Arch Pain Explained for Better Treatment Selection
The main reason why arch pain is such a common occurrence is that the arch is, in effect, your foot’s shock absorber. The arch, along with the underlying and supporting plantar fascia, takes the brunt of the force in weight bearing and shock absorption. And a contributing factor to the frequent occurrence of arch pain is the complexity of this mid-foot structure.
Your foot actually has two arches, the longitudinal arch and the transverse arch, composed of five irregularly shaped bones called tarsal bones. This assembly of bones maintains its shape because of the shape of the individual bones and the way they fit together – much the way a stone arch stands because the stones have been carefully shaped and precisely fitted together. Further supporting the arch are muscles and an underlying ligament called the planter fascia. Your arches are pretty complex, and there’s a lot that can go wrong in that array of interrelated parts and functions.
Arch pain can have one or more of several causes: trauma, sprained ligaments, strained muscles, bruises, poor foot alignment, overuse, joint tightness, arthritis, and stress fractures. Of these, plain old sprains and strains from hard and excessive use, stress fractures, and injury to the plantar fascia are the usual culprits for most people. And of these, an injured and inflamed plantar fascia, a condition called plantar fasciitis, is probably the most common.
Plantar fasciitis is usually the result of repetitive micro-trauma. When the plantar fascia – the bundle of ligaments connecting the heel to the toes and thus supporting the arch – is subjected to excessive loads or stress, it suffers micro-trauma from overstretching. Then, it becomes inflamed and loses some of its elasticity. And then, when you walk or run or jump, the plantar fascia is unable to stretch as it should, and pain is the result. Because the pain is the product of a too taut plantar fascia (and occasionally the related muscles), it is usually worse first thing in the morning or after long periods of rest. After some activity, though, things tend to “loosen up,” and the pain lessens.
Arch pain that occurs as a result of plantar fasciitis or similar conditions can often be palliated be performing certain exercises. All variations of calf stretches are useful for stretching out the inflamed plantar fascia and the surrounding musculature, which should help with much of the pain when you walk. Also, exercises to strengthen surrounding muscles will aid in taking the load off the affected area and thus allowing healing to begin. Any exercise, even just walking, that flushes the area with blood, as long as it doesn’t exacerbate the condition causing the pain, will help promote healing.
The best initial treatment for the early onset of arch pain (usually a burning sensation in the arch) is the application of ice to reduce swelling and inflammation. Later, heat and anti-inflammatory gels, coupled with anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can be effective. In addition, rest and eliminating the activities that have contributed to the problem can be a big help. Massage and foot rollers also have their place in the treatment arsenal.
When arch pain is caused by hyper-pronation and plantar fasciitis, arch supports can do wonders for the pain. Just remember, though, that run-of-the-mill arch supports work by immobilizing the arch, and if used for long periods, can lead to weakening of the surrounding muscles. They should, therefore, be used only for relatively short periods until the pain subsides and healing begins.
There are, however, specially designed orthotic insoles on the market that prevent pronation and provide good arch support by working with your muscles to alleviate the pain and build the needed strength. These orthotic insoles/arch supports also stretch the Achilles tendon and calf muscles to take stress off the plantar fascia. Anyone suffering from arch pain would do well to consider these.
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