pain in arch of foot

Pain In Arch Of Foot – Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Are you experiencing a pain in the arch of your foot? This type of pain in the foot is relatively common and can have several causes. In this article we list the most common causes of a pain in the arch of the foot, ways you can relieve it and when you should see a doctor.

Pain In Arch Of Foot – Causes

The arch of your foot extends from the sole of the foot to the heel, where the base of your foot bends upwards in an arching position. This arch plays an important role in the activities you do with your feet. It helps to cushion vibrations, carry weight, create balance, stabilize movement and adapt to changes in terrain. Pain in the arch of a foot is something that commonly affects runners and other athletes, but it can also occur in anyone who is physically active.

Sharp pain in the arch of a foot occurs when you hurt the muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons that make up the arch of the foot. Depending on the underlying cause, the pain can be worse when walking, standing or in activities that affect the feet. The pain can be most intense in the morning when you wake up, as you have not used the foot in the night and the muscles may have stiffened. It can also be felt on the ball and on the heel of the foot. You may also feel pain at the top of your feet to your ankles, knees, hips and legs.

Pain in arch of the foot can occur due to structural or postural problems, and these problems can be exacerbated by weight gain, age, overuse, neurological disorders and physical stress. Flat feet and high arches are examples of structural problems that can lead to foot pain. The following are some of the most common conditions that can cause pain in arch of foot:

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of foot arch pain and one of the most common orthopaedic complaints reported. It is due to inflammation caused by excessive use or injury of the plantar fascia. If you have plantar fasciitis, you may have to wear different types of shoes with insoles that provide extra comfort and support for your foot.

Plantar fascia are ligaments that connect the front of the foot to the heel. It is most common in runners, but can also occur in non-runners. If you have plantar fasciitis, you may feel pain or stiffness in the heel or arch of the foot. The pain can be worse when you wake up and even more painful when you are on your feet during prolonged standing activity. Stretches and working with a physical therapist can help relieve the pain of plantar fasciitis.

sharp pain in arch of foot
A pain in the arch of the foot is common in runners and athletes.

Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction (PTTD) 

The dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon (PTTD), also known as flatfoot, occurs when you have an injury or inflammation of the posterior tibial tendon, affecting the ability to support the arch of the foot. This tendon connects the inner foot muscles with the calf and ankle. PTTD causes arch pain when the tendon is no longer able to support the arch.

With PTTD, you may also have ankle swelling. You may need to wear ankle braces or custom shoe insoles to treat and manage PTTD. Pain can occur during activities such as running, but not always. Physical therapy can also help. In some cases, you may need surgery to treat the condition.

Overpronation

Overpronation is used to describe the way the foot rolls inwards when walking. When you overpronate while walking or running, the outer rim of your heel touches the ground first, causing the foot to curve inwards towards the arch. This means you over-flatten your feet and can cause sharp pain in arch of foot when walking. The arches of your feet are vital for supporting other muscles, ligaments and tendons of the foot, ankle and leg. Therefore, a flatter foot can put you at higher risk of developing other issues such as:

  • ankle or shin sprains
  • heel spurs (a build up of calcium deposits on the heel bone)
  • plantar fasciitis (as previously mentioned)
  • achilles tendinitis (over-use injury of the achilles tendon)

If you are overpronate, you may also get knee, hip and back pain, calluses and hammer toes. You may also notice additional wear on the inside of the shoe, the inside of the heel and the pad of the foot.

sharp pain in arch of foot when walking
A misaligned foot position can be a cause of foot arch pain.

Cavus Foot

Cavus Foot is a condition in which the foot has a very high arch. It is an inherited structural abnormality that be caused by neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, stroke and Charcot-Marie disease. Pain is often felt when people walk or stand as there is excessive weight on the ball and heel of the foot. Other symptoms include hammer toes, claw-like toes and calluses.

People with Cavus Foot may be more prone to ankle sprains and foot instability. You may want to wear shoes with extra ankle support when exercising.

stabbing pain in arch of foot
Image example of a Cavus Foot

Pain In Arch Of Foot – Treatment & Prevention

Properly fitted shoes or specialised insoles can help correct the position of your foot when walking or running. Ask a staff member at a local shoe store for recommendations or talk to a podiatrist or orthopaedic surgeon. Podiatrists are doctors who specialise in foot health.

Exercises and stretches can also help.

Before undergoing treatment, you can consider home remedies such as stretching to ease the pain. In some cases, home treatments such as stretching may not be enough to completely ease the pain. In these cases, a doctor or podiatrist may recommend one or more of the following measures:

  • physical therapy
  • night-splints
  • braces
  • plaster cast
  • surgery
  • cortisone injections
  • prescription painkillers
  • prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • prescription orthotics
  • support shoes or insoles.
  • In all cases, you may need surgery.

In addition, there are a few different techniques that a person can do to alleviate the pain and ways to prevent the arch from injury. Home remedies include:

  • rest breaks when walking, standing or running for long periods of time.
  • reducing or performing activities that can aggravate the arch.
  • applying ice or ice packs.
  • using a support-wrap around the arch and ankle.
  • wearing socks and avoiding walking barefoot
  • using cushions or inserting supports into shoes
  • using splints (think of asking the doctor for a splint for the foot at night to keep the foot supported)

Stretches To Relieve Throbbing Pain In Arch Of Foot

There are several exercises and stretches to relieve pain in the arch of the foot. Here is a quick and easy exercise for a Plantar fascia stretch:

  1. Sit in a chair and put your affected foot on your other knee.
  2. Hold the heel of your foot in one hand, and grasp your toes with the other hand.
  3. Pull on your heel (toward your body), and at the same time pull your toes back with your other hand.
  4. You should feel a stretch along the bottom of your foot.
  5. Hold 15 to 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat 2 to 4 times.
throbbing pain in arch of foot
Image of a plantar fascia stretch

A person can use a small tennis ball or foam roller to massage to stretch the foot. This technique is used when the person takes off their shoes, sits on a chair, puts the ball or roll under the arch and rolls it up and down on the pads and heel of the arch. This technique is easy to do while seated.

Occasional pain relief medications, rest, ice and consistent stretches can be enough to treat your arch pain. If the pain does not disappear after a few days or becomes too severe to return to normal activities, you should talk to a doctor.

The doctor can refer you to an orthopaedic specialist, or a podiatrist. The doctor can examines your feet closely and identify other factors to determine the underlying problem. These exams will look further into inflammation, tenderness, swelling, abnormalities, balance control, coordination, reflexes, sensations and muscle tone. The specialists may order tests such as X-rays, CT, MRI and an ultrasound. Once the doctor has identified the problem, they can recommend treatments to address the problem and ease your pain.

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