Pain in the arch of the foot is a common problem, especially among athletes. The most common causes are direct injury and structural issues. Often, resting the foot and performing light stretches is enough to reduce pain.
The arch of the foot is an area along the bottom of the foot between the ball and the heel. It comprises three separate arches that form a triangle. Each arch consists of bones, ligaments, and tendons.
There are many potential causes of pain in the arch of the foot. Keep reading for more information on these causes, as well as the possible treatments.
The two most common causes of pain in the arch of the foot are injury and structural issues.
Structural issues typically refer to high or low arches or other abnormalities in the foot and surrounding area.
In both cases, several factors can lead to or aggravate these issues, including:
- weight gain
- physical stress
- neurological conditions
Causes of pain in the arch of the foot include:
Overpronation refers to how a person’s foot moves while walking, running, or jogging.
A person who overpronates strikes the ground with the outer portion of the heel first. As they complete the step, the foot rolls too far onto the arch. The extra pressure causes the arch to flatten.
Long term, overpronation can damage the tendons, muscles, and ligaments. This damage can lead to pain in the arch, knee, hip, or back. It may also cause hammertoe and calluses.
A person who overpronates often benefits from extra support when walking. Support can include stability shoes and prescription arch supports.
Plantar fasciitis is a degenerative condition of the plantar fascia and a common cause of heel pain. The plantar fascia is a ligament that connects the back of the foot to the front.
Common causes of plantar fasciitis include:
Anyone can get plantar fasciitis, but activities such as running can increase the risk.
If a person has plantar fasciitis, they often feel pain when waking up. The pain typically gets worse during waking hours with walking and standing. In addition to arch pain, a person may feel stiffness in the heel or ball of their foot.
People with plantar fasciitis may need to stop engaging in activities such as running to let the foot heal. They can also consider wearing support shoes or using inserts to help take pressure off the arch.
Cavus foot is a structural abnormality that causes a high arch. Causes of cavus foot include:
If a person has cavus foot, they may feel pain when walking or standing. They may also have reduced stability, which can lead to ankle sprains and injuries.
A person may have other issues related to cavus foot, including:
- claw toe
People with cavus foot can consider support shoes or inserts to help stabilize their feet and avoid pain and possible injury.
Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction
The posterior tibial tendon connects one of the calf muscles to the inner part of the foot. Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD) occurs when this tendon is injured or inflamed. If the posterior tibial tendon cannot support the arch, a person may feel pain there as a result.
PTTD pain typically occurs in the inner part of the ankle and back of the calf. The pain usually occurs while running or walking briskly and goes away once a person stops.
An ankle brace or specially designed inserts can help correct PTTD.
Flat feet can occur in children or adults. In many cases, flat feet cause no issues, but they can also cause a person to experience pain in the arch, other areas of the foot, legs, ankles, and back.
A person may not realize they have flat feet until symptoms occur. A doctor may recommend using supportive shoes or inserts to help provide additional support for the arch.
In some cases, home treatments and stretching are not enough to relieve pain. If this is the case, a doctor or podiatrist may recommend one or more of the following:
- physical therapy
- night splints
- cortisone injections
- prescription pain relievers, such as prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- prescription orthotics, support shoes, or inserts
While undergoing treatment, a person should still consider home remedies and stretches to help alleviate the pain. A person should not attempt these if a doctor advises them not to move the foot.
Some home remedies include:
- Resting: Stop or significantly reduce doing any activity that aggravates the arch.
- Applying ice: Apply an ice pack wrapped in a cloth to the arch and other tender areas to help reduce swelling.
- Wearing socks: Avoid walking barefoot.
- Using support: Consider using cushions, inserts, and support shoes.
- Splinting: Ask a doctor about splinting the foot to help keep it supported while sleeping.
- Using medication: Try over-the-counter pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen.
In addition, there are a few different techniques a person can use to help alleviate pain and make the arch less prone to injury. These include:
To perform this stretch:
- Sit down.
- Place the foot on the opposite thigh.
- Hold the toes with one hand while pushing in and down on the heel with the other.
- Gently push the toes toward the heel and hold for 3–5 minutes.
When a person stretches their calves, they can relieve pain and pressure on the arch of the foot.
To perform a calf stretch:
- Stand facing the wall and place both hands shoulder width apart on the wall.
- Take a step back with one foot.
- Bend the front knee while keeping the back knee straight and the heel on the floor.
- Hold the stretch for 20–30 seconds, repeat 3 times, and then switch legs.
Roller or ball foot massage
A person can use a tennis ball or a small foam roller to perform a massaging stretch on the foot. This technique is easiest to do while sitting.
To use this technique, a person should do the following:
- Take off the shoes and sit in a chair.
- Place the ball or roller under the arch of the foot.
- Roll it back and forth from the ball of the foot to the heel over the arch.
For occasional pain, resting, ice, and stretching are usually sufficient. However, if the pain does not go away after a few days, is severe, or frequently comes back, a person should consult a doctor.
A doctor may refer a person to an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in the feet and ankles or a podiatrist, who is a foot specialist. They can examine the person’s foot, how they walk, and other factors to determine the underlying cause.
An examination may include:
- looking for inflammation, tenderness, swelling, and deformities
- checking balance, coordination, reflexes, sensation, and muscle tone
- running tests such as X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, or ultrasounds
Once the doctor determines the underlying cause of the pain, they will recommend treatments that specifically target the underlying cause and help alleviate pain.
Pain in the arch of the foot can be due to a variety of medical conditions. However, athletes or individuals who spend a lot of time on their feet may be at greater risk of foot pain due to overuse, tension, and injuries.
Other risk factors for pain in the arch of the foot include:
- a plantar wart
- hard or cracked skin on the bottom of the foot
- too tight footwear
If a person is experiencing pain in the arch of the foot, it is important to get a proper diagnosis and follow recommended treatment. If the discomfort persists without intervention, complications could arise.
For instance, complications of plantar fasciitis can include a flattening of the arch over time, which increases strain, as well as the loss of the fat pad around the ball or heel of the foot.
Possible complications of PTTD include a deterioration in the surrounding joints, which can cause deformity in the foot.
If arch pain results from athletic injury or overuse, not resting and rehabilitating the area properly may result in increased pain in other parts of the foot or leg.
The arch is responsible for several functions in the foot, including:
- helping bear weight
- helping stabilize movements
- allowing the foot to adapt to changes in the terrain as a person walks or runs
- helping absorb shock
- helping maintain balance
A person may feel an injury to the arch directly in the area. It is also possible to feel pain or discomfort in other areas, including the:
- ball of the foot
- top of the foot
In some cases, a person may feel the worst pain in the morning. However, most individuals will experience worse pain during activities that directly involve the feet, including standing.
Arch pain is a common problem, especially among athletes. In many cases, a person can stretch, rest, and ice the arch of the foot until the pain goes away.
Problems with the arch of the foot can also cause pain in other parts of the body, including the ankle, heel, leg, knee, and back. It is essential to treat the problem early to ensure that foot problems do not lead to back or knee injuries.
If the pain persists, gets worse, or is chronic, a person should seek guidance from a doctor about additional treatment options.