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Arch Pain

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Young man holding his foot and appearing to suffer from pain in the arch of the foot.

Pain in the arch of the foot may be experienced anywhere between the heel and the ball of the foot. In most cases, it is due to strain or inflammation of the plantar fascia, a condition commonly referred to as plantar fasciitis. Although it primarily affects runners and other physically active individuals, people who lead more sedentary lifestyles sometimes also experience it.

The arch of your foot starts from the base of your toes and extends all the way to the heel bone. It plays a number of important roles, including:

  • Absorbing the shock of footsteps;
  • Bearing the weight of the body;
  • Helping you to achieve and maintain your balance;
  • Helping you to adapt to changes in the terrain you are walking or running across.

What Is Pain In The Arch Of The Foot Like?

When you feel pain in the arch of your foot, it can occur in several places along the arch. These can include pain in the the ball of the foot (just behind your toes) or even heel pain. Arch problems can even manifest themselves by way of pain in other places, including  the top of the foot, the ankles, knees, hips, back and legs.

In addition to its location, the pain can become more severe when you are walking or standing. Sometimes the arch pain may be at its worst in the morning just after awakening.

Causes Of Pain In The Arch Of The Foot

Arch pain can have several causes. One of these is injuries to the bones or soft tissues (muscles, ligaments or tendons) that form the arch of the foot.

However, in other cases, it may be a result of structural foot problems such as flat feet (or pes planus), high arches (or pes cavus), plantar fasciitis or overpronation when walking.

We briefly expand on these causes:

  • Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of pain in the arch of the foot and is usually a result of injury or overuse of the plantar fascia. This in turn results in inflammation of the fibrous tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot;
  • Overpronation is another common cause of arch pain. It is a result of walking in such a way that the outer edge of the heel hits the ground first, after which the foot rolls inward to rest on its arch. Overpronation can lead to pain in other areas of the body, such as the knees, hips or back. It can also cause some secondary foot problems such as corns or calluses and hammer toes.
  • Pes cavus is a result of having very high foot arches. In some cases, it is an outcome of an inherited foot structure problem while, in others, it develops due to neurological disorders like cerebral palsy. In some cases, pes cavus can be triggered by a stroke. Individuals with pes cavus usually feel most pain when walking or standing. As with overpronation, pes cavus can develop into other foot problems such as hammer toes or calluses.

The arch pain from any of these problems can be further aggravated by:

  • Weight gain
  • Increasing age;
  • Overuse (excessive running or walking, for example).

Diagnosing The Cause(s) Of Foot Arch Pain

To diagnose the cause of foot arch pain, a doctor will likely review the patient’s medical history. He or she may also physically examine the affected foot to understand the precise location of the pain. Areas of redness or inflammation will be noted.

The patient may be asked to explain when the pain is at its worst or what aggravates it. The doctor will also assess the patient’s balance, co ordination and reflexes.

Another important part of the diagnosis will be to observe the patient’s gait to understand whether issues like pes planus or pes cavus may be contributing to the problem.

Finally, the doctor may request a scan such as an X Ray, MRI Scan, CT Scan or Ultrasound to see whether there is any soft tissue or other foot damage that may be contributing to the problem.

Treatment

Treating Your Arch Foot Pain At Home

If your pain in the arch of your foot is not too severe, you may be able to successfully treat it at home. The following home based remedies may be useful:

  • Rest the foot arches by temporarily refraining from activities that may stress the feet. For example, taking a break from any activities that involve running or jumping. Do not resume these activities until the pain has gone;
  • Apply ice or a cold compress to the affected foot. Try to do this for 15-20 minutes at a time and at intervals of 2-3 hours;
  • If your symptoms closely correspond to those of plantar fasciitis, you can try stretching exercises for your calves and arches to see whether they relieve the pain;
  • Arch supports for shoes can help if the problem is related to flat feet. These can be bought over the counter quite cheaply.;
  • If the problem is related to overpronation or to flat feet, it can be aggravated by walking barefoot. As a result, wearing shoes whenever possible (even indoors) can be helpful;
  • A weight loss program, if successful, can take much of the stress off the foot arches and ease foot arch pain;

Arch Pain Treatment From A  Doctor

If home based remedies such as those above do not work, a doctor or podiatrist may suggest one or more of the following:

  • Having a podiatrist also make custom supports that will support the arch a lot more effectively than over the counter ones;
  • Night splints such as the Bio Skin Night Splint or Darco Body Armor Night Splint;
  • Taking prescription NSAID medications such as Advil or Ibuprofen;
  • Cortisone injections;
  • Some ankle braces such as the BioSkin Trilok may be helpful in reducing pain in the arch of the foot;
  • Physical therapy exercises to stretch the calves and foot muscles can be useful in mitigating arch pain;

Surgery

As a last resort, doctors may recommend surgery to correct the underlying cause of the arch pain.

How Long Might It Take To Recover From Foot Arch Pain?

The answer to this question depends on which of the underlying causes listed above is present in your case. With plantar fasciitis, for example, the patient may need anywhere from 3 to 12 months to make a complete recovery.

Surgery may require a recovery period at the longer end of this range – approximately a year- before the patient can move around freely without arch pain.

If the problem is due to over pronation or flattened arches, the patient may need to wear over the counter or custom supports for the remainder of his/her life.

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