High Arches: You don't have to live with the pain

You've been on your feet all day and all you want to do is sit down and put them up, soak 'em in warm water or have a foot massage. But for some people who have high arches, these measures don't bring any relief.

High arches usually don't cause problems but they can sometimes be a source of pain. Various treatments can provide relief, says Dr. Frederick Dietz, professor of orthopaedics at the University of Iowa College of Medicine and a staff physician at UI Hospitals and Clinics.

"When someone with high arches complains of foot pain, I look for a cause. Most of the time it is neurologic," Dietz says. "Highly arched feet that are painful and are not caused by a nervous system problem are rather uncommon and usually run in families." If you inherited high arches, chances are that additional arch supports in your shoes are all you'll need to deal with any pain that might occur. Supports relieve excessive pressure and foot strain by distributing body weight across the feet and by cushioning the impact of walking, he says.

Another way to relieve mild pain is to modify your activity to reduce excessive stress on the feet. For example, if you enjoy long-distance running, you may want to reduce the distance that you run. Wearing comfortable shoes is especially important for people who have high arches. Buy shoes with good arch supports and padding built in. Select a low heel and be sure the front of the shoe fits properly and doesn't jam your toes together. Use heel pads to get an easier fit in the heel. If you like to wear two pairs of socks in your jogging shoes, be sure to wear them when trying on shoes at a store.

Wearing high heels and pumps is generally not a good idea, but they may actually be easier on the feet of women who have high arches.

A high arch can be detected in children at various ages depending on the cause. Young people with high arches usually begin to feel foot pain in their teen years because of the increase in body weight that the feet have to bear.

If your foot problem is neurologic, pain can begin at any age. In these cases, treatment depends upon how supple the feet are. If the foot pain problem is in its early stages and the feet are still flexible, minor surgery may be the answer. In the later stages of the problem, when the feet are more rigid, a different type of surgery may help, Dietz says. Often one operation is all that is needed to get people back on their feet painlessly.

If you experience foot pain, see your doctor. The pain might be a symptom of another disease. If it is an inherited high arch, you can take simple steps to take care of it.

University of Iowa Health Science Relations
Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation