cushioning is considered to be a good thing, wouldn't’t additionally cushioning be even better?
The fact of the matter, though, is that feet are naturally equipped to handle the force loads. Actually, feet that overpronate are, in a weird kind of way, already acting like highly-cushioned shoes. So the extra cushioning becomes a bad thing.
Whereas highly-cushioned shoes aren’t ideal for overpronators, they are for those who supinate.
So basically, if you want to lower your risk of developing arch pain, you need to choose shoes that work with your particular pronation style.
Put your arch pain to rest—contact HFAA!
At Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates, we provide comprehensive foot care services. If you are suffering from arch pain, give us the opportunity to create a treatment plan so you can find relief.
Depending on your particular case, a pair of custom orthotics could very well be the answer.
For additional information, or to request an appointment with our Bloomington, IL office, either give us a call at (309) 661-9975 or contact us online today!