The most common arch problem is the flat foot. This sometimes starts in childhood or may gradually develop in adulthood. In most cases the flat foot is related to a tight calf. The tightness of the calf forces the foot to overpronate (the inside of the foot rolls inwards) and the arch to break down and collapse. The arch collapse leads to abnormal stress on the plantar fascia leading to heel pain, as well as to the main medial tendon (the posterior tibial tendon), leading to tendonitis and even tears of the tendon. The other common symptom in severe flat feet is pain on the outside of the foot as well as calf and Achilles symptoms.
The most common cause of arch pain is plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the fibrous band of tissue that connects the heel to the toes. Sufferers of plantar fasciitis typically feel pain early in the morning when they first get out of bed. Another common cause of arch pain is fallen arches or flat feet. Fallen arches result in the sole of the foot becoming flat so that the entire sole of the foot touches the ground. Fallen arches can lead to pain in the ankles, knees, feet, and even in the legs. While fallen arches are often inherited, for some it develops as a result of wear and tear on your feet. Wearing shoes without proper metatarsal support, or arch support, can overstretch the tendon that supports the arch causing the arch to flatten out.
People suffering from pain in the arch sometimes complain of burning or soreness on the foot sole, which is worse in the morning and after physical activity. There may also be some tenderness when pressure is applied to the sole of the foot or heel. In addition to this, patients tend to complain of more pain when they stand on tiptoe.
Diagnosis of a plantar plate tear can often be challenging due to the complex nature of the anatomy of the foot. Careful history taking and an examination of the area of pain is required to determine the extent and cause of the tear. If necessary, further investigations such as x-rays or diagnostic ultrasound may be ordered by your podiatrist to help evaluate the severity of the problem.
Non Surgical Treatment
There is considerable debate about the best treatment option for plantar fasciitis. Some authors suggest all of the 'mainstream' methods of treatment don't actually help at all and can actually make the symptoms worse. However, on the whole, there are several of the most commonly cited treatment options for plantar fasciitis and these are generally accepted throughout the medical community. I would recommend giving these options a try if you haven't already. Rest. This is mainly applicable to the sports people as rest is possible treatment. (For those who cannot rest e.g. people who work on their feet - skip to the other treatment options below). Rest until it is not painful. This is made more difficult as people need to use their feet to perform daily activities but certainly stop sporting activities that are likely to be putting the fascia under excessive stress. Perform Self Micro-Massage (you can watch this video by clicking the link or scrolling further down the page as it's embedded on this lens!) This massage technique is used to break down fibrous tissue and also to stimulate blood flow to the area, both of which encourage healing and reduce pain. There is also a potentially soothing effect on nerve endings which will contribute to pain relief. Ice/Cold Therapy. Particularly useful after spending periods on your feet to reduce the inflammation. Wrap some ice or a bag of frozen peas in a towel and hold against the foot for up to 10 minutes. Repeat until symptoms have resolved. Heat Therapy. Heat therapy can be used (not after activity) to improve blood flow to the area to encourage healing. A heat pack of hot water bottle can be used. 10 minutes is ideal. Careful not to burn yourself. A good taping technique. By taping the foot in a certain way you can limit the movement in the foot and prevent the fascia from over-stretching and gives it a chance to rest and heal. Click on the link for more information on taping techniques. Weight Management. If you are over-weight, any weight you can loose will help to ease the burden on your sore feet and plantar fascia. Orthotic devices (often mis-spelled orthodic) are special insoles that can be used to limit over-pronation (discussed earlier) and control foot function. By preventing the arches flattening excessively, the plantar fascia is not over-stretched to the same extent and this should help with the symptoms and encourage healing. Stretching the calf muscles (again, click this link or scroll to the bottom of the page to watch the embedded video) can help to lengthen these muscles and the Achilles tendon - a risk factor for plantar fasciitis. Stretching of the plantar fascia itself is also encouraged, particularly before getting up the morning (night splints can be used for this effect) and after periods of rest. This can be achieved by placing a towel or band under the ball of the foot and gently pulling upwards until a stretch is felt. Hold for about 15-20 seconds then rest briefly. Repeat 2-3 times. As you can see there are many different treatment options available. Try incorporating some of these in to your daily routine and see what works for you. Regardless of the method the main aim is to prevent the fascia from over-stretching. Medical professionals such as a Podiatrist may decide to make custom orthotics or try ultra-sound therapy. It is likely that anti-inflammatory medications will also be recommended. If you have tried the treatment options and your symptoms persist I'd recommend going to see a medical professional for further advice.
Fallen arches may occur with deformities of the foot bones. Tarsal coalition is a congenital condition in which the bones of the foot do not separate from one another during development in the womb. A child with tarsal coalition exhibits a rigid flat foot, which can be painful, notes the patient information website eOrthopod. Surgery may prove necessary to separate the bones. Other foot and ankle conditions that cause fallen arches may also require surgery if noninvasive treatments fail to alleviate pain and restore normal function.
Below are two simple plantar fasciitis stretching exercises to help improve the flexibility of the muscles and tendons around the foot and ankle. Plantar fasciitis stretch taken from The Stretching Handbook. Kneel on one foot and place your body weight over your knee. Keep your heel on the ground and lean forward. In the photo to the left, the athlete is stretching the arch of her left foot. Kneel on one foot with your hands on the ground. Place your body weight over your knee and slowly move your knee forward. Keep your toes on the ground and arch your foot. In the photo to the right, the athlete is stretching the arch of his right foot.