The most common arch problem is the flat foot. This sometimes starts in childhood or may gradually develop in adulthood. In most cases the flat foot is related to a tight calf. The tightness of the calf forces the foot to overpronate (the inside of the foot rolls inwards) and the arch to break down and collapse. The arch collapse leads to abnormal stress on the plantar fascia leading to heel pain, as well as to the main medial tendon (the posterior tibial tendon), leading to tendonitis and even tears of the tendon. The other common symptom in severe flat feet is pain on the outside of the foot as well as calf and Achilles symptoms.
There are several reasons why arch pain develops. Sometimes it?s due to a condition known as plantar fasciitis, in which the plantar fascia (the band of tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot from your heel to your toes) becomes inflamed after excessive stress. Heel pain results from this inflammation. Sometimes the pain is due to extensive time spent on your feet. Many people feel pain on the arch of their feet after a long workday, while others overuse their feet exercising or playing sports. A foot deformity, such as hammertoe or clubfoot, can also cause this pain. Medical conditions such as diabetes or obesity can put additional stress on your feet, thereby causing arch pain. Your footwear is also important. Shoes should support all parts of your foot, especially the bottom. This is very important if you spend excessive time on your feet, if your obese, if your pregnant, or if you engage in sport-related activities. Injuries to any of the twenty-six bones, thirty-three joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments in the feet can also cause arch pain. Because the foot is such a complex structure, it?s important to see a podiatrist at the first sign of symptoms.
Pain in arch of foot is really the only symptom of this condition. It is unlikely to see any swelling or bruising and instead there will be a deep tender spot near the heel. Occasionally the pain may radiate further down the foot. With this condition, pain will usually be felt first thing in the morning or after periods of sitting. This is because the plantar fascia tightens and shortens slightly when there is no weight on it and by standing on it it suddenly stretches and becomes painful. After a few steps it starts to loosen off and the pain may subside. If this is the same pattern of pain you experience it is quite likely you have plantar fasciits. Pain may also be felt when walking up stairs or standing on tip-toes (anything that stretches the fascia).
Your doctor may order imaging tests to help make sure your heel pain is caused by plantar fasciitis and not another problem. X-rays provide clear images of bones. They are useful in ruling out other causes of heel pain, such as fractures or arthritis. Heel spurs can be seen on an x-ray. Other imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound, are not routinely used to diagnose plantar fasciitis. They are rarely ordered. An MRI scan may be used if the heel pain is not relieved by initial treatment methods.
Non Surgical Treatment
For mild pain or aching, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and others) may be effective. When there are no symptoms, treatment is not needed. If a child older than age 3 develops symptoms, the doctor may prescribe a therapeutic shoe insert made from a mold of the child's foot or a corrective shoe. As an alternative, some doctors recommend store-bought arch supports. These appear to work as well as more expensive treatments in many children. With any conservative, nonsurgical treatment, the goal is to relieve pain by supporting the arch and correcting any imbalance in the mechanics of the foot. Surgery is typically offered as a last resort in people with significant pain that is resistant to other therapies.
In cases where cast immobilization, orthoses and shoe therapy have failed, surgery is the next alternative. The goal of surgery and non-surgical treatment is to eliminate pain, stop progression of the deformity and improve mobility of the patient. Opinions vary as to the best surgical treatment for adult acquired flatfoot. Procedures commonly used to correct the condition include tendon debridement, tendon transfers, osteotomies (cutting and repositioning of bone) and joint fusions.
To prevent arch pain, it is important to build up slowly to your exercise routine while wearing arch supports inside training shoes. By undertaking these simple measures you can prevent the discomfort of arch pain which can otherwise linger for many months. While you allow the foot to recover, it will help to undertake low impact exercises (such as swimming or water aerobics).
Easy Beginner Version. Start with your bare foot on a flat surface, toes spread out. Place a penny under the ball of your foot and the end of a pen under the middle of your arch (sticking out from the inside of your foot). Activate your arch by flexing your arch muscle. You should feel the muscles on the ball of your foot pushing down on the penny, but your arch shouldn't be pushing down on the pen. These tools help you (1) avoid rolling your foot and (2) avoid pressing down with your toes (as an extra tip, you can slide a business card under your toes before doing the exercise-when you activate your arch, you should be able to slide the business card out easily with your fingers). Do your best to keep your toes relaxed. Advanced Version. Once you're ready to move on, you can try this advanced version. It builds on the above exercise to incorporate full body twisting and balance, helping you to maintain proper arches while you move. Using the same ideas from above, stand on a flat surface in your bare feet with a penny under the ball of your foot and the end of a pen under your arch. This time, stand with your back a few inches away form a wall or a door. Lift your other leg (the one without the penny or pen) and stand on one foot. Use the wall for balance, if necessary. Lift one arm and stretch it across your body until you touch the wall or door on the opposite side, maintaining a straight back. Keep your foot straight and your arch on the penny but above the pen. Your arch will want to follow the movement and roll off, but you will need to activate it to stay stable during the movement. Lift your other arm and stretch it across the opposite side of your body, still keeping your arch in place.