Arch pain(medically known as plantar pain)is a broad term many people use to describe pain in their muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, or nerves. All these components are connected to the bottom of the foot; therefore, damage to any one of these can cause pain on the bottom of the foot. This pain may only last for short time, but can progressively worsen if untreated. Most people who suffer from this pain are between the ages of 30 and 80, but many younger athletes are also susceptible, particularly those who participate in high-impact sports.
Plantar fasciitis, another sports injury detailed on this website, is regularly the cause of foot arch pain or strain. This can arise due to faulty biomechanics in your feet, which alone can also provoke foot arch pains. The most prominent biomechanical difficulties are flat feet and high arches. With flat feet (or overpronation) the arches appear to be almost flattened, causing unevenness by forcing the feet roll inwards in order to maintain balance and support the body's weight. This places inordinate pressure on the plantar fascia and arches. If by contrast you have high arches (instep), the ankle can roll outwards, again causing undue strain on the arches. Too much of this strain can lead to stretching of the plantar fascia and pain in the arches. Other causes include overstretching or otherwise pressuring the arches, for example by exercising with fatigued leg muscles which leave the feet with excessive work to do. You are also particularly at risk if in your 40s or 50s and commencing an intense program of training after a long period of inactivity.
Pain and tenderness associated with plantar fascia strains are usually felt on the bottom of the foot and may manifest either as a specific or general area of tenderness. Plantar fascia pain may be increased or decreased by stretching of the arch. Generally, in mild cases of plantar fasciitis, the pain will decrease as the soft tissues of the foot "warm up"; however, pain may increase as use of the foot increases. In more severe cases of plantar fasciitis, pain may increase when the arch is stressed. A more specific pain (point tenderness) is an indicator that something is wrong in that specific area. Pain with movement of the affected area is also an indicator of the particular body part affected.
The diagnosis of high arch (cavus) foot deformity or Charcot Marie Tooth disease can be made by an orthopedic surgeon in the office. Evaluation includes a thorough history and physical examination as well as imaging studies such as X-rays. The orthopedic surgeon will look at the overall shape, flexibility, and strength of a patient?s foot and ankle to help determine the best treatment. Nerve tests may occasionally need to be performed to help confirm the diagnosis.
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.
Cavus foot is caused in part by an over-pull of one of the lateral ankle muscles. A release of this tendon can be performed on the outside of the ankle. Additionally, a transfer of this tendon can be performed to help in correcting deformity of the ankle joint. Often patients will have a tightness of their gastrocnemius muscle, one of the main muscles in the calf. This can increase the deformity or prevent a correction from working. It is addressed with a lengthening of a part of the calf muscle or Achilles tendon. This is often performed through one or more small cuts in the back of the leg or ankle. Finally, the plantar fascia may be tight. The plantar fascia is a cord-like structure that runs from the heel to the front part of the foot. Partial or complete plantar fascia release may be done.
Maintain a healthy weight, Use insoles to support your arches, Limit how often you wear high heels, Use proper shoes, especially when exercising to evenly distribute weight through your foot.
Below are two simple plantar fasciitis stretching exercises to help improve the flexibility of the muscles and tendons around the foot and ankle. Plantar fasciitis stretch taken from The Stretching Handbook. Kneel on one foot and place your body weight over your knee. Keep your heel on the ground and lean forward. In the photo to the left, the athlete is stretching the arch of her left foot. Kneel on one foot with your hands on the ground. Place your body weight over your knee and slowly move your knee forward. Keep your toes on the ground and arch your foot. In the photo to the right, the athlete is stretching the arch of his right foot.