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High Arches

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Overview

What Are High Arches?

High arches (also known as “Cavus foot” or “Pes Cavus”) is a condition where – as the name implies – the arch in the middle of the foot is abnormally high.  It is less common than flat foot, although it can still lead to foot pain and an array of other foot disorders and deformities.  It is estimated that approximately 20% of the population has high arches, although not all cases will cause issues or symptoms.  

When arches are abnormally high, it disrupts the foot’s biomechanics by impeding the arch’s ability to properly support our body weight and absorb the force of our movement.  The load is then displaced onto the ball and heel of the foot.   When the biomechanics in our feet are off, it also puts excessive strain on the ankles and lower leg.

High arches can lead to foot pain and discomfort.  They also can cause or contribute to other foot conditions, such as:

A chiropodist (foot specialist) can help manage and correct the biomechanical abnormalities resulting from high arches.  A foot specialist can also treat any resulting foot conditions or deformities.

Symptoms

What Are The Symptoms Of High Arches?

Abnormally high arches can negatively affect your foot mechanics. This can cause symptoms such as:

  • Heel pain
  • Ball of foot pain (aka metatarsalgia)
  • Ankle pain
  • Knee pain
  • Underprontation (feet roll excessively outward while walking or running)
  • Lower limb stress fractures
  • Shoe-fitting issues

Causes

How Do High Arches Cause Pain?

Your feet have three arches:

  • The medial arch, which runs along the inner edge of your foot
  • The lateral arch, which runs along the outer edge of your foot
  • The transverse arch, which runs across the width of your foot

These arches comprise a complex structure of bones, ligaments, muscles and tendons that allow your feet to support your entire body weight when upright. While walking or running, your arches not only keep you upright, but also have the job of absorbing the force, or “shock”, exerted on your feet when they make contact with the ground and propel you forward.

Since [Force] = [Mass] x [Acceleration], the force exerted on your body is higher during movement than when standing still. This means that every time you take a step or stride, the arches have to support up to seven times your body weight. Over the course of a day, that can total hundreds or thousands of tonnes being transported by your arches.

If you have abnormally high arches, almost all this force will instead be absorbed by the ball of the foot and heel, which puts immense stress on your ankles and lower leg.  This stress can lead to various foot deformities.  The body’s attempts to compensate for these issues triggers a domino effect of pain and symptoms in our feet that ultimately affect other parts of the body. 

What Causes High Arches?

High arches can be caused by: 

  • Neurological or neuromuscular disorder (i.e.: Charcot-Mari-Tooth disease, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, polio, etc.)
  • Inherited structural abnormalities in the foot (Genetics)

Muscle weakness from neurological or neuromuscular diseases can cause high arches to develop over time:  The muscle weakness and nerve damage may lead to muscle atrophy. Excess pressure is then put on other parts of the foot in order to compensate.  This can change the shape and structure of the bones and ligaments in the foot, leading to high arches.  About half of neuromuscular-related cases of high arches are caused by a disease called Charcot-Mari-Tooth disease (CMT).

Treatment

How Do I Treat High Arches?

Treatment for pain and complications resulting from high arches may include:

  • Shoes with extra cushioning and shock-absorption:  This helps compensate for the lack of shock absorption so that other parts of the foot don’t have to. 
  • Custom orthotics to support the arches and redistribute pressures evenly along the bottom of the foot:  A chiropodist (foot specialist) can fit you for a custom orthotic to fit your high arches and alleviate any excess strain the condition may have on your muscles and joints. 
  • Over-the-counter cushioning insoles:  The knowledgeable staff at our foot clinic can help you find the right insoles that will accommodate your high arches so that your activities don’t cause foot pain. 
  • Regular foot and lower limb muscle stretches:  These will strengthen the muscles so they can better withstand the extra burden placed on them by the high arches as well as relieve the ones that are excessively tight. Here are some great exercises and stretches you can try at home.  

The foot specialists and knowledgeable staff at our foot clinic can help you find a treatment plan, and supportive footwear, that works best for you. 

* To schedule a foot care appointment with our licensed chiropodists (foot specialists), use the booking form below or call 416-769-FEET(3338).

Risk Factors

What Puts Me At Risk For High Arches?

Certain risk factors may increase your chances of getting a high arch foot:

  • Genetics – high arches run in the family
  • Structural abnormalities
  • Muscular imbalances
  • Neuromuscular disease, such as Charcot Marie Tooth Disease

Prevention

Whether high arches can be prevented depends on the underlying cause:  

Some factors, such as inherited structural abnormalities in the foot, cannot be controlled or prevented.  Various neuromuscular or neurological diseases that lead to high arches may also not be preventable.  

Fortunately, the progression and extent of high arches can be prevented or offset by proactive treatment.  This includes footwear and ergonomic aids that support healthy biomechanics and weight distribution in the foot, combined with strengthening exercises for the feet (see Treatment above).

It used to be believed that the effects of nerve death from neurological disease was categorically untreatable or inevitable; we now know this to be a myth because the body is actually capable of building new neural pathways through repetition.  This phenomenon is called neuroplasticity, and it can be used to manage and control musculoskeletal conditions resulting from neurological disease.  Regular strengthening and stretching of the muscles in the foot area can offset muscle atrophy and build neuroplasticity.  This can in turn alleviate neurological-related muscle weakening and atrophy that can lead (or aggravate) high arches. 

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