- Arches – What Are They And Why Are They Important?
- What Is a High Arch?
- Do I Have High Arches?
- What Causes High Arches?
- Do High Arches Cause Problems?
- How to Deal with High Arches?
- Exercises for Dealing with High Arches
- Guides for High Arches We Recommend
- Final Thoughts
People often underestimate the health of their feet. We take walking for granted, and foot maintenance is usually the last thing people turn to when it comes to personal maintenance. However, as we learn about our bodies, we discover that there is a large number of consequences that can play out if we forget about our feet. One such consequence is the high arch condition, also known as pes cavus.
Truth be told, high arches are not as common as fallen arches (flat feet), but they bring along much more immediate effects that are, quite often, painful. So, in the next couple of sections, we will tackle the topic of high arches, including causes, various forms of coping with the condition, and some tips and tricks on how to deal with it. Remember, your feet are literally the physical connection between your body and the world, and investing in feet health is investing in your overall wellbeing!
Arches – What Are They And Why Are They Important?
Before we go any deeper into the topic of high arches, we’d like to take a moment and talk about arches as the integral parts of every foot. In the anatomy of a foot, we can observe 3 major arches that help us understand how weight and balance are distributed while doing actions like sitting, running, jogging, etc.
The arches can be separated into two groups, based on their special orientation:
- Longitudinal arches (oriented in a front-to-back position):
- Medial arch – located on the inner side of the foot
- Lateral arch – located on the outer side of the foot
- Transversal arch – this is the arch that we refer as the ball of the foot
Usually, when people have issues with their feet, ankles, or knees, we can trace the origin of the problem to these arches. For example, when a person has a collapsed (or fallen) medial arch the condition is called, you guessed it – flat feet. On the other hand, high arches are a bit more complex, since the source of the discomfort is neurological, as opposed to the physical aspect of flat feet. These arches, along with the bones, tendons and subtle muscles that go along, are the most important actors in balancing our body weight.
Now that we know what arches are, and how they are oriented in the foot, let’s see what happens to your feet if you have the high arches condition.
What Is a High Arch?
Just saying “I have high arches” can mean a lot of things. Similar to flat feet, high arches can have several degrees of elevation. It is also important to remember that everyone’s anatomy and physique is unique and individual because we have all grown up differently and have different lifestyles.
High arches refer specifically to a foot condition where both lateral and medial arches are elevated to the point that they do not touch the ground while the person is walking. This can lead to a whole bunch of problems, starting with pain, all the way up to changing the way you walk, or even just the way you stand.
With both longitudinal arches raised off the ground, the transversal arch (the ball of your foot) takes a lot more pressure from sustaining the weight of your body. Another integral part of the body that suffers is the heel because it is the second pressure point that plays the role of stabilization and balance.
So, if said that flat feet condition resembles an issue with the medial arch, by similar analogy we could say that people with high arches experience problems with all three main arches. So, how to determine if you have high arches or not?
Do I Have High Arches?
Learning if you do or do not have high arches on your feet is easier than determining whether you have fallen arches. Both of these conditions have degrees to it, but it is way easier to spot high arches, not only anatomically, but through the specific discomfort this condition provides.
1. The Wet Print Test
The simplest way to determine whether you have high arches is to take a wet test in the comfort of your home. You will need a surface to stand on, preferably in a color that shows moisture and dampness easily. So, here’s how you do it:
- Once you have found some clear floor space, bring a glass of water – half-full will do
- Take off your shoes and socks, and spill some water on your feet, enough to make your soles wet
- Stand on that designated piece of floor space, stay there for a few seconds, and step away
- The print will tell you if you have high arches or not
If you see the prints of your heel, ball of the foot, and fingers – you have high arches. People with high arches will not see the print of the longitudinal arches on the surface. This is considered a high degree of pes cavus.
If you see a thin line on the outer print of the foot, we are talking about a high-arch foot with a small degree of elevation.
If you see a substantial amount of lateral arch print, your foot is in normal shape.
2. Other Methods
Every other method of determining whether you have high arches involves some sort of medical procedure. Your physician will take a look at your family’s medical history and he or she will examine your foot on the spot, flexing it in multiple directions to see how the arches respond to different movements. Another part of the standard exam is observing the walking pattern. A good podiatrist will know the degree of arch elevation by looking at the way you walk.
Other procedures involve:
- X-ray scanning – a doctor can order an x-ray to see if there are micro-fractions or any biomechanical irregularities, besides the elevation of arches
- Nerve Conduction Velocity Test (NCV) – this test is done to see how damaged the nerves in your feet are
- Electromyography (EMG) – this is a combined test that checks the connection between the nerves and the muscles in your feet
What Causes High Arches?
In contrast to flat feet, that we all can have as children, high arches are not a normal part of body development. The causes are more usually more serious, and they are often a consequence of other diseases. However, people who wear elevated footwear, like heels or sometimes even weightlifting shoes, can develop high arches over time, although not to a severe degree. And, on the other hand, some people are just born with high arches as it is.
The arches of our feet are tightly intertwined with muscles, tendons, and most importantly – nerves. So, the neurological causes of high arches come from serious illnesses that have some connection with the nervous system. They cause the nerves in the arch to develop in a deformed way, and we all know that nerve damage easily causes muscle and tendon damage. Some of the neurological diseases known to cause high arches are:
- Muscular dystrophy
- Spinal cord tumors and acute injuries
- Cerebral Palsy
If the cause of high arches is neurological, the doctor will put the highest priority to determine which neurological condition caused it. This is done to prevent further arch deformities and to find the best approach to recovery.
2. Deviant Development
Deviant development can mean a lot of things. Injuries to your foot can cause the arches to heal in a deviant way, and develop the high arches condition once they heal. Even though high arches developed from acute injury are rare, they are not to be underestimated, because not addressing the issue will make it much worse in no time.
Do High Arches Cause Problems?
Unfortunately, this condition is not fifty-fifty like flat feet is. People with high arches experience all sorts of pain and discomfort, ranging from the toes all the way to the mid-back region. Our feet are the springs that absorb the shock from walking and running, so, naturally, the whole body suffers if the feet are not doing their job properly.
1. Foot Problems
Obviously, the first in the line of fire are your feet, from the heel all up to your toes. Here are the most common discomforts and inflammations you may experience if you have high arches (some are short-term, and some are long term):
1.1. Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of a tendon called the plantar fascia. This integral part of the foot starches from your heel all the way to the ball of your foot. This condition can develop from multiple sources, with high arches being one of them. This intricate part of the foot is charged with shock absorption, as well as foot stabilization. If not treated accordingly, the tears of this tissue can deepen, and the whole ordeal can go sideways quickly. The healing process is slow, and it can be sped up and enhanced with stretches and exercises.
One of the most common problems caused by high arches is this hard-to-pronounce condition – the metatarsalgia. Now, do not be scared, even though it sounds like a super-serious disorder, it is not as dangerous. So, to shed some light on this condition: it is essentially an inflammation of the ball of your foot. It can happen to anyone, but due to women wearing high heels, it happens to females more often.
If you want to be sure that you have metatarsalgia, look for these symptoms:
- Numbing or tingling sensation in the toes
- Sharp or prickling sensation in the ball of your foot while walking
- A sensation similar to having a pebble in your shoe
Do not be afraid because, even though metatarsalgia takes some time to heal, it is easily healed once you get comfy shoes and once you start working on foot recovery.
1.3. Claw Toes
Due to all the excess pressure from the bodyweight exerted on your toes, your toes can start curling on the bone level. If this happens to a bigger degree, you can develop something called a claw toe. This starts at the root joints of the toes (usually on the 2nd to 4th toe) and once they change formation, they start resembling a claw, hence the name – claw toes. This can cause problems with foot stability, as well as painful stabbing sensations in your foot.
1.4. Hammer Toes
Similar to claw toes, hammertoes are also a spontaneous deformity that happens to the top of your foot. However, hammertoes can also happen naturally to people who have a longer 2nd toe. In essence, the muscles and fine ligaments of the toes develop in such a way that they resemble a hammer – they do not curl up all the way like claw toes, instead, they curl only at the joint. This condition is also treated with physical therapy and adequate shoes with plenty of toes space.
Lastly, because of the immense pressure on the heel and the ball of the foot, people with high arches are prone to calluses. Skin thickening occurs more because the foot skin needs that extra layer of protection due to imbalanced weight distribution. Dealing with calluses is less difficult than dealing with the other conditions that high arches bring along. But, do not undermine calluses, because, once they get thick enough, they can represent a serious physical obstacle inside your shoe, and worsen the arch condition even further.
2. Biomechanical Problems
Here we have a list of anatomical issues that occur due to all the disbalance created by high arches. By not having a stable foot to walk on, you risk injuring the whole stabilization chain that consists of major joints in your body, including ankles, knees, hips, and spinal discs.
2.1. Ankle issues
The first in the line of fire (not counting the foot) are the ankles. Because plantar fasciitis is a common consequence of having high arches, the heel is under more pressure than it should be. Over time, this can cause a lot of pronation and even twist of the heel. People with high arches have a much higher chance to twist their ankle, due to imbalanced weight distribution. This goes out especially to the people who play high-impact sports that require a lot of jumping or sudden direction changes (i.e. basketball or handball).
2.2. Knee issues
If the foot is not stable, and the shock absorption is unevenly distributed, the next joint to suffer is the knee. Due to ankle instability, the effects of high arches are transferred through the Achilles tendon, and they resolve in knee cave-ins. This is why people with high arches can find it difficult to squat normally, with some individuals even experiencing pain while doing it.
2.3. Hip Issues
If the issue of high arches is not addressed in time, the joint instability may transfer to the hips. That is why it is important to deal with high arches through therapy and adequate footwear. These imbalances of the hip can also be dealt with in the gym. However, if it comes to this, please consult a certified physician, because everyone’s hips are different, and the imbalances can be tackled from multiple angles. If you rush it, you may do even more damage.
2.4. Lower back issues
Lastly, if the whole joint stability of the leg is put out of balance, people with high arches may experience lower, or sometimes even mid back pain. All of the discomforts described above just tell us that the foot is extremely important when it comes to the whole human anatomy. If it comes to lower back problems caused by high arches, your physician will tell you what needs to be dealt with first.
How to Deal with High Arches?
Now that we know how high arches develop, and what kind of problems they can cause (short and long-term), it is time to talk about all potential solutions. Depending on how high your arches are, and how bad the repercussions are, you will probably have to tackle this issue from different angles. We urge you to always consult with your physician first because high arches are not as benign as flat feet.
Because our feet are complex when it comes to nerves and muscles, it is hard to pick an exercise specific to a condition. That is why almost every foot exercise out there helps with more than one issue. Here is a list of five most popular exercises that help recover from high arches (among other things):
- Towel Stretch
- Tendon Wall Stretch
- Toe Squeeze
- Toe Rolls
- Toe Pickups
If your physician finds that you need specialized orthotics to help your arches recover from overuse, or to help them descend in general, he or she will probably prescribe a special orthotic. Although, in most cases, orthotic devices are used only if the damage is out of control. However, you will start feeling relieved as soon as you start using these custom-made devices.
3. Splints and Braces
And, if the damage done passed the normal high arch degree, you will have to do some passive recovery in the form of splints, or in more severe cases, in the form of braces. These medical devices are also done to fit your leg specifically, and you will probably be asked to wear them every chance you get. Most splints or braces are worn during the night because we do not move our feet or legs that much while we sleep.
4. Specialized Footwear
If you want to still be able to enjoy activities while having high arches on your feet, there are solutions out there. Specialized footwear (shoes and sneakers) that are designed to be softer on the pressured points of your feet, and elevated to match the high arch pressure. And, if you cannot find a specialized shoe that matches your taste, you can always invest in some insoles, and adapt your own shoes to help you alleviate the pressure and pain of having high arches.
5. Lifestyle Change
This goes out to the ladies who wear extremely high heeled shoes. It is known that these types of shoes worsen the mobility of your arches, and only deepen the problem. If you can afford it, stop (or at least reduce) wearing high heels. Because recovery takes time, you will need to act as soon as possible.
Exercises for Dealing with High Arches
We’ve mentioned exercises that can help you both ease the pain and slowly strengthen your foot over time. Here is a brief summary of how to do each of them. Before you get into it, here are a few guiding points:
- Never yank or pull to impulsively while doing these exercises. By taking your time, you avoid making micro-tears on your tendons and muscles. Easy does it.
- If you experience pain (besides the pressure of stretching) stop immediately, relax for a moment and readjust your position and intensity of the exercise.
- Last, but not least, if you have any doubts, always consult your physician or podiatrist regarding everything you do to heal your high-arched feet.
1. Towel Stretch
This is a universal type of exercise. All you need for it is a gym towel. Any longer towel will do the trick as well. So, this is how you do it:
- Take off your shoes and socks and sit on the floor with your legs straight
- Get the towel around your foot. It should touch the sole at the ball of the foot
- With your both hands, pull slowly while keeping your legs straight
- Repeat 3 times on both feet
2. Tendon Wall Stretch
This particular exercise works wonders for several parts of the leg, including the Achilles tendon, the plantar fascia, and every major arch in your foot. Here’s what you need to do:
- Stand about a foot away from a wall and press against the wall with your palms for stability
- With your feet on grounded bend your knees forward and start stretching the heel
- If doing both feet at a time feel challenging at first, you can do them separately while using the inactive leg as support
- Repeat 3 to 5 times, and remember to do it slowly and feel the stretch. DO NOT STOMP OR YANK!
3. Toe Squeeze
This exercise helps with overall foot stability, especially if you are into running or high-impact sports that include jumping and fast movements. It can be done with your fingers or with a cylindrical object (e.g. a pen). Though, truth be told, doing the squeeze using your fingers is more comfortable. Here’s how to do a toe squeeze:
- Take off your shoes and socks and sit on a flat surface. Make yourself comfortable.
- Put your fingers (or other similar cylindrical objects) between your toes. Make sure everything is firmly in.
- Squeeze with your toes as hard as you can and hold for 5 to 10 seconds.
- Release and relax. Repeat 3 to 5 times for each foot.
4. Toe Rolls
Doing toe rolls require some coordination, but after a few times, you are guaranteed to become a master of it. You can do this standing or sitting on a flat surface. Here’s how:
- Place your feet firmly on the ground.
- Raise your toes until you feel the muscles in your feet flexing.
- Gradually, lower one by one toe until they are on the ground. This motion looks like rolling your toes, hence the exercise name.
- Repeat for each foot 3 to 5 times. Remember to do everything slowly with controlled movements.
5. Toe Pickups
Lastly, we have the famous “monkey exercise”. As the name suggests, you will be picking up objects with your feet. So, before you begin, for this exercise you will need to get a bucket or a box, and some balls (golf balls or similar in size) as your items for picking up. Here’s what you need to do:
- Sit comfortably on a flat surface and spread the balls around you.
- Using your toes, pick up a ball and try not to drop it.
- Put the ball into the box and move on to the next object
- For this exercise, it would be best to have balls and small, soft toys of different sizes. Start with marbles, and work your way up.
Guides for High Arches We Recommend
1. Running Shoes
Having high arches doesn’t mean that you cannot go for a run. There is a lot of people all around the globe that suffer from pes cavus and still manage to stay fit by running. If you want to maintain your fitness goals, get yourself a pair of running shoes for high arches and start running again. They are designed with the right amount of support for the high arch, as well as an extra layer of cushioning for your heels and the ball of your feet.
2. Tennis Shoes
For people that enjoy high mobility and high-impact sports, tennis shoes for high arches are the ideal choice. They have extra cushioning for the transversal arch, and an elevated middle part, designed to meet your high arch and support it. You can get back on the field and enjoy your favorite sports again!
If you cannot find a suiting pair of specialized shoes for high arches, we recommend you looking into insoles for high arches as a middle-ground solution. These insoles will help with adapting your own shoes into footwear suitable to support your feet’s high arches. It would be best to ask your physician first on what kind of insoles to get.
High arches can be painful, and above all – stressful. If you can’t walk painlessly, everything you do becomes a chore, and painkillers will only get you so far before they become counter-productive. We made this guide to help you get a better grasp of what a fallen arch actually is, with the ultimate purpose of starting the recovery. Adequate exercises and the right pair of shoes are a great start. You will feel the results in no time.
Even if you are born with high arches, that doesn’t mean that you have to suck it up and endure the pain. Start enjoying walking, running, and sports today!