The arch functions as a shock absorber for our entire body. Each time we step down, we place up to 5 times our body weight on the foot, depending on whether we are walking, running, or jumping. If there were no shock absorber in the foot, the force of each step would fracture or dislocate the bones of the foot, leg, and lower back. When pain occurs in the arch, it is telling us it is “sick” and cannot function properly. If left untreated, it can cause constant pain throughout the entire foot, and eventually the knee, hip, and lower back.
The most common causes of arch pain are: (1) Repetitive activities, such as walking or running too far; jumping; or standing on hard surfaces for long periods of time. (2) Injury, such as tears in the ligament called the plantar fascia. (3) The natural aging process. (4) Biomechanical defects of the foot, or abnormalities we are born with, such as very high or low arches, or pronation (a turning out of the foot, causing us to walk more on the inner border of the foot). (5) Plantar fibromatosis, a benign growth on the ligament that supports the arch – this will be covered on a separate heading on this web page.
- Repetitive exertive activity arch pain is usually sharp, and localized to a specific area, rather than the entire arch. Usually the pain occurs in the area just in front of the heel. It is present when first standing on the foot in the morning, but may decrease once you start walking around, but will, gradually becomes worse with continued walking or running. Swelling may be present. The pain subsides with rest, but stretching the arch while resting may cause the pain to return.
- Injury pain is constantly present, but worse when standing on the foot. This pain is localized to a specific area, but may radiate out from this area to the entire foot. The pain is sharp, and usually accompanied by swelling and occasionally “black and blue” discolorations.
- The pain due to the natural aging process is usually dull and aching, or stiff, and can be felt throughout the entire arch area, rather then in just one spot. This pain is present whenever weight bearing, and usually becomes worse with continued walking. The pain gradually subsides when resting, and usually does not return with stretching.
- Biomechanical defect pain is usually localized to a section of the arch, such as the inner, middle, outer, front, or back of the arch. This pain may be sharp or dull, but is always worse with continued walking.
The normal arch is made up of bones and joints, which are held tightly together, in a precise relationship. When this relationship is subjected to repeated abnormal weight, or the normal weight of a lifetime, the force breaks up this normal relationship, causing bones to shift and joints to buckle. This allows the arch to collapse, and produces pain. The ability of the arch to absorb the shock of each step is reduced, so that continued walking will eventually produce pain in the knee, hip, and lower back. All four of the above categories will eventually cause this to happen. Arch pain can also be a manifestation of heel spur or nerve injury in the heel area. There are also certain types of benign growths that can cause arch pain i.e. Plantar fibromatosis.
Treatment must be directed to supporting the individual bones and joints which make up the arch, and to aid the arch in its job as a shock absorber. This in turn alleviates the arch pain, and prevents the further collapse of the arch. This is accomplished through the use of either a high quality arch support or custom-made orthotics. These devices support not only the arch, but each individual bone and joint which makes up the arch; and because of the space-age materials used in their construction, allow the arch to become a much more efficient shock absorber. This not only relieves the arch pain, but also prevents it from returning, and keeps the arch from collapsing further.
Immediate pain relievers: Some things you can try to give yourself immediate relief are:
- Rest is the most important thing you can do. Stay off your feet, or use a cane.
- Gently apply ice to the arch for at least 30 minutes, and repeat every 3 or 4 hours.
- Apply mild compression to the foot. Use a Fabriform PSC Foot and Ankle Strap to help support the arch, reduce swelling, and relieve pain and fatigue. This strap is easy to apply and adjust for a custom fit. Low profile allows it to fit in any shoe. Allows you to apply just the right amount of arch support/compression for your foot.
- Before stepping down after sleeping or resting, stretch the arch of your foot by pulling up on the ball of the foot and toes, as far as you comfortably can; hold the foot in this position for ten seconds. Repeat at least ten times.
- Consideration should also be given to the use of night splints. These are very effective for stretching the plantar fascia to relieve first weight bearing pain.
People with arch pain have also found these medical products to be effective: