The arch of the foot is an important component of the body, affecting your ability to walk properly. The arch between the ball and heel of the foot is caused by the positioning of the plantar fascia ligament. This bottom part of your foot serves as your stability as you walk and stand, as the plantar fascia is responsible for weight distribution and pressure absorption.
While you’ve likely never given your foot arch much consideration, it could possibly be the cause behind your foot pain and discomfort, especially if you have flat feet.
Determine Your Arch Type
There are four foot arch types: flat, normal, high, and very high. Your arch type can be determined through a scan at places such as athletic footwear stores, but there are also tests you can carry out at home.
The Wet Test
You can determine your arch type with a shallow basin, water, and a piece of heavy paper or cardboard:
- Fill just the bottom of the basin with water. The basin needs to be big enough for one foot.
- Place the bottom of your foot on the top of the water, just enough to get it wet.
- Step onto the piece of paper/cardboard and remove your foot.
- Look at the imprint left behind.
If there is not much of a curve in the center of your footprint, you likely have a flat arch. If the curve is quite significant, you may have high arches.
The Wear Test
You can also determine your foot arch type by examining a pair of well-worn shoes. Look at the sole of your shoes, focusing on where the ball of your foot sits. If the shoe is worn on the inside part where your big toe sits, you likely have flat feet. Wear in the middle is a telltale sign of normal arches. Wear on the outside where your little toe resides usually means you have high or very high arches.
The Trouble With Flat Feet
The main issue with flat arches is pain. Your muscles and connected ligaments can strain, causing stress to carry over to the knees and hips. Flat feet can also cause your body weight to be unevenly distributed. This may lead to shoes wearing down unevenly or more quickly, which can cause injuries if you are active. Some people with flat feet experience difficulty walking or running evenly.
Causes and Risks
Anyone can have flat arches, and some children are born with them. Flat arches can also develop over time, causing issues as people grow and their feet are affected by various changes and experiences. Some causes and risk factors include:
- Foot trauma
- Conditions or injuries that affect the tendons
- Being very young or elderly
- Weak arches—the arch is visible but flattens out when standing
- Muscular diseases such as spina bifida or cerebral palsy
If you are the parent of a young child, it’s important to know that most babies are born with flat arches, and their true arch type will develop until age five. After about this time, you can determine whether or not there is an issue. Most children with flat feet will still develop more typical arches by the end of elementary school.
How a Podiatrist Can Help
If you or your child have flat feet, and especially if you are experiencing pain or discomfort, it is a good idea to work with a podiatrist to find relief and solutions. Your podiatrist may recommend a few options.
There are foot exercises that can manage the impact of flat feet and/or prevent them from developing. These include:
- Heel cord stretching encourages the foot to roll inward, which will then stretch the Achilles tendon and posterior calf muscles.
- Golf ball rolling is another form of exercise that helps with flat arches. While sitting in a chair, place a golf ball under your foot and roll it back and forth. This stretches the plantar fascia ligament.
Braces and Orthotics
A podiatrist can also provide you with a brace or custom footwear designed to correct or support flat feet. This is especially helpful if your flat arches have caused complications such as posterior tibial tendonitis—a painful condition that negatively impacts the tendons. Orthotics can be used by simply inserting a specially shaped wedge into the shoe to relieve pressure on the tendon tissue. A podiatrist can also help design and order completely customized shoes to bring maximum support.
Sometimes flat arches don’t improve and can’t be corrected through non-invasive means. In these cases, surgery may be necessary. Both children and adults with flat arches may require surgery to separate fused bones causing the flat arch. While surgery is never ideal, it is a wonderful, permanent solution that can help bring a lifetime of relief.
Are You Looking for Foot Care in Austin, TX?
If you are looking for foot care, you should reach out to an experienced podiatrist. Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists can help. Our office provides a wide variety of advanced, effective treatment options for all kinds of painful conditions. Ready to schedule an appointment? Contact us online or call our Austin office at 512.328.8900.