Foot arch pain is a burden for many Australians. Knowing who to see to fix it and what you can do at home to help are key challenges.
In this article we’ll be delivering the important must-know information and dispelling a few myths about foot arch pain.
By the end of this you’ll know:
- What is the foot arch and what does it do
- Why having flat feet is your superpower
- What causes arch pain
- How easy arch pain treatment is
- Bonus: A link to some of my favourite shoes that can help with arch pain
What Is The Foot Arch
There’s a fair bit that goes on all the way down there at the end of our legs. Our feet are complex and interesting, well, at least that’s what us Podiatrists think.
Something we all inherently know about our feet is that we have a foot arch. It’s pretty safe to say that after over a decade working as a clinical podiatrist nearly every single client can identify something about their foot arch. Some say they don’t have one! Others know they have a really high arch.
It’s not my position as your clinical podiatrist to point out that there’s actually a couple of arches in each foot, and that for the most part it really doesn’t matter what kind of foot arch you have. I try to save that for the university lecturing, but the question remains. What actually is the foot arch, or at least the main arch we think of when talking about our feet?
The main foot arch is the curved shape that is on the inside (the medial aspect) of our feet. It’s known as the medial longitudonal arch to most podiatrists. The foot arch is made up of a number of tarsal and metatarsal bones. The navicular bone sits at the top of the arch and acts as a keystone; it provides structure and an attachment point for the muscles which pull on and support your foot arch.
What Does The Foot Arch Do?
The medial longitudinal arch serves a really important purpose during gait. When we walk and run our feet have a couple of important jobs to do. Well, actually there’s heaps but let’s focus on two.
The first job is shock absorption. In this task the foot arch will lower and extend (the toes move further away from the heel). This reduces the jarring the body undergoes as we land on the ground every step and has the added benefit of allowing our foot to adapt to different terrain and shoes.
As the arch lowers it undertakes a movement called pronation.
👉 Side note: Pronation is super important and received a really bad rap in the 90’s and 00’s. It’s even been medicalised as a diagnosis called overpronation. If we don’t pronate we don’t adapt to the ground and absorb shock. It’s almost never a problem.
Back to shock absorption. During process there’s a couple of key soft tissues that work really hard. The muscles on the inside of the foot and calf (tibialis posterior, tibialis anterior and abductor hallucis) contract to carefully lower and stabilise the arch. Then the plantar fascia undergoes healthy tensile strain to also provide that arch support.
The next important job of the arch is to stiffen up so that our feet become rigid (ish) levers to push us off the ground. The stiffer and more effective our arch is for this, the more power we can apply the ground. This means we move faster and more efficiently.
Now we’re talking about two important and very different jobs here. First the arch lowers for shock absorption and then stiffens for propulsion, we’re ready to learn about how good it is to have a high arch or a low foot arch.
The Superpower of Flat Feet
Having flat feet or low arched feet for many is a superpower. A foot that can lower the arch and be really mobile is perfectly equipped to provide effective shock absorption every single step.
Couple this with the mobility to adapt to different terrain as low arch feet adjust to uneven stones, climbing and sand really well.
I was lucky enough to see this in action in the extreme when hiking Kokoda. The local Papuan’s who have spent their entire lives living either barefoot or in rubber thongs on uneven, hilly and slippery ground all have some of the strongest, most adaptable and flexible flat feet I’ve ever seen. True Superfeet!
The days of being sent home from the Army for having flat feet are over. For most of us that have low arches we’re set for the modern world of hard and undulating surfaces where we need great shock attenuation.
That’s not to say that having a low foot arch is going to prevent all foot problems. The trade off for having the superpower of mobility and a low arch is that the propulsive phase of gait is less efficient.
The Superpower of High Arched Feet
Flip around the low arch superpower and you get the really efficient propulsive high arched superheroes.
Having a high foot arch is the starting point for effective power transmission from your muscles and tendons to the ground. This efficiency leaves those with high arches having less metabolic loading to push their body weight further and faster than their low arched brothers and sisters.
Again just like having a low arch can lead to some problems at propulsion, having a high arch tends to leave us with a greater risk of injury relating to poor shock absorption or compressive type soft tissue injuries.
What Causes Foot Arch Pain
The main cause of foot arch pain is asking the tissues that make up your arch to do more than they can handle.
This could be asking the plantar fascia to take on more load than it’s current capacity, a condition known as plantar fasciitis (or plantar fasciopathy more correctly). Plantar fasciitis is something that can effect both high and low (and normal!) arched people. For those with a low arch it is often due to too much tensile or pulling type activities, and for those with a high arch it’s usually due to too much compression (or squishing).
If you’d like to learn more about the band of tissue known as the plantar fascia and how to treat plantar fasciitis check out this post.
Foot arch pain could also be due to the muscles and tendons that attach on and around the foot arch being over worked and irritated. The big three that are commonly sore are the same three we mentioned above. Tibialis posterior, tibialis anterior and abductor hallucis.
Finally, we can’t talk about foot arch pain and not mention the bones and joints. That navicular bone which sits at the top of the arch can become overworked and develop a stress fracture or hot spot. The joints of the foot arch are also really hard working and can trigger arch pain. Acute pain is often known as synovitis or capsulitis whereas the chronic long lasting pain can often be associated with degenerative changes called osteoarthritis.
What Fixes Foot Arch Pain
What fixes, more like who fixes foot arch pain, Podiatrists! We’re the foot pain treatment 👑!
Ok, you want more of an answer or how we do it?
The secret that most podiatrists don’t want you to know is that it’s actually really easy to work out what fixes foot arch pain. The difficult part is applying it or making change happen.
Considering what you’ve already learnt above that foot arch pain is usually due to asking different tissues to do more than they can handle, the answer to fixing it is two fold.
- Ask the tissues to do less work
- Increase the tissues capacity to do work
Work Tissues Less
The first aspect can be achieved via relative rest, although this is a very temporary measure which does have side effects. More effective measures take some load away from said overworked tissue and place that load onto another really strong healthy tissue or into a device.
For example we can effectively use strapping tape as a temporary measure to do some of the work that the plantar fascia would usually do. This can take a sore arch from the overworked state back into it’s ideal goldilocks zone.
At PridePlus Health we’re passionate about getting pain relief with as little disruption to our daily lives as possible. This means we’re not usually recommending straight up rest for sore feet. We love running and living our lives too much to just stop.
Increase Tissue Capacity
To increase our tissues capacity to do work we need to train them up! Most of the tissues including muscles, tendons, fascia, joints and bone can all be strengthened to handle bigger loads.
The secrets to doing this are to remove the overload strain first, we can’t train an overworked tissue, and then commence a rehabilitation program.
For each tissue and each person this will be different. Core components of these programs for all are slow, heavy, steady and balanced movements. Modifying exercises like calf raises can be a way to effectively target, strengthen and increase the capacity of many of these tissues.
In the past someone with arch pain would most likely have been told to stretch. Stretch their arch or stretch their calves. After looking at the evidence and also case after case we can safely say this is not the magical physical therapy people initially thought. Fibrous tissues cannot be stretched out and soft tissues don’t stay long after a stretch has been completed.
If things feel tight the best way to get them loosened up is with resistance training where you take the tight tissue through range. Unlike stretching this can lead to long and strong tissues through a process called sarcomerogenesis. Tightness can be not only treated but prevented with the right loading physical activities.
Bonus: The Best Shoes For Arch Pain
Here’s a quick wrap up of the best current shoes for arch pain. Yes they are runners. We’re talking the best!
We did warn you that treatment for arch pain was easy, the hard part was making change happen.
If you’ve read this and thought, yep, I too can easily treat my foot pain and then shun wearing runners… Hmmm. There’s absolutely much more than can be done, but you’ll need to come and see us podiatrists to do that.
The best runners for high arched, arch pain sufferers right now are the Brooks Ghost. Head over to our best shoes for plantar fasciitis page for more information on this great example of modern athletic footwear.
The best runners for low arched or flat footed arch pain sufferers are the Mizuno Wave Sky. A great profile of support that can easily accommodate an arch support or orthotic as well.
The above two shoes are safe, general advice but not all foot bones of varying shape will fit these shoes. For your foot injuries it is always recommended to get personal advice about which shoe is best for you from your podiatrist.
Last chance to convince so here we go. If your feet are sore and that arch is giving your grief. We’re the team to help you out.
Book in online with our podiatrists and get your diagnosis and personal treatment plan.
We love nothing more than meeting you on your bad day, when the pain is really giving you the 😡! We’ll listen and work with you on getting you back to you happy place, and getting to say our goodbyes to the best version of you. 😇