Soreness in the arches of one or both feet is one of the most common afflictions distance runners face. While this kind of injury often resolves quickly without specific treatment, it can linger for weeks or even months if you don't address the underlying cause or causes and take active steps to speed healing. In most cases sore arches in runners result from chronic stress, but pain may also result from a traumatic injury such as stepping in a hole.
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Basics of Arch Pain
In most cases of arch soreness in distance runners, especially when the pain is close to the heel, the culprit is plantar fasciitis, or PF. The plantar fascia is a band of tissue connecting the heel to the ball of the foot and often becomes inflamed owing to the mechanical stresses imposed by running. This injury normally comes on gradually and manifests on only one foot. Other, less common causes include a stress fracture of the navicular bone of the foot and inflammation of the posterior tibial tendon, which runs down the calf and attaches to the back of the arch.
Given the plantar fascia's location and function, the factors predisposing runners to PF are predictable. Heavier runners are more susceptible than others, especially in the wake of sudden weight gain. Running on uneven surfaces, in footwear lacking adequate support, and over hilly terrain all contribute to the development of PF. Flat feet, high arches and tight Achilles tendons can also trigger the development of PF, as can a rapid increase in total workload. Men older than 40 are the runners most commonly affected. The same factors predispose runners to posterior tibial tendinitis, while stress fractures most often result from rapid increases and mileage and too much running on hard surfaces.
According to the Made to Run website, PF treatment should commence with icing of the affected area for approximately 20 minutes. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium can reduce both pain and inflammation; ask your doctor for recommendations concerning appropriate dosage levels. Putting cushioned insoles in your running shoes can allow you to keep running even during the healing process, and avoiding hills and rough terrain is essential as well. Speed work tends to aggravate PF, so stick to slow, steady running during the convalescent period. Posterior tibial tendonitis is typically treated with physical therapy, immobilization or surgery, while a navicular stress fracture requires about six weeks of immobilization in a boot and, in some cases, surgical intervention.
To prevent a recurrence of arch pain or to help ensure that you never incur it in the first place, be certain that you're running in shoes well-suited to your particular foot anatomy. Stretch regularly to keep your ankle, Achilles tendon and calf muscles limber. Try not to run every day on concrete or asphalt, switching to smooth soft surfaces — including a treadmill — whenever possible. If possible, avoid wearing high heels and try to maintain a healthy body weight.