Arch pain occurs with an inflammation of the plantar arch or fascia. It is the thick membrane that covers and supports all the muscles of the sole of the foot from the heel bone to the base of the toes that is called plantar arch. When this membrane pulls excessively (constant strain), pain developes in the arch of the foot or heel.
The most common cause of arch pain is plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the fibrous band of tissue that connects the heel to the toes. Sufferers of plantar fasciitis typically feel pain early in the morning when they first get out of bed. Another common cause of arch pain is fallen arches or flat feet. Fallen arches result in the sole of the foot becoming flat so that the entire sole of the foot touches the ground. Fallen arches can lead to pain in the ankles, knees, feet, and even in the legs. While fallen arches are often inherited, for some it develops as a result of wear and tear on your feet. Wearing shoes without proper metatarsal support, or arch support, can overstretch the tendon that supports the arch causing the arch to flatten out.
Flat feet can exhibit a variety of symptoms, from mild to severe. The extent of the flat foto does not always correlate with the extent of symptoms. Patients may complain of arch pain and heel pain. Commonly there is pain on the outside of the foot, where the foot meets the ankle as the collapse foot abuts against the ankle. Muscle cramps within the foot, and onto the leg (shin splints) may occur. In general, patients have pain with activity, such as walking or running. The pain may be deep and focal to a generalized widespread achy feeling. Irritation from shoe gear can cause redness and swelling. Common reasons patients seek treatment are pain, interference with walking or activities, difficulty fitting shoes, swelling, and notice a change in appearance of the foot and/or unsightly appearance.
The adult acquired flatfoot, secondary to posterior tibial tendon dysfunction, is diagnosed in a number of ways with no single test proven to be totally reliable. The most accurate diagnosis is made by a skilled clinician utilizing observation and hands on evaluation of the foot and ankle. Observation of the foot in a walking examination is most reliable. The affected foot appears more pronated and deformed compared to the unaffected foot. Muscle testing will show a strength deficit. An easy test to perform in the office is the single foot raise.
Non Surgical Treatment
There is considerable debate about the best treatment option for plantar fasciitis. Some authors suggest all of the 'mainstream' methods of treatment don't actually help at all and can actually make the symptoms worse! However, on the whole, there are several of the most commonly cited treatment options for plantar fasciitis and these are generally accepted throughout the medical community. I would recommend giving these options a try if you haven't already. Rest. This is mainly applicable to the sports people as rest is possible treatment. (For those who cannot rest e.g. people who work on their feet - skip to the other treatment options below). Rest until it is not painful. This is made more difficult as people need to use their feet to perform daily activities but certainly stop sporting activities that are likely to be putting the fascia under excessive stress. Perform Self Micro-Massage (you can watch this video by clicking the link or scrolling further down the page as it's embedded on this lens!) This massage technique is used to break down fibrous tissue and also to stimulate blood flow to the area, both of which encourage healing and reduce pain. There is also a potentially soothing effect on nerve endings which will contribute to pain relief. Ice Therapy. Particularly useful after spending periods on your feet to reduce the inflammation. Wrap some ice or a bag of frozen peas in a towel and hold against the foot for up to 10 minutes. Repeat until symptoms have resolved. Heat Therapy. Heat therapy can be used (not after activity) to improve blood flow to the area to encourage healing. A heat pack of hot water bottle can be used. 10 minutes is ideal. Careful not to burn yourself! A good taping technique. By taping the foot in a certain way you can limit the movement in the foot and prevent the fascia from over-stretching and gives it a chance to rest and heal. Click on the link for more information on taping techniques. Weight Management. If you are over-weight, any weight you can loose will help to ease the burden on your sore feet and plantar fascia. Orthotic devices (often mis-spelled orthodic) are special insoles that can be used to limit over-pronation (discussed earlier) and control foot function. By preventing the arches flattening excessively, the plantar fascia is not over-stretched to the same extent and this should help with the symptoms and encourage healing. Stretching the calf muscles (again, click this link or scroll to the bottom of the page to watch the embedded video) can help to lengthen these muscles and the Achilles tendon - a risk factor for plantar fasciitis. Stretching of the plantar fascia itself is also encouraged, particularly before getting up the morning (night splints can be used for this effect) and after periods of rest. This can be achieved by placing a towel or band under the ball of the foot and gently pulling upwards until a stretch is felt. Hold for about 15-20 seconds then rest briefly. Repeat 2-3 times. As you can see there are many different treatment options available. Try incorporating some of these in to your daily routine and see what works for you. Regardless of the method the main aim is to prevent the fascia from over-stretching! Medical professionals such as a Podiatrist may decide to make custom orthotics or try ultra-sound therapy. It is likely that anti-inflammatory medications will also be recommended. If you have tried the treatment options and your symptoms persist I'd recommend going to see a medical professional for further advice.
With flat feet, there is a tendon on the inside of the foot than can often become weakened, injured, split and/or ruptured. This tendon, is called the posterior tibial tendon, and is the main arch supporting tendon. Obviously damage to this tendon can cause collapse of the arch. Some people have genetically inefficient tendon, and tends to be the case in younger people. In mild cases, such as tendon splits, the posterior tibial tendon can be repaired to restore its strength. Acute incontinuity of the tendon can be primarily repaired. Often the posterior tibial tendon is augmented with a tendon transfer of an adjacent tendon to provide both strength and continuity. In any tendon repair, advanced or retensioning of the tendon is performed. In most flat foot surgery a tendon augmentation is often combined with other boney procedures to restore structure and balance to the foot.
There are several things that you can do to prevent and treat arch pain. This includes Avoiding high heeled shoes, Stretching the calf muscles regularly, Wearing well fitted, comfortable shoes, Using customisedorthotic devices or shoe inserts, Elevating the feet and applying ice and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. You can also care for your feet by paying attention to any changes in your feet as you get older. It is normal for feet to lose some of their fat pads as a person ages. Your feet may get bigger, both wider and longer as well. Make sure that you wear shoes that are sturdy, but comfortable, and have your feet measured before you buy shoes to make sure that you are still wearing the right size. Shoe sizes vary from one brand to the next, so it is a good idea to have your feet measured every time you purchase shoes. When choosing shoes, match the shoe to the activity for which it will be worn. Within the broader grouping of athletic shoes, there are different categories with different features. For example, a running shoe has different features than a walking shoe. You may develop some arthritic changes in your feet over time, too. If you notice that you are experiencing more pain in your feet, see your doctor for an evaluation. If the pain is arthritis-related, your doctor may recommend medication or other treatment to slow the progression of the arthritis.
Strengthening exercises. Below are two simple strength exercises to help condition the muscles, tendons and joints around the foot and ankle. Plantar Rolling. Place a small tin can or tennis ball under the arch of the affected foot. Slowly move the foot back and forth allowing the tin can or tennis ball to roll around under the arch. This activity will help to stretch, strengthen and massage the affected area. Toe Walking. Stand upright in bare feet and rise up onto the toes and front of the foot. Balance in this position and walk forward in slow, small steps. Maintain an upright, balanced posture, staying as high as possible with each step. Complete three sets of the exercise, with a short break in between sets, for a total of 20 meters.