The arch functions as a shock absorber for our entire body. Each time we step down, we place up to 5 times our body weight on the foot, depending on whether we are walking, running, or jumping. If there were no shock absorber in the foot, the force of each step would fracture or dislocate the bones of the foot, leg, and lower back. When pain occurs in the arch, it is telling us it is "sick" and cannot function properly. If left untreated, it can cause constant pain throughout the entire foot, and eventually the knee, hip, and lower back.
Often, tarsal tunnel syndrome is misdiagnosed and confused with plantar fasciitis. Tarsal tunnel syndrome is when the tibial nerve which runs through the ankle, is pinched as it passes through the flexor retinaculum, the supportive band that surrounds the ankle joint. The symptoms of tarsal tunnel syndrome are often limited to the ankle but the since the nerve passes through the entire foot it can cause arch pain. Arch pain associated with foot strain is mainly caused by a pronated foot (rolls inward) or a flat foot. These are usually not singular causes of arch pain, but in combination with other factors, arch pain may result.
The primary symptom is pain or aching in the arch area. This can be accompanied by inflammation and tenderness. If the pain is caused by the plantar fascia, it is likely to be considerably more severe in the mornings due to the muscles being unused. If you notice that the twinges of pain you have are most commonly associated with or immediately after exercise, you might want to visit a good athletic shoe store to make sure you are wearing the right kind of shoe. Another cause of arch pain is plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia is a tough tissue structure that holds the bottom part of the arch in place. The fascia often becomes inflamed and sore, usually as a result of repetitive motion (for example, very common in those who stand on their feet for work). The pain is often noticeable first thing in the morning and worse with activity.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) can show tendon injury and inflammation but cannot be relied on with 100% accuracy and confidence. The technique and skill of the radiologist in properly positioning the foot with the MRI beam are critical in demonstrating the sometimes obscure findings of tendon injury around the ankle. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is expensive and is not necessary in most cases to diagnose posterior tibial tendon injury. Ultrasound has also been used in some cases to diagnose tendon injury, but this test again is usually not required to make the initial diagnosis.
Non Surgical Treatment
Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction is a common cause of fallen arches in adults. The tendon runs along the bottom of the foot and up the back of the ankle, connecting to the tibialis posterior muscle in the calf. The posterior tibial tendon is an important support for the foot arch. Overuse, inflammation and tears of the tendon may cause progressive foot and ankle pain and the development of flat feet. The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons states that an ankle brace, leg cast or removable boot may be used to temporarily immobilize the posterior tibial tendon, facilitating healing. Physical therapy typically follows immobilization to strengthen the foot and restore normal foot structure and function.
There are two types of bone procedure for flat feet, those where bone cuts and bone grafts are used to alter the alignment by avoiding any joint structures, or joint invasive procedures (called fusions or arthrodeses) that remove a joint to reshape the foot. With joint fusion procedures, there are those procedures that involve non-essential joints of the foot versus those that involve essential joints. All bone procedures have their place in flat foot surgery, and Dr. Blitz carefully evaluates each foot to preserve as much motion and function while obtaining proper and adequate alignment. In many cases a flat foot reconstruction involves both soft tissue procedures and bone procedures to rebuild and restore the arch. There are several joints in the arch of the foot that can collapse - and these joints are non-essential joints of the foot. This does not mean that they do not have a purpose, but rather become inefficient is providing a stable platform for function. As such, locking these non-essential non-functioning joints into place is commonly recommended. These joints are fused together with screws and/or plates. A heel bone that is no longer in proper position and pushed outwards away from the foot can be corrected with a bone cut and realignment procedure, so long as the displacement is not too significant. A benefit of this surgery is that it keeps the back portion of the foot mobile, and helps the surrounding tendons work for efficiently in maintaining the arch. In certain flat feet, the foot is deviated outwards and away from the midline of the body. Sometimes, this is due to the outer portion of the foot being shorter than the inner portion. Here bone graft can be added to the outer edge of the foot to lengthen the foot to swing the foot over into a corrected position. This procedure is most commonly performed in children and young adults. A bone graft is inserted into the top part of the arch to realign a component of the flat foot, medically known as forefoot varus or medial column elevatus. The back part of the foot (called the rearfoot complex) can be the cause (or source) of the flat foot or the simply affected by the flat foot foot. In simple terms, the back part of the foot can be made to flatten out due to arch problems - and vica versa for that matter. Dr. Blitz specifically identifies the cause of the flat foot as this will determine the best treatment plan, as each flat foot needs to be evaluated individually. The rearfoot is made up of three joints, and depending on the extent and most importantly the rigidity of these joints, they may require fusion to restore alignment. When all three joints require fusion - this call is a triple arthrodesis. For completeness, isolated fusion of any of the three joints can be performed (such as subtalar joint arthrodesis, talonavicular arthrodesis, and calcaneaocuboid joint arthrodesis). The medical decision making for isolated fusions is beyond the scope this article, but Dr. Blitz tries to avoid any rearfoot fusion for flexible feet because these are joints are essential joints of the foot, especially in younger people. Those in severe cases, it may be advantageous to provide re-alignment.
Early in the treatment of arch pain, consideration needs to be given to the cause and strategies put in place to prevent it happening again. Advice should be sought on the adequacy of footwear. Stretching exercises should be continued long after the symptoms are gone. Foot orthoses should be used if structural imbalances are present. Activity levels and types of activities (occupational and sporting) need to be considered and modified accordingly.