Do you suffer daily from pain in the arches of your feet? Is the pain so intense that it limits your normal functioning? Has the pain forced you to stop participating in your favorite sports? There are several causes of foot arch pain, some easily corrected. Keep reading to learn more about the causes and treatment of foot arch pain.
FOOT PAIN: CAUSES
When we walk or run, the arch of the foot absorbs and returns all the force to and from our bodies to the world. An injury to this primary structure can severely limit your life. Arch pain has several causes and can range from simple soreness to a burning sensation. Common causes include:
- Structural imbalance in the foot
- Direct force trauma
- Muscle strains
- Ligament sprains
- Improper biomechanical alignment such as over pronation
- Stress fractures
- Inflammatory arthritis
- Tightness or lack of tightness of foot joints
A sprain or strain can result from single or multiple stresses to the foot. Direct trauma, like someone stomping on your foot, might not hurt too much at the time, but can actually damage primary and secondary foot structures. This will result in later pain. An arch sprain occurs when the ligaments holding the bones of the foot together are stretched so far that small tears start to appear. Overuse, overloading, over stretching, and deep cuts to the bottom of the foot can lead to an arch strain.
Because several muscles in the lower half of each leg attach directly to the feet, overly tight or loose leg muscles can lead to improper biomechanics, such as over pronation or awkward way of walkings; the result is pain in the feet and/or legs.
Pronation describes the way your weight is transferred as your feet roll inwards; weight going from the heels to the front of the feet. Pronation is a normal part of walking that acts as a shock absorber. You can see an example of pronation in the image at left. Over pronation occurs when this normal motion becomes too extreme. If over pronation becomes a habit, especially when running, it can leave you more prone to injury.
A stress fracture is the result of a twist, single injury, or series of traumas. Repetitive small injuries called “micro-traumas” are the most common cause of stress fractures in the foot. A “micro-trauma” injury occurs when a part of the body is repeatedly stressed to the point of tissue damage. Examples include:
- Running on surfaces that are too hard, too soft, or uneven
- Wearing ill-fitting or improper shoes during exercise
- Exercising too long or too hard
If the pain happens to be in your heels and is worse at the start of the day, you have probably developed plantar fasciitis, a condition in which the plantar fascia tendons become inflamed. It is very important to address this issue, because if left untreated can cause the body to form heel spurs. Click here to learn more about plantar fasciitis.
If your arch pain is relatively mild, try the old-fashioned RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation). This will allow damaged tissues to heal and reduce swelling. In addition, acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like aspirin can help relieve inflammation and pain. If you don’t want to mess with ice, look for a “cold therapy” booty specifically made to soothe aching feet.
Because this sort of pain is so common, almost every store where you can find shoes also sells inserts and specialty shoes. I recommend Lynco Orthotics. This brand carries inserts for virtually any type of shoe that can help relieve pain and improve gait issues. With the right amount of support in the right place, you’d be surprised how easy it is to recover. More ways to support your feet include:
- Gel arch wrap: this inexpensive wrap goes around the middle of your foot, features a silicone compression pad for support, and is worn inside the shoe.
- Magnetic ankle support: it looks like a normal ankle/foot brace, but provides pain relief with consistent compression. The device can be worn during exercise and features magnets to increase circulation and promote healing.
- Compression socks may also help
Tip: Do not wear high-heels if you suffer from any sort of foot or knee pain. Instead, look for shoes that provide shock absorption.
Tip: If you have flat feet, look for an orthotic insert. The medical heel will support the arch and provide pain relief, along with helping to control over pronation.
It’s time to seek a medical professional if the pain in your foot has prevented you from any activity, causes you to change the way you walk, is sore to the touch, or looks deformed or swollen. Because arch discomfort can become a serious issue if not treated, we advise visiting a podiatrist or sports therapist instead of attempting to treat the issue on your own.
The doctor will most likely ask you which of the four categories your discomfort falls into:
- Pain during exercise only
- Pain that does not affect your performance, but is felt before and after exercise
- Consistent pain before, throughout, and after exercise
- Pain that completely eliminates your ability to exercise
After the doctor has determined the cause of your pain, he or she may use physical or machine therapy to promote healing and increase circulation, prescribe exercise modifications, and/or recommend exercises that promote flexibility, strength, and muscle balance. If you are given a set of exercises to do, make sure you actually do them!! It is very possible to make a full recovery from foot pain, but you must follow the doctor’s instructions in order to do so. Physical therapy can be annoying, but it really does pay off in the end.
Your doctor may also advice prophylactic measures such as insoles/orthotics or different shoes.
All runners should have their gait analyzed. A podiatrist, sports therapist, or running specialist can do this. He or she will let you know if you have any improper biomechanics and can advise treatment if you do. The most common way to eliminate over pronation is by purchasing specific running shoes that feature a hard material on the inside middle section that will prevent the foot from rolling inwards. Keep in mind that one pair of athletic shoes doesn’t last forever. The material wears down rapidly. Replace a pair of quality running shoes every 200 miles or less.