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Arch Pain

Reviewed by
Dr. Sara Karamloo

Arch pain (medically known as plantar pain) is a broad term many people use to describe pain in their muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, or nerves. All these components are connected to the bottom of the foot; therefore, damage to any one of these can cause pain on the bottom of the foot. This pain may only last for short time, but can progressively worsen if untreated. Most people who suffer from this pain are between the ages of 30 and 80, but many younger athletes are also susceptible, particularly those who participate in high-impact sports.

Arch Pain Symptoms

Go to a podiatrist at the first sign of symptoms. Besides pain on the bottom of the foot, additional symptoms may include:

  • Burning sensation in arch
  • Difficulty standing on tiptoes
  • Inflammation
  • More pain after sleeping or resting
  • Redness
  • Heat
  • Localized pain in the ball of the foot
  • Sharp or shooting pain in the toes
  • Pain that increases when toes are flexed
  • Tingling or numbness in the toes
  • Aching
  • Pain that increases when walking barefoot
  • Pain that increases when walking on hard surfaces
  • Pain the increases when standing (putting weight on your feet) or moving around and decreases when immobile
  • Skin Lesions

It’s important to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Let’s go over the possible causes of the pain.


Arch Pain Causes

There are several reasons why bottom-of-foot pain develops. Sometimes it’s due to a condition known as plantar fasciitis, in which the plantar fascia (the band of tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot from your heel to your toes) becomes inflamed after excessive stress. Heel pain results from this inflammation.

Sometimes the pain is due to extensive time spent on your feet. Many people feel pain on the bottom of their feet after a long workday, while others overuse their feet exercising or playing sports. A foot deformity, such as hammertoe or clubfoot, can also cause this pain. Medical conditions such as diabetes or obesity can put additional stress on your feet, thereby causing bottom-of-foot pain. Your footwear is also important. Shoes should support all parts of your foot, especially the bottom. This is very important if you spend excessive time on your feet, if your obese, if your pregnant, or if you engage in sport-related activities. Injuries to any of the twenty-six bones, thirty-three joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments in the feet can also cause bottom-of-foot pain.

Because the foot is such a complex structure, it’s important to see a podiatrist at the first sign of symptoms.

Diagnosing Arch Pain

To come to a correct diagnosis, your podiatrist will examine your foot by using his or her fingers to look for a lump or stone bruise in the ball of your foot. He or she will examine your foot to look for deformities such as high or low arches, or to see if you have hammertoes. He or she may use x-rays, MRIs (magnetic resource imaging), and CT scans to rule out fractures and damage to ligaments, tendons, and other surrounding tissues. Your doctor will also inquire about your daily activities, symptoms, medical history, and family history. If you spend a lot of time running or jumping, you may be at a higher risk for pain in the bottom of your foot. These diagnostic tests will help your doctor come to a proper diagnosis and create an appropriate treatment plan.

Arch Pain Treatment

How the pain in the bottom of your foot is treated will depend heavily on the cause of the pain. Diagnosing the pain while it’s in the early stages is important when determining the best treatment options. If the pain is mild to moderate, simple improvements in footwear can help reduce the symptoms. Most patients must use the RICE method for effective treatment. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This is a popular treatment used by athletes. It involves resting the foot, icing it for fifteen to twenty minute intervals, compressing the foot with a bandage, and elevating it at least twelve inches above the heart. Ant-inflammatory and pain medications are also sometimes used to treat bottom-of-foot pain. For more serious cases, steroid injections or foot surgery may help reduce pain and swelling and correct the underlying condition (if there is one.) If you suffer from a sever case of plantar fasciitis and non-surgical methods fail, your doctor may recommend cortisone injections to relieve the pain. If cortisone injections fail, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure that involves cutting and releasing the plantar fascia.

Common stretching exercises that may relieve, cure, or prevent bottom-of-foot pain include:

Plantar Fascia Stretch: While seated, cross your legs at the knee with the affected foot on top of the other foot. On the painful foot, grab the toes and pull them toward you slowly with your hand on the plantar fascia. Hold this position for ten seconds and repeat twenty times.

Foot Flexing: This exercise is recommended before getting out of bed (when the pain from plantar fasciitis is most commonly felt). Hold this position for ten seconds and repeat twenty times.

Rolling Stretch: At first this exercise should be done while seated, either on a chair or at the edge of your bed. Roll a tennis ball or a rolling pin back and forth ten times, with the arch of one foot, then switch feet and repeat. Once you have practiced this for a while, begin doing it while standing.

Preventing Arch Pain

There are several things you can do to prevent pain on the bottom of the foot. Here are some tips to help you avoid this condition:

  • Do simple stretches each day (See Plantar Fasciitis Exercises for a list of all exercises).
  • Wear good shoes that fit properly and are appropriate for the activity you are participating in.
  • Lose excess weight if possible.
  • Build your stamina slowly, especially with new exercises.
  • Rest and elevate your feet, whenever possible, keeping them at least twelve inches above your heart.
  • Always follow your doctor’s instructions for treatment
  • Each day do a different activity. For example: one day ride your bike, and swim the next day.

Talking Your Doctor

Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor about bottom of foot pain:

  • Do you think over-the-counter or custom-made orthotics will benefit me most? If you recommend over-the-counter orthotics, which product do you recommend most?
  • Will my normal activities need to be limited during the healing process?
  • If non-surgical treatment does not work, what are the chances I will need surgery?
  • Which additional home remedies would work best on me?
  • If symptoms do not disappear, how long should I wait before contacting you again?
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Medical References:

  1. American Medical Association "Family Medical Guide" 4th Edition (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2004) 980-982
  2. EMedicineHealth, Arch Pain Symptoms, Causes of Foot Pain, http://www.emedicinehealth.com/arch_pain/article_em.htm
  3. Foot Health Facts, Arch Pain, http://www.footphysicians.com/what-is/ns_arch-pain.htm
  4. M. Beers "Merck Manual of Medical Information" 2nd home edition (Pocket Books, 2003) 403-404

This page was last updated on February 28th, 2014



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