The most common cause of arch and heel pain is a condition called plantar fasciitis. This is an inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs along the arch of your feet from your heel to your toes, and aids in the stabilization of your arch during walking and running. Symptoms involve two areas-the arch, and more commonly, the inside heel area. Severe pain can be present, especially in the morning on arising. Causes
There are a number of possible causes for arch pain, but the most common are structural imbalances of the foot, such a pronated foot (rolls inward at the ankles). This is often not enough in isolation to cause the problem, but in combination with other factors arch pain may develop. These other factors are usually associated with overuse - running, walking, hard surfaces and/or OFAD (on feet all day), usually combined with inadequate or non-supportive footwear. The more common specific causes of arch pain can be plantar fasciitis (strain of the plantar fascia - a strong ligament that supports the arch), tarsal tunnel syndrome (a pinched nerve at the ankle that refers pain to the arch), foot strain from a pronated foot or flat foot, there can be osteoarthritis of the joints in the midfoot that can cause arch pain. Symptoms
Pain in arch of foot is really the only symptom of this condition. It is unlikely to see any swelling or bruising and instead there will be a deep tender spot near the heel. Occasionally the pain may radiate further down the foot. With this condition, pain will usually be felt first thing in the morning or after periods of sitting. This is because the plantar fascia tightens and shortens slightly when there is no weight on it and by standing on it it suddenly stretches and becomes painful. After a few steps it starts to loosen off and the pain may subside. If this is the same pattern of pain you experience it is quite likely you have plantar fasciits. Pain may also be felt when walking up stairs or standing on tip-toes (anything that stretches the fascia). Diagnosis
In more difficult cases of plantar fasciitis you should see your foot health professional for a thorough examination. They will find out why your arch or heel pain occurred in the first place and devise a treatment plan to relieve your pain and prevent it from reoccurring. They will evaluate your feet, walking pattern (gait), shoes, activities, exercise methods, and other relevant information and then devise your treatment plan. Non Surgical Treatment
Consult a doctor to diagnose the condition and determine the cause. If revealed to be plantar fasciitis, please refer to our article on that injury for further information. Generally arch pain is easy to treat, with the most effective method of treatment being the placement of arch supports in the shoes. This counteracts the strain placed on the arches by biomechanical errors, causing them to cease stretching excessively. A specialist can recommend the inserts suitable to your needs, which will depend on the shape of your arches. These supports should lessen your symptoms within days. If pain is severe you should refrain from running activities until it subsides to avoid risking an aggravation of the injury. To maintain fitness, alter your training program temporarily to be focused on low-impact sports like swimming. Applying ice to the affected area should assist in reducing pain and swelling. Surgical Treatment
Surgery is considered only after 12 months of aggressive nonsurgical treatment. Gastrocnemius recession. This is a surgical lengthening of the calf (gastrocnemius) muscles. Because tight calf muscles place increased stress on the plantar fascia, this procedure is useful for patients who still have difficulty flexing their feet, despite a year of calf stretches. In gastrocnemius recession, one of the two muscles that make up the calf is lengthened to increase the motion of the ankle. The procedure can be performed with a traditional, open incision or with a smaller incision and an endoscope, an instrument that contains a small camera. Your doctor will discuss the procedure that best meets your needs. Complication rates for gastrocnemius recession are low, but can include nerve damage. Plantar fascia release. If you have a normal range of ankle motion and continued heel pain, your doctor may recommend a partial release procedure. During surgery, the plantar fascia ligament is partially cut to relieve tension in the tissue. If you have a large bone spur, it will be removed, as well. Although the surgery can be performed endoscopically, it is more difficult than with an open incision. In addition, endoscopy has a higher risk of nerve damage. The most common complications of release surgery include incomplete relief of pain and nerve damage. Most patients have good results from surgery. However, because surgery can result in chronic pain and dissatisfaction, it is recommended only after all nonsurgical measures have been exhausted. Prevention
The best method for preventing plantar fasciitis is stretching. The plantar fascia can be stretched by grabbing the toes, pulling the foot upward and holding for 15 seconds. To stretch the calf muscles, place hands on a wall and drop affected leg back into a lunge step while keeping the heel of the back leg down. Keep the back knee straight for one stretch and then bend the knee slightly to stretch a deeper muscle in the calf. Hold stretch for 15 seconds and repeat three times. Stretching Exercises
Inchworm. Stand with your weight on one foot. Raise the metatarsal heads of the unweighted foot while you pull its heel closer to your toes. Next, raise your toes toward the ceiling, and then relax your whole foot with it flat on the floor. Your foot should move like an inchworm across the floor. Reps 6-7 for each foot. Horsepawing. Stand with your weight on one foot and the other foot slightly in front of you. Raise the metatarsal heads on the front foot. Lift your heel ever so slightly off the ground, maintaining the raised metatarsal heads, and pull your foot toward you so that it ends up behind you. Return this foot to the starting position in front of you. You should really feel this one in your arch. Reps. 6-7 for each foot. Toe pushups. Sit in a chair with your feet resting on the floor. Raise your heel as high as you can while keeping your toes flat on the floor. This is the starting position. Using your toe muscles, roll your foot upward until the weight of your foot is resting on the ends of your toes, like a dancer standing on point in toe shoes. Roll back down to the starting position. Reps. 10-20 for each foot. Sand scraping. Pretend you are at the beach standing in loose sand. Use your big toe to pull sand inward toward your body, with your little toe off the ground. Then use your little toe to push it away, with your big toe off the ground. Reps. 10 for each foot. Now reverse the exercise: pull the sand inward with your little toe and push it away with your big toe. Reps. 10 for each foot.