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Arch Pain - Overview

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT October 10, 2018 0 Comments

Arch pain can be a challenge for doctors and patients to address because it has a wide range of causes. A safe and timely recovery requires understanding the underlying causes of your pain and finding the appropriate treatment. Whether you are suffering from fallen arches, plantar fasciitis, acute injury, or another condition that causes arch pain, read on to find your path to a complete recovery.

What is Arch Pain?

The foot and ankle are composed of 26 bones, as well as an assortment of tendons and ligaments. The upwardly curved section between the heel and ball, known as the arch of the foot, serves as a shock absorber with every step we take. This mechanism minimizes wear and tear not only in the foot but the entire lower body and spine. Plus, it also helps propel us forward with each step, like a spring.

Arch and ankle pain is not a condition in itself, but the result of an underlying cause. Even so, foot pain in the arch of the foot can be a major obstacle in daily life, making even simple tasks difficult.

Arch Pain Causes

Causes of arch pain can be related to many conditions, and finding the right treatment depends on a positive diagnosis. Learn more about some of the most common causes so you can effectively treat your arch pain.

Acute Injury

Heel or arch pain can result from any injury that involves a serious blow to the foot. Having your foot stepped on, crushed under a dropped object, or hit can damage the bones and muscles in your foot, leading to short-term pain. This should be one of the most easily identifiable causes of severe arch pain, as it is the direct result of a recent accident.

Fallen Arches

One possible cause of high arch pain is a deformity of the foot known as fallen arches or flat feet. This condition can be present from birth or result from inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, and obesity. Once the tendons that support the arch lose their elasticity they are no longer able to support the structure of the foot, resulting in arch pain while running, walking and other body weight-bearing activities.

Plantar Fasciitis Arch Pain

Plantar fasciitis is a pain in the arch due to repeated stretching and strain of the plantar fascia ligaments located on the underside of the foot, also often caused by tight Achilles tendon and calf muscles. With the repeated injury, the connective tissue in the bottom of the foot can become inflamed and very painful. Treatment for plantar fasciitis arch pain often involves managing pain while the foot naturally heals.

Learn More About Plantar Fasciitis Here

High Arch Pain

On the other end of the spectrum from flat feet is the development of pain from an arch that is too high. A high arch is characterized by a very defined and stiff bottom of the foot. This can lead to pain due to poor shock absorption secondary to the innate inflexibility of the foot. It can be caused by genetics, a neurological disorder, or other medical issues. Treatment most often involves stretching and finding proper supportive shoes.

Side of Arch Pain

Pain on the outside, or lateral, edge of the foot is most often caused by dysfunction of the posterior tibialis muscle and tendon. This muscle plays a key role in supporting the arch of the foot. It can become painful and inflamed with injury, overuse, or poor movement mechanics. Rest and understanding the cause can help provide relief.

Overuse Activities

Regardless of flat feet or high arches, arch pain can occur due to repetitive strain on the feet, especially with a lack of proper arch support or footwear. This is arguably the most common cause of arch pain. Whether it’s caused by running, jumping, participating in sports, or even just walking. These activities can cause inflammation along the plantar fascia or other foot ligaments, and even cause heel pain.

Symptoms of Arch Pain

Symptoms vary depending on the specific condition causing your painful arches; which can help to identify the underlying cause of your arch pain.

Many conditions can also result in heel pain. Below are symptoms associated with each condition.

Acute Injury

A shooting pain in the arch of your foot will appear immediately after a direct blow. This often results in aggravated pain with any type of weight bearing activity. You can also expect local swelling, stiffness, and redness in the foot.

Fallen Arches

The foot deformity will be obvious. Even after a short walk, sharp pain in the foot arch will appear, and your feet will tire easily. The arch can also become swollen and red. Over time, normal foot moves, such as coming up on the toes, can feel extremely difficult.

Learn More About Symptoms of Flat Feet

Plantar Fasciitis

Redness and swelling on the bottom of the foot along the plantar fascia ligament. With palpation, you will often feel painful nodules in the arch as well. This will affect your ability to stand and walk, especially first thing in the morning.

More On Plantar Fasciitis Symptoms

High Arch Pain

This innate stiffness associated with a high arch can lead to shooting, aching, or burning pain in the bottom of the foot. The toes may tingle or there is often the sensation of having a rock in your shoe. High arch foot pain can also spread to the bottom and back of the heel.

Side Arch Pain

While this type of pain is less common, it can affect your ability to walk and stand comfortably. Feelings of tenderness, swelling, and instability in the foot are the most common symptoms. It can also increase your risk of ankle sprains.

Overuse Pain

Any of the above arch pain issues can be caused by overuse of the foot, secondary to high impact activities, extensive time spent on the feet, or in poorly fitting shoes. Pain usually starts as dull and gradually gets worse and more debilitating with time.

If you experience a sharp pain in the arch of your foot when walking, the secondary symptoms above can lead to a more specific diagnosis.

What Happens When You Ignore Arch Pain?

Ignoring any type of arch pain, especially inner, can lead to other complications if left untreated. 

Gait Abnormalities

Symptoms may cause a limp or other gait abnormality that can lead to pain and discomfort throughout the lower body and spine.

Heel Spurs

Heel spurs are another possible outcome of chronic inner foot arch pain. This condition involves a bony protrusion that develops as the tendons on the underside of the foot put repetitive and excessive strain on the bones they attach to.

Learn More About Heel Spurs

Recovery From Arch of Foot Pain

Severe pain in the arch or back of the foot should be addressed by a podiatrist, with physical therapy, or another medical professional for proper treatment.

Mild heel and arch pain can disappear in a few days or weeks by using at-home treatments like icing and compression. However, if pain persists, speak to your doctor as soon as possible.

Some conditions, like fallen arches, will be present throughout life and require long-term management. However, investing in quality orthotics or insoles for arch support and practicing the right exercises can make the pain much more manageable.

Arch Pain Treatments

Taking the Next Steps to Treat Arch Pain

While pain in the bottom of your foot arch can be difficult to diagnose, your medical history and symptoms can illuminate the underlying cause and help you find an effective treatment plan. Even for athletes and runners, arch pain can be manageable with the right techniques and understanding. Whether you are looking at short-term pain or a lifelong condition, there are tools available to make treating even the most severe pain a walk in the park.


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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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