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The arch of your foot is that slightly curved area between your heel and the ball of your foot. Some people have unusually high arches, which can lead to a range of problems, from occasional pain to permanent structural changes.
Some people are just naturally born with high arches. But for others, high arches are a symptom of an underlying condition, such as:
- cerebral palsy
- muscular dystrophy
- spina bifida
- spinal cord tumors
- Charcot-Marie-tooth disease
Read on to learn more about high arches, including how to tell if you have them and what you can do to reduce your risk of complications.
You can check to see if you have high arches by standing on a large piece of paper with wet feet. Allow the moisture from your feet to sink into the paper, then remove your feet from the paper.
If you have a high arch, the imprint left on the paper will be of only the front and heel of your foot with nothing in between. If there’s only a thin imprint between the two, you have a moderately high arch.
In addition, your healthcare provider may use some additional tools to evaluate your arches, including:
- your family health history
- physical examination
- review of your walking pattern and pattern of wear on your shoes
- nerve conduction velocity (NCV)
High arches can cause a range of problems, depending on how high your arch is and whether it’s the result of an underlying condition. Most of these problems are related to the ways that high arches impact how you walk and stand.
People with high arches are prone to developing plantar fasciitis. This refers to inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is the band of ligament that connects your heel to your toes and supports your arches.
The pain usually affects the heel, but some people experience it along the bottom of the entire foot or along the arch. It’s often worse when you take your first steps after getting up, and improves the more you move.
The pain is described as a stabbing or burning and can worsen after standing or sitting for long periods.
High arches are a common cause of metatarsalgia. This is a painful inflammation of the ball of the foot. Metatarsalgia usually improves when you rest and worsens during standing, walking, or exercising. Flexing your foot can also worsen your pain.
Common symptoms include:
- sharp or shooting pain in the ball of your foot
- aching or burning pain
- tingling or numbness in your toes
- the feeling of a pebble in your shoe
The pain can worsen over time and lead to limping and pain in other parts of your body, such as your lower back and hips.
Claw toe refers to toes that take on a claw-like position and dig down into the soles of your shoes. It often affects the four smaller toes.
The joints of the affected toes buckle unusually, causing them to curl downward. You may develop painful calluses on the ball of the foot and corns over the top of your toes as a result of the way your feet sit in your shoes.
The deformity can also cause foot pain, affect your gait, and make shoes feel tighter.
Hammer toe is deformity that affects the second, third, or fourth toes. It results in the toe bending at the middle joint, which creates a hammer- or Z-shaped appearance.
At first, the affected toe is flexible. But over time, it can become rigid and require surgery.
Hammer toe can cause pain in the toes and feet, making it difficult to find comfortable shoes.
Foot and ankle instability
When you have high arches, one or both heels are usually tilted toward the middle of your body. This causes foot and ankle instability, which can cause pain and increase your risk of ankle sprains, according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.
There are several things you can do to relieve or prevent issues caused by high arches.
- Orthotic devices. Orthotic devices are artificial supports that can be worn in your shoes to provide extra stability and cushioning. You can have them custom-made or pick up a premade set online.
- Foot pads. Silicone, felt, and foam foot pads can be worn in your shoes to relieve pressure and pain. You can find these online.
- Night splints. Night splints stretch your calf and the arch of your foot while you sleep to relieve plantar fasciitis.
- Special walking shoes. Walking shoes with special features to accommodate and support foot high arches can make walking more comfortable. Look for shoes with a wider toe box and supportive insoles and midsoles.
- Icing. Icing your foot can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. You can ice your foot throughout the day for 20 minutes at a time using an ice pack wrapped in a towel or by soaking your feet in cold water.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to reduce inflammation and pain, especially after a long day on your feet.
In most cases, medical treatment isn’t needed for high arches. But for severe cases, or those caused by an underlying condition or structural abnormality, you may need physical therapy, surgery, or a combination of both.
The goal of any medical treatment of high arches is to increase stability in your foot, which helps to compensate for any weakness caused by high arches.
High arches are a fairly common trait. While they can be caused by a medical condition, some people simply have higher arches than others. If they start to cause problems, you may need to invest in some good insoles or a night brace.
Your healthcare provider can give you more detailed information about what will work best for your needs.