A patient recently called to ask my advice regarding the pain he was having in his feet. He told me he had walked over five miles on a recent trip to New York. Although he knew he had flat feet, he made the mistake of wearing regular sneakers with little support. The more he walked, the more his feet ached. By the time he called me the next day, he was hobbling around with what he described as excruciating pain.
Four things contributed to this man’s arch pain: flat feet, overuse, too much activity on a hard surface and footwear with poor support. Even with the imbalance in his arches, he might have been able to avoid his pain by taking better care of his feet.
Foot pain isn’t usually serious, but it can certainly interfere with daily life. If you have flat feet, or some other structural imbalance in your feet, you’ll be more prone to arch pain.
How Does Arch Pain Develop?
The structure of your foot has two arches–one that runs lengthwise (longitudinal) and the other that runs the width of the foot (transverse). These arches are formed by the shape of the bones and ligaments that hold them together. Various muscles and one very strong ligament, the plantar fascia, provide further support to your arches. Your feet also have fat pads to absorb the impact from your body weight. If any one of these components develops a problem, you might experience arch pain.
Arch pain may occur even if you take care of your feet. Other causes include strain on the plantar fascia (plantar fasciitis), injury, ligament sprain, even osteoarthritis or a pinched nerve in the ankle (tarsal tunnel syndrome). The aging process may also contribute to arch pain.
How Can You Avoid Painful Arches?
1. If you know you have a structural imbalance, such as my patient with flat feet, take care not to make the same mistake he did. For example, always wear properly fitting shoes with adequate support. Replace your athletic shoes every six months or more often depending on how often you exercise. Avoid walking or running on hard or soft surfaces and overusing your feet.
2. Rotate your types of exercise. If you usually participate in high-impact activities such as running, alternate with non-impact exercises such as cycling, swimming, or using a step machine.
3. If your work requires you to stand on your feet most of the day, try to find ways to sit down more often. Also consider finding shoes especially suited for your job.
Evaluating Your Symptoms
If you do develop arch pain, you may experience localized or generalized pain or tenderness. Some people report a burning sensation on the bottom of their feet. However, if your pain is due to the normal aging process, you may have a dull ache and stiffness throughout the arch, which becomes worse with walking.
Pain Relief Without Medication
When you’re feet hurt, it’s natural to want relief right away so you can resume your activities. You may automatically reach for a bottle of pain relievers. Even the simplest over-the-counter drugs can be associated with side effects such as stomach upset, internal bleeding and liver damage. I encourage my patients to use natural methods whenever possible.
• Rest your painful feet as much as possible.
• Apply ice for 20 minutes every three to four hours.
• Use light compression with a wrap or with a strap especially made to support the arch and relieve pain.
• Elevate your feet to prevent swelling.
• After sleeping or resting, stretch your foot before stepping on it. Pull up on the balls of your feet and toes as far as you can without hurting. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat this stretch ten times.
• You might also consider using a topical pain relief gel, such as capsaicin cream, Ben Gay or Icy Hot. These creams stimulate blood flow to the area.
Should You See a Doctor?
When foot pain keeps you from your normal activities, or causes you to move differently, you should see your doctor. A deformed foot or one that is supersensitive to the touch should prompt a visit with your physician, as well.
Your doctor may prescribe physical therapy, which often decreases pain and helps the arch to heal. He may also suggest exercises that will strengthen and increase flexibility of the muscles, which in turn may correct any imbalance in the foot muscles.
If your problem stems from structural imbalances, you may benefit from an orthotic, a device placed inside your shoe. As you walk or participate in other weight-bearing activities, this device decreases much of the force placed on the structure of the foot. In some cases, the doctor observes your foot and makes a device prescribed specifically for your situation.
It’s easy to take your feet for granted. Be kind to your feet and arches now to prevent future pain.