One of the most common causes of arch pain is plantar fasciitis, a condition that involves inflammation of the fibrous band of tissue that connects the heel to the toes (the plantar fascia). Pain from plantar fasciitis can be felt in the arch or the heel, and is most often felt toward the end of the day and after long periods of being stationary (e.g. getting up after sitting for a long time). Commonly, plantar fasciitis is the result of excessive foot pronation (rolling in of the foot) or excessive foot supination (e.g. high arches), both of which can increase tension on the plantar fascia. In these cases, orthotics and well-fitting footwear can address the cause of the problem by improving the position of the feet and relieving tension on the plantar fascia.
Arch pain can be caused by several different factors. Tight calf muscles combined with repeated arch collapse on weight bearing, is the most common cause of arch pain.This can then often lead to a condition called plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the connective tissue that connects the heel with the ball of the foot. When the connective tissue in the bottom of the feet gets stretched out too much, plantar fasciitis can result. The inflammation resulting from plantar fasciitis can result in arch pain. Arch pain caused by plantar fasciitis is often worst after long periods of rest, like when you first wake up in the morning. This is because the plantar fascia tightens when you are off your feet. When you wake up in the morning and start walking around, the plantar fascia stretches out again.
Symptoms include pain which is often described as a burning pain radiating into the arch of the foot, heel and sometimes the toes. Pins and needles or numbness may be felt in the sole of the foot. Pain may be worse when running or when standing for long periods of time and often worse at night. The area under the medial malleolus on the inside of the ankle may be tender to touch.
Your doctor may order imaging tests to help make sure your heel pain is caused by plantar fasciitis and not another problem. X-rays provide clear images of bones. They are useful in ruling out other causes of heel pain, such as fractures or arthritis. Heel spurs can be seen on an x-ray. Other imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound, are not routinely used to diagnose plantar fasciitis. They are rarely ordered. An MRI scan may be used if the heel pain is not relieved by initial treatment methods.
Non Surgical Treatment
When you first begin to notice discomfort or pain in the area, you can treat yourself with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). Over-the-counter medications may also be used to reduce discomfort and pain. Rest will allow the tissues to heal themselves by preventing any further stress to the affected area. Ice should be applied no longer than 20 minutes. The ice may be put in a plastic bag or wrapped in a towel. Commercial ice packs are not recommended because they are usually too cold. Compression and elevation will help prevent any swelling of the affected tissues. There are two types of over-the-counter medication that may help with the pain and swelling of arch pain. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) will help with the pain, and a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen will help with the pain and battle the inflammatory response. Caution should be taken when using these drugs, and dosage should not exceed the labeled directions. Special care should be taken and a physician consulted if you have a history of stomach ulcers. Those who have chronic medical conditions or who are taking other medications should consult with their doctor regarding the most appropriate type of pain and/or anti-inflammatory medications. Commercial over-the-counter arch supports or orthotics may also help to ease arch pain.
There are two types of bone procedure for flat feet, those where bone cuts and bone grafts are used to alter the alignment by avoiding any joint structures, or joint invasive procedures (called fusions or arthrodeses) that remove a joint to reshape the foot. With joint fusion procedures, there are those procedures that involve non-essential joints of the foot versus those that involve essential joints. All bone procedures have their place in flat foot surgery, and Dr. Blitz carefully evaluates each foot to preserve as much motion and function while obtaining proper and adequate alignment. In many cases a flat foot reconstruction involves both soft tissue procedures and bone procedures to rebuild and restore the arch. There are several joints in the arch of the foot that can collapse - and these joints are non-essential joints of the foot. This does not mean that they do not have a purpose, but rather become inefficient is providing a stable platform for function. As such, locking these non-essential non-functioning joints into place is commonly recommended. These joints are fused together with screws and/or plates. A heel bone that is no longer in proper position and pushed outwards away from the foot can be corrected with a bone cut and realignment procedure, so long as the displacement is not too significant. A benefit of this surgery is that it keeps the back portion of the foot mobile, and helps the surrounding tendons work for efficiently in maintaining the arch. In certain flat feet, the foot is deviated outwards and away from the midline of the body. Sometimes, this is due to the outer portion of the foot being shorter than the inner portion. Here bone graft can be added to the outer edge of the foot to lengthen the foot to swing the foot over into a corrected position. This procedure is most commonly performed in children and young adults. A bone graft is inserted into the top part of the arch to realign a component of the flat foot, medically known as forefoot varus or medial column elevatus. The back part of the foot (called the rearfoot complex) can be the cause (or source) of the flat foot or the simply affected by the flat foot foot. In simple terms, the back part of the foot can be made to flatten out due to arch problems - and vica versa for that matter. Dr. Blitz specifically identifies the cause of the flat foot as this will determine the best treatment plan, as each flat foot needs to be evaluated individually. The rearfoot is made up of three joints, and depending on the extent and most importantly the rigidity of these joints, they may require fusion to restore alignment. When all three joints require fusion - this call is a triple arthrodesis. For completeness, isolated fusion of any of the three joints can be performed (such as subtalar joint arthrodesis, talonavicular arthrodesis, and calcaneaocuboid joint arthrodesis). The medical decision making for isolated fusions is beyond the scope this article, but Dr. Blitz tries to avoid any rearfoot fusion for flexible feet because these are joints are essential joints of the foot, especially in younger people. Those in severe cases, it may be advantageous to provide re-alignment.
People with flexible feet who develop fallen arches may benefit from foot strengthening exercises, notes the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma. Standing on a towel in bare feet and grasping the material with the toes is an easy foot-strengthening exercise that can be done at home. Standing on one leg while arching and releasing the foot may also prove useful. Doctors may prescribe gentle stretching exercises for the foot and ankle tendons.