Does the arch of your foot ache when you wake up in the morning, when walking, or after running? Perhaps the pain is constantly there, day after day. It may be a dull, throbbing ache. Or you may feel a sharp, shooting, or burning pain.
Whatever it feels like, any kind of pain in arch of foot isn’t normal and indicates something is amiss with your feet. Your arches absorb stress, stabilize the body, and negotiate uneven surfaces, so keeping them in tip-top shape is vital for mobility.
Read on to discover the causes of arch pain—from unsupportive footwear to inflammatory diseases—and to learn about the many treatments and preventative techniques you can employ to relieve this unpleasant condition.
There are many possible causes for pain in the arch of the foot. Here are some of the most common.
Injury or Trauma
Damage to the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments that help support the arch can lead to pain and inflammation.
This damage can result from a one-off injury, such as dropping something on your foot, or through the accumulation of micro-trauma injuries over time, which occur from repetitive actions like running on hard surfaces, wearing unsupportive footwear, and engaging in exercise sessions that are too long or too strenuous.
Flat Feet & Posterior Tibial Tendonitis
A muscle known as the tibialis posterior plays a vital role supporting the arch of the foot. When this muscle becomes damaged through repetitive use or injury, the tendon becomes inflamed or torn—a condition known as posterior tibial tendonitis (PTTD).
Once the tendon is damaged, it can no longer support the arch, and the arch collapses—leading to flat feet. PTTD is a significant source of arch pain.
High arches will almost certainly cause pain in the arch of your foot. Alleviate pain with a good pair of insoles.
A high arch, known as pes cavus, is the opposite of flatfoot. While less common than flatfoot conditions, high arches tend to be more severe, causing increased stress on the ball of the foot and on the heel, which leads to high arch pain.
The plantar fascia is the ligament that supports the arch of the foot by connecting the heel bone to the toes. When the plantar fascia becomes weakened or inflamed—a condition known as plantar fasciitis—it causes pain on the underside of the foot or in the heel.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
With this inflammatory form of arthritis, the ligaments in the foot become weakened and can no longer support the arch.
Once RA progresses, the bones in the foot can shift from their normal position, leading to a flatfoot condition—and arch pain.
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
This is a nerve problem caused by the pinching of the tibial nerve due to injury, incorrect stance, or a cyst or mass. Symptoms include pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling in the sole or arch of the foot, which often gets worse at night.
Symptoms of Arch Pain
Symptoms vary depending on the underlying cause of the arch pain. However, the most common symptoms associated with pain in the arch of the foot include:
Sudden sharp pain in arch of foot
Burning pain in arch of foot
Shooting pain in arch of foot
Pain after running
Pain when walking
Pain that is worse upon waking
Tenderness, either general or in a specific area
Swelling or inflammation in the arch
Increased pain or tenderness when stretching the arch
Increased pain or tenderness after being on your feet for a while
Diagnosing Arch Pain: What You Can Expect
Because there are so many different causes of pain in the arch of the foot, you should see your doctor for a specific diagnosis, which will help inform treatment.
Your doctor may diagnose based on a physical exam, functional tests, and imaging techniques.
Your doctor will take a full medical history and will inquire about your symptoms and their onset. Your doctor will perform a physical examination to check for pain, swelling, and physical deformities.
You may be asked to participate in a number of functional tests so your doctor can see how your muscles and bones work. These tests can involve moving against resistance, picking up items with your foot, or standing on your tiptoes. You may also be asked to run or walk so the doctor can see the extent, type, and location of your arch pain.
X-rays or MRI scans are frequently used to diagnose the cause of arch pain. X-rays highlight changes to the bones, while MRI scans uncover inflammation, fluid buildup, and injury to the soft tissues.
Treatment for Pain in Arch of Foot
Treatment options for pain in the arch of the foot range from simple at-home therapies to professional treatments, such as physical therapy and, in severe cases, surgery.
7 Foot Arch Pain Home Remedies
If your arch pain has just started, or if the pain is mild, you may want to treat your pain at home before seeing a doctor. The following home remedies help relieve arch pain and can be used in conjunction with other treatments and medical interventions.
1. RICE - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation
The RICE protocol is one of the best at-home remedies for pain and inflammation. It should be used within the first 72 hours following the onset of arch pain to reduce inflammation and speed healing.
Rest. Take every opportunity to put your feet up, giving your arches time to heal and preventing further inflammation and damage.
Ice. Ice packs will help to kill the pain in the arch of your foot. Ice will also quell inflammation and swelling. Apply an ice pack for up to 15 minutes every four hours, or as needed.
Compression. An elastic compression bandage may help reduce the pain and inflammation in your arch.
Elevation. Raising your foot will restrict blood flow, thereby reducing inflammation. Be sure to raise the foot above the level of your heart by lying down and propping your foot on a chair, stirrup, or bed frame.
2. Arch Pain Exercises
The following exercises will stretch and strengthen the muscles in your foot and arch to prevent and relieve pain.
Exercises for Early Arch Pain
These exercises are particularly helpful in the early stages of foot arch pain. Click on each exercise to see an easy-to-follow instructional video.
Morning Towel Stretches
This is a set of three stretches using a towel. Do these stretches first thing in the morning to reduce pain and inflammation. They work by increasing oxygen to the damaged tissues and removing excess fluid from the foot.
Arch Pain Self-Release
This is a simple seated technique to reduce pain in your feet.
Standing Calf Stretch
This is a standing exercise to strengthen and stretch the calf muscles, which support your arch.
Advanced Exercises for Arch Pain
Once you are able to stand comfortably on your arch, you can progress to the following exercises:
This stretch is helpful for both plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis. This exercise supports the calf muscle.
This towel exercise activates the muscles that build the arch of the foot.
Resisted Plantar Flexion
This stretch uses a resistance band to stretch and strengthen the arch.
Resisted Ankle Dorsiflexion
This stretch also uses a resistance band and is performed on a floor mat.
Always check with your doctor or physical therapist before undertaking any new exercise regimen, and let them know if you experience any pain, swelling, or other adverse effects.
3. Self-Massage for Arches
Massaging the arch of your foot is a simple, yet highly effective way to treat arch pain. It reduces pain by stretching out tight muscles, while also improving oxygen flow to the damaged tissues. This oxygen brings with nutrients to encourage healing. Massage can also help remove waste products from around the muscles and reduce fluid build-up in the foot.
This how-to video demonstrates cross-fiber massage techniques to heal plantar fasciitis and reduce arch pain.
For an easy morning massage, simply roll your bare foot on a massage roller ball! Roll forward and back from mid-arch to heel. Repeat daily for up to five minutes.
Do not massage your arches within the first several days following injury or the onset of symptoms. Massaging too early can actually increase swelling and inflammation.
4. Supportive Shoes
The right footwear is important for our arches, feet, back, and other body parts...so choose wisely!
Shoes with good arch support provide proper foot alignment, absorb shock, and encourage proper walking motion. If you’re not sure whether your shoes are suitable, ask your doctor or physiotherapist.
Once your shoes are worn out, get rid of them. Old sneakers, with obvious wear patterns on the heels or sole, may no longer provide the support you need. The general recommendation is to replace your running shoes every six months, especially if you use them often.
5. Orthotics for Arch Pain
An orthotic device is any kind of foot support, shoe insert, brace, or splint that helps support the arch and maintain a neutral position for the feet and toes. Orthotics help speed recovery, provide pain relief, and prevent relapse and further injury.
Research has shown that foot orthotics improve the quality of life for people with plantar fasciitis by significantly reducing pain and improving foot function in just three months.
Orthotic devices available to treat arch pain include:
Arch supports are simple to use and comfortable enough to wear all day. ( See Product )
These arch supports can be worn on bare feet or inside the shoe to help reinforce the foot’s natural arch. You can also wear braces while exercising to prevent relapse or further damage to the arch.
A good pair of insoles will make standing and walking easier and more comfortable. ( See Product )
An insole is a piece of foam, plastic, or gel that fits inside your shoe to support the arch and other components of the foot. Insoles can be purchased online or over the counter—simply select your regular shoe size.
A night splint will protect your foot while you sleep and help you feel less pain in the morning. ( See Product )
Night splints, while cumbersome, are particularly helpful for plantar fasciitis. They provide all-night stretches to the arch, heel, and calf muscles, which reduces the severe morning pain experienced by so many people with the condition.
6. Low-Impact Activities
Switch out activities that are causing pain in the arch of the foot for more foot-friendly, low-impact activities:
These types of exercises reduce the stress and strain on your arches, while still delivering the same benefits associated with high-impact exercise.
7. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Arch pain can develop from weight gain—your arches suddenly have more bodyweight to support. If you are overweight or obese, take steps to shed some pounds.
Engage in low-impact activities, eat a balanced diet, and exercise portion control. Consulting fitness and nutrition professionals is a smart, helpful step. You may wish to see your doctor for a checkup to rule out any underlying conditions contributing to unexplained weight gain, such as hypothyroidism.
And remember, your arches aren't all that will benefit from maintaining a healthy weight—your whole body and mind will, too!
Professional Treatments for Arch Pain
Consult a medical professional if your arch pain is severe or persists beyond a few days. Your doctor may choose to explore the following treatments:
1. Physical Therapy
A physical therapy program may include a variety of techniques to aid your recovery. Rehabilitation exercises and stretches are used to improve mobility, flexibility, and strength, while machines or massage increase circulation and encourage healing.
If the pain in the arch of your foot is severe or interferes with your ability to carry out daily activities, your doctor may suggest anti-inflammatory medications or corticosteroid injections.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can be taken according to the packet instructions. However, it’s not advisable to take these long-term, as prolonged use can lead to gastrointestinal irritation or stomach bleeding.
In some cases, a corticosteroid injection may be recommended to reduce pain and swelling. Be sure to discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.
3. Surgery and Other Procedures
Surgery is always a last resort for arch pain, but it may be best for severe cases, when other treatments have failed to provide relief. The procedure used will depend on the cause of the arch pain.
For example, some cases of flatfoot, plantar fasciitis, or arthritis may require reconstructive surgery to restore the shape of the arch. Pain caused by damage to the tendon supporting the arch may require procedures to remove damaged tendon tissue.
Don't forget to protect your foot with a post-op shoe after surgery.
Prognosis and Recovery Time
Recovery time for pain in the arch of the foot varies between individuals and greatly depends on the underlying cause of the arch pain and its severity. Your general health, lifestyle, and the treatments employed all play roles in prognosis and recovery time.
Some people with pain in the arch of their foot may simply need rest and better footwear. Others will require surgical intervention to rectify structural abnormalities.
One thing is for sure—early intervention is important for a speedy recovery. People who use the RICE protocol and consult their doctor quickly after the onset of symptoms have a greater chance of recovery.
With a little TLC for your arches—and by following the below suggestions—you can prevent arch pain.
Wear supportive shoes, and regularly replace old footwear.
Stretch your feet daily, especially before and after exercising or being on your feet all day.
Massage your feet regularly to improve circulation and reduce the accumulation of waste produce and fluid.
Maintain a healthy weight to reduce pressure on your feet, ankles, and legs.
Choose low-impact activities. If you are a runner or engage in other activities that place pressure on the feet, schedule some low-impact days to balance things out.
Give your feet a break. Take recovery days and allow your feet the rest they need.
Relieve Pain in Arch of Foot
While pain in arch of foot is a common complaint, especially among athletes and older adults, it is easily preventable and curable.
Take the time to look after your feet and arches and you’ll enjoy greater mobility and a lifelong sense of wellbeing. First things first, throw out your shabby old shoes and invest in a brand new supportive pair! Pamper your feet with massage and stretches, and consider orthotic supports like braces or shoe inserts.
Finally, consult your doctor if you experience arch pain that is severe or isn't quickly resolved with some TLC.
Jessica Hegg is the content manager and at ViveHealth.com. With vast product knowledge and understanding of individual needs, she aims to share valuable information on making smart buying choices, overcoming obstacles and overall improving the quality of life for others. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle.
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