The arch of the foot is a unique structure that is like the ‘spring in our step’.
It allows the foot to deform and make good surface contact with the ground, and then spring back up again to help push us to push forward off the ground. Our toes grip the surface and help us do this, so toe muscles are very important to supporting our arches.
The arch drop and recoil action allows us to convert potential energy into kinetic or movement energy every time we take a step. A bit like a real spring being stretched and released, truly putting the ‘spring in our step’. As a result humans are extremely efficient walkers, using far less energy to move around that most land animals.
What is a fallen arch?
A fallen arch is actually a layman’s term – it can mean a lot of things. Pain under the feet, flat feet, or ‘pes planus‘ (feet that flatten too much) can all be called fallen arches. So it is better to break this into four distinct problems:
1. Arch Pain and treating your feet at home
Pain in the arch of your feet is most commonly caused by overstraining your foot’s muscles – perhaps during a long walk, or after wearing unsupportive or flatter shoes than normal.
It could be caused by age, because as we get older our soft tissues don’t work as efficiently, becoming less elastic than they used to be.
Sometimes the pain is over the top of the arch – this is most commonly caused by arthritis in the middle foot joints. Treatment for this is the same as for flat feet, but also taking Vitamin D can be very helpful for arthritis.
To treat pain in the arch of your foot:
- Wear arch supporting insoles (called orthotic devices or foot orthoses), such as the X-line Standard or X-Line RIF
- Supportive shoes are best, and easier to fit the insole into – learn how to fit your insole and pick a good show
- If you suffer arch pain and wear more fashionable or work shoes, the 9-5 Everyday insole will help your feet
- If you know you’re overweight, it will help to lose some
- Finally strapping with the Heelfixkit tape technique can help resolve more acute pains and allow continued activity
2. Anatomical Flat Feet
These are flat feet that have always been flat, also known as Anatomical pes planus.
These feet are more common in certain ethnic groups, such as those with African, South Sea Islander or South Asian blood in them. They can be very strong normally functioning feet. They are usually nothing to worry about unless they start causing pain! If they do cause pain see treatments for Arch Pain above.
3. Over or Hyper-Pronating Feet
These are feet that flatten a lot when standing down but look normal on sitting. The foot often rolls inward too.
The flattening and rolling in making the foot more prone to the ground is called over or hyper-pronation. This can over strain the foot and other structures in the lower limb, pelvis and back.
This type of foot flattening is more common in children, because their ligaments that help the muscles hold the arch together are more flexible. With exercises and a little more age the problem often resolves.
However, sometimes the ligaments are too lax and flexible and remain throughout life. In these cases other joints are usually affected, and the person demonstrates odd movements in joints, this used to be called double-jointed. It often runs in families and can sometimes be a bigger problem, with multiple joint pains.
Over pronating feet can be linked to weakness in our support muscles from the back to the feet, so multiple symptoms can develop from the back to the feet. Usually pain comes on with exercise and with increasing age. The weaker your feet, the more likely pain is.
To treat pain from Over or Hyper-Pronating Feet:
- Wear arch supporting insoles such as the X-line Standard or X-Line RIF
- You might need some advice from a clinician such as a podiatrist or physiotherapist
4. Adult acquired flat feet
These are feet that used to look normal and seem to be getting flatter, also known as Pes Valgo-planus. Usually this is an aging thing as our tissue gets less springy as we get older, and the arch stops springing back to its original height. This is also common after pregnancy can result in the need to increase in shoe size.
The arches changing shape can start in people’s 2nd or 3rd decades of life, associated with rolling in at the ankles. The feet can end up looking quite deformed, often with bunions and other toe deformities.
To treat gradual Adult acquired flat feet:
- Wear supportive shoes, such as trainers or other lace ups
- Try the foot strengthening exercises listed for arch pain below
If the changes in your feet are rapid and associated with a lot of pain on the inside of the ankle and shin, it can be a result of a tendon breaking down that supports your arch. Known as Tibialis Posterior Dysfunction, this needs urgent assessment and treatment, by an experienced podiatrist, or other clinician specializing in foot mechanics, as if left this condition can lead to very complicated surgery to the foot and ankle.
To treat sudden Adult acquired flat feet:
- Make a podiatry appointment privately or through your GP on the NHS
- Avoid any exercise until you’ve had advice
- Try the X-Line TPD insole, putting in your trainers or walking boots straight away. It’s specially designed for TPD, and will immediately help
Exercises for fallen arches
If you’re suffering from one of the first three problems listed above (pain in the arch of your foot, Anatomical Flat Feet or Over or Hyper-Pronating Feet) certain exercises will help to strengthen your foot to prevent arch pain from worsening.
As mentioned above, don’t undertake any exercise if you think you have TPD – it’s important to seek medical advise first.