Your Aching Arches: Why Your Arches Hurt and What You Can Do About It
Aching arches is one of the most common complaints of people who have foot pain. Arch pain can affect your gait, how you stand, and even what kind of shoes you find comfortable. If you constantly struggle with aching arches, finding out the cause can help you learn what you can do to manage or even eradicate the pain. The arch of your foot is not made from a single muscle, bone, ligament, or tendon. The arch that connects the heel and ball of your foot is actually composed of several small components. When any of these components are inflamed or injured, pain results. Not all arch pain has the same source. Finding the source is the first step to discovering the cure.
Flat FootednessNormally, the foot has a sustained curve through the mid-foot. When you have flat feet (or fallen arches), this curve is compromised. The rounded shape of your arch is usually supported by tendons that attach to bones in the ball and heel of your foot. Fallen arches occur when these tendons are not tight enough to support the normal shape of the arch. Sometimes, people are born with naturally flat feet; their arches just do not develop properly. Other times, you can develop flat feet from injury to the tendons in your heels, especially the posterior tibial tendon that extends down from your lower leg through the ankle and into the heel. Arthritis and nerve damage can also contribute to progressively flatter feet. Not only will you experience tired, aching arches after standing on flat feet, but you will find it difficult to stand on your tiptoes. You can also experience swelling around the arch. A podiatrist can help you diagnose and treat flat feet, but an easy test is to walk on a concrete surface with wet feet. A normal footprint will show a band connecting the heel and ball of the foot. But flat feet will leave no distinction between the two areas, making a wedge-shaped print. Common treatments include:
- Special inserts for your shoes to provide more support.
- Stretching and other physical therapy exercises.
- Steroids to reduce inflammation.
- Refraining from participation in high-impact sports and exercise that will further the stress on your tendons.
Over PronationAnother common cause of arch pain in excessive pronation. A foot pronates when it strikes the ground to help absorb the shock of impact, disbursing the kinetic energy as your foot rolls forward onto the forefoot to prepare for lift off after striking. With overpronation, the foot strikes the ground normally on the outer edge of the heel, but then the foot rolls too far inward, placing undue stress on the interior arch. During activities like running where you strike the ground frequently with great force, excessive pronation will result in arch pain. The best way to solve problems caused by excessive pronation is to have your feet examined by a doctor. Overpronation has many causes, and getting to the root of the cause is important. If you try to compensate for overpronation with off-the-shelf shoe inserts or other helps, you might not actually solve the real problem. For example, sometimes overpronation is cause by a lack of flexibility in the ankle. If your ankle does not bend backward easily enough, your foot will be forced to pronate more in order make up the difference and allow your knee to move through a normal gait. Only addressing the reduced flexibility in the heel will correct the pronation problem.
Plantar FasciitisPlantar fasciitis is by far the most common type of arch and heel pain. It occurs when the fascia, which is a band of tissue that runs through the arch to connect to your toes, becomes inflamed. Plantar fasciitis can develop slowly, with only mild heel pain in the morning or when you stand up after sitting for a while. But as the inflammation increases, the pain can become very bad, lasting for several hours. Plantar fasciitis is most likely to afflict those who:
- Participate in sports. Those who engage in high-impact exercise but do not spend enough stretching the feet and lower legs are likely to develop plantar fasciitis.
- Are overweight or pregnant. Extra weight places great stress on the feet.
- Wear high heels. Heels place your feet in a continual state of stress, leading to quick inflammation. The higher the heel, the greater the risk.
- Stand all day. Teachers, nurses, and construction workers, especially those who don’t wear supportive footwear, have increased chances of developing this condition.