If you get painful arches when you run, then you’re not alone. Pain in the arch of the foot is one of the most common running injuries (or problems) we see in-store and is normally the result of foot function and footwear choice; although sometimes it can be down to your running technique.
To understand painful arches, we must first understand the arch. There are actually 3 arches in the foot (longitudinal arch, transverse arch and lateral arch), but in this article we are talking about the arch that most people are thinking about; the longitudinal arch.
When people refer to painful arches this is the arch that they are referring to. The arch plays a very important role in both absorbing shock and also adapting to uneven terrain. It is formed of the calcaneus, talus, navicular and 1st to 3rd metatarsal bones.
Lower arches normally means that your foot is excessively pronated (but not necessarily), whilst higher arches normally indicates a more rigid foot, capable of better self support; but not so good at shock absorption.
Why does it hurt?
When the foot pronates (rolls inwards and downwards) then the arch lengthens and the tension in the connective tissues under the arch increase. This tension stresses the foot and therefore pain can occur, so excessive pronation can be a cause of painful arches.
Another reason for painful arches comes down to dysfunction of the big toe joint. If the Hallux (big toe) joint locks up too much during the propulsive phase of your running gait cycle then your arch will continue to lengthen at the wrong time, which again causes a lot of stress in the foot; particularly on long runs.
The way your foot functions isn’t the only reason that you can get painful arches either. If you are wearing footwear that is too corrective under your arch or too supportive, your foot will effectively fight the shoe and this can cause arch pain.
Also if your running technique doesn’t suit your biomechanics then your arch can hurt, this is often when runners try forefoot running or other types of new running style and it doesn’t suit their mechanics.
How to stop painful arches
The good news is that painful arches can be helped, of course the best cure is always prevention, so here is what you can do for prevention and cure:
- Make sure you have your running shoes professionally fitted every time, to ensure you have the right support as shoes change from model to model.
- Ask a specialist running shop or podiatrist if insoles could help with your running biomechanics. Be very wary of of the shelf “arch supports” as these can often do more harm than good.
- Get yourself fitted with custom insoles.
- Regularly stretch your arch and mobilise your big toe joint by sitting on your knees with your feet (and toes) flexed towards your shins.
- Strengthen your calves and achilles, using weighted calf raises. This will also strengthen the arch.
- Consult a podiatrist or physiotherapist if the pain is insistent and won’t go away.
- Using a golf ball/tin can (or tennis ball if you are new to it), roll under your arch to relieve tension in your plantar fascia.
- Sit on the floor with your legs outstretched, using a towel wrapped around your toes and ball of foot, pull the towel towards you to stretch the arch and calves. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, rest for 15 seconds and repeat 2 more times.