Arch pain is not a pain that should be ignored.
The foot has a very major role, it bears the whole body weight. Without the foot, we cannot move around. Our body weight is shared by our waist, hip, knee, ankle, and feet.
If there is an arch pain that goes untreated, it can aggravate to affect other weight-bearing joints. In this post, we will be discussing pain in the arch of the foot, its possible causes, and how it is treated.
To understand arch pain, we need to talk about the structure of the foot.
The Structure Of The Foot
The foot is a complex structure of the body that is made up of 26 bones, 33 joints and a lot of muscles and ligaments. The foot is so connected that if there is something wrong at the forefoot, it affects the other parts of the foot and even the entire lower limb.
The foot is divided into three sections:
1. The Fore-foot:
This is the part of our foot that consists of our five toes, which are known as phalanges, and five long bones, which are known as the metatarsal bones.
2. The Mid-foot:
This part of the foot is made up of 5 bones:
- The cuboid
- Navicular and
- cuneiform bones
These 5 bones form the arches of the foot, which act as the shock absorber of the body. The midfoot is connected to the forefoot and hindfoot by a tissue called the plantar fascia.
3. The Hind-foot:
This is made up of the ankle bone (talus) and the heel bone (calcaneus). The talus connects to the tibia and fibula to form the ankle joint.
The Arches Of The Foot
The arches of the foot stabilize your body when standing, walking and running. They act as a spring and shock absorber for the foot. There are three arches of the foot. They are:
1. Medial Longitudinal Arch or Inner Arch:
The calcaneus, talus, navicular, the three cuneiform bones and the first three metatarsal bones form it. The medial longitudinal arch is higher than the lateral longitudinal arch. This arch is known for its elasticity because of its height and the number of small joints among its component parts.
2. Lateral Longitudinal Arch or Outer Arch:
It is made up of the calcaneus, cuboid and the fourth and fifth metatarsals. It is the flatter of the two longitudinal arches and stays on the ground when standing.
3. Transverse Arch:
It is made up of the base of the metatarsal bones, the cuboid, and the three cuneiform bones. It spans the foot from side to side.
Possible Causes Of Foot Arch Pain
1. Being Overweight:
The feet support the body weight. Being overweight puts a lot of pressure on the foot, which tends to “collapse” the arch and put a lot of strain on the feet.
2. Wearing Inappropriate Shoes:
Fashion has modified our feet. How? By the kind of shoes we wear.
Wearing high heels for a long period of time can cause a strain on our feet as the foot structure changes. This causes uneven weight bearing, not only at the foot but also on the entire leg.
When we wear heels, all our body weight is on the balls of each foot (forefoot) while the hindfoot and midfoot are elevated which causes a strain and an overstretching of the foot structures. Continuous heel wearing can make things get worse and in the process lead to arch pain.
3. Stress Fractures:
Stress fractures are basically overuse injuries of bones. As we use our bones every day, there is a constant replacing of cells to make themselves stronger to cope with your daily activities.
The more load you place on your bones, the more calcium your bones receive. However, if they do not receive any load, they have reduced amounts of calcium and if these bones are overstressed, tiny cracks can be formed in the bones.
4. High Arch:
This is when the arch is higher than normal. When the arch is too high, there is a lot of stress on the balls of the feet and the heel, which causes pain in the arch.
5. Flat Foot:
The arches of the foot have collapsed in this deformity and cause the entire sole of the foot to come in close contact with the floor.
An easy way to find out if you have either flat foot is to walk with your barefoot wet. Check your footprint before it dries up. If you can see the whole sole of the feet on the floor, then that is flat foot but if you see only the top of your foot and the hell, that is a high arch.
6. Hag Lund’s Deformity:
This is a bony enlargement found at the back of the heel. It is usually noticeable as a bump and causes redness, swelling, and pain at the back of the heel.
Due to the pain, there is a tendency for the patient not to bear weight on the heel, which overloads the arch and the forefoot, which in turn leads to arch pain.
7. Tight Achilles Tendon:
We all know the famous story of how Achilles weakness was his heel hence the name Achilles tendon. It connects the heel of the foot to the calf muscle.
When this tendon becomes tight, it stresses the plantar fascia and stretches the posterior tibialis tendon that supports the arch, which gradually causes arch pain.
8. Hallux valgus (Bunion):
We usually call this a bunion. This is a deformity that affects the big toe. The big toe moves toward the other toes. Due to this deviation, there is a tendency to walk on the medial part of our foot, which stresses the plantar fascia and causes foot pain.
This is a deformity in which the feet are turned inwards and downward. It is a congenital defect. The cause is unknown as babies are born with them. They tend to work on the outer part of the foot, which can lead to arch pain.
9. Weak Plantar Flexor Muscles:
The plantar flexor muscles are responsible for enabling you to point your toes or stand on your toes. When these muscles are weak, they cause a strain in the fascia, which in turn causes arch pain.
10. Plantar Fasciitis:
Plantar fasciitis is usually synonymous with arch pain. This is a condition in which the plantar fascia is inflamed. The plantar fascia connects the forefoot to the hindfoot and also supports the arch. Any irritation at the plantar fascia will definitely cause pain at the arch of the foot.
11. Ankle Injuries
When the ankle is injured (strained or sprained), the weight-bearing balance in the leg has been compromised. Sometimes it will be difficult to bear weight on the affected leg so you tend to bear weight on the unaffected leg. This puts a lot of pressure on the arch, which causes pain.
How Is Pain In Arch Of Foot Treated?
Generally, when you have pain, you should see your doctor to find out exactly why you have the pain. Here are some ways pain in the foot arch is treated.
Pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help relieve the pain at the foot.
Rest the affected foot so that the injured tissues have time to heal. Rest means do not use the part affected. So avoid all high impact activities and just rest the affected foot.
Ice helps reduce inflammation. You can use ice in the following ways:
- Crush ice in a large bowl of water and dip your foot in it for 15 minutes
- Crush ice in a damp towel and place on the affected part for 15minutes
- Get a frozen bottle and roll it around under your feet
It may feel uncomfortable at first but it relieves the pain in your foot.
Tight ligaments and fascia at the arch contribute to the pain felt at the foot. These ligaments need to stretch out.
Try the following exercises:
- Rolling a soft tennis ball under the feet helps to relieve the pressure in the foot and also strengthens the muscles at the foot and ankle
- Sit down on a chair and put the ankle of the affected leg on the knee of the unaffected leg. Stretch your foot by pulling the upper part of the foot away from the lower part. Hold for 10 seconds and release.
- Stand on your toes. Hold this position for 10 seconds and release.
- Do a towel stretch. Sit up on a bed with the affected leg on the bed. Place a towel around your foot and pull your foot towards you with the towel. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 3 – 5 times. This strengthens the muscles of the foot and ankle.
- Pick objects with your foot.
How To Prevent Pain In Arch Of Foot
Wear Appropriate Shoes
Shoes are meant to be a covering and support to our feet. They are not meant to alter the structure of our feet. So what do appropriate shoes look like? Well, look out for the following in your shoes:
- They should have adjustable straps such as laces or Velcro that allow the shoes to fit perfectly to the individual’s foot.
- There must be soft and stable heel support to prevent unnecessary movement of the heel
- The heel or sole of the shoe must not be too flat. Heel height should not exceed 1 inch (2.5 cm).
- Shoes have expiry dates. Check your shoes regularly. If your shoes are not providing the support they were given initially, then it is time for them to be replaced. IF not, they can cause injury to the foot or ankle.
- There must be arch support. For someone with a high arch, the arch needs to be supported to avoid extra stress on the arch. Also, it helps reduce the stress on the arch of the foot.
- The shoes should be light and not tight.
- The insole of the shoe should have a bouncy feel. For example, the rocker bottom shoe, that encompasses a thicker-than-normal sole with rounded heel. Such shoes make sure the user doesn’t have a flat footing on the proximal-distal axis of the foot. This can either be gel, foam or air like.
- The shoes should not be too narrow. There must be space for the toes to wiggle.
- When buying new shoes, walk around in them to make sure they are comfortable.
- This does not mean you should get rid of your shoes but instead have a pair of walking shoes with the features we discussed earlier.
Get an insole
An insole is like a shoe pad that provides support for the foot. It can be gel-like or foam like. If your shoes have all the good features except arch support, you can get an insole to put in your shoe to support your arch. People with flat feet will benefit from the use of an insole.
In order to avoid stress fractures, we need to stay active. Exercise more. A good exercise routine is meant to have strengthening exercises, flexibility, balance exercises, and aerobics. Be active for at least 150 minutes a week and target the major muscle groups of your body.