Your feet are remarkably complex things. Each one contains 26 bones and 33 joints, connected by over a hundred muscles, ligaments, and tendons. This anatomical array creates three arches, whose job it is to provide support for weight-bearing and the flexibility and strength needed to walk, run and jump.
The shape and height of your arches are unique—no two people have exactly the same feet. Knowing a bit about your arches will help you know about your feet and how they function when you run.
The Three Different Arches of the Foot
Your feet are responsible for holding up your weight and moving you around. But it is not just the bones, muscles, and connective tissue that make this possible. It is also the structure of how they fit and work together. In order for your feet to perform their functions, they require a high degree of flexibility and stability, and this is provided by the three arches.
While everyone’s foot is different, everyone has three distinct arches, which are:
- Medial longitudinal arch: Typically referred to as just “the arch,” this structure runs from the front to the back and through the inside of your foot. It can absorb a significant part of the shock produced by the impacts inherent in running, walking, or jumping.
- Lateral longitudinal arch: This arch runs precisely parallel to the medial longitudinal arch, but is on the outside edge of the foot. It is not as pronounced as the larger medial longitudinal arch, and typically is visible only in people with very high arches.
- Transverse arch: The final arch is the transverse arch, which runs across the midfoot from the outside to the inside. This, too, provides our foot with support and flexibility.
Our arches aren’t just maintained by the shapes of ligaments and bones. Tendons and muscles also play a significant role in their shape.
How to Determine Arch Types
The arches and other tissues of your foot determine your foot type. There are three common foot types:
1. High Arches
A high arch is also known as cavus foot or pes cavus. This is in most cases hereditary, and relatively rare.
How high an arch is will vary from person to person, and may not necessarily be a problem. However, high arches can be more prone to overuse injuries from running, jumping, and other stressful sports movements.
Additionally, high arches have less ability to absorb shock or even to provide enough support while walking. In such cases, it is ideal to select shoes that have ample cushioning, or ones that have a custom-molded shoe insert to help absorb shock.
2. Normal Arches
Not too high, not too low, but right in the middle: if you find that the middle part of your foot is raised somewhat, but not too much, then you have a normal arch. This is ideal for naturally supporting your body’s weight, and allowing the slight natural ankle-roll known as pronation.
People with a normal arch don’t need to worry about shoes and their soles. Ideally, look for shoes that have firm midsoles and semi-curved to straight lasts (“last” refers to the shape of the shoe’s sole).
3. Fallen Arches or Flat Feet
Newborn babies, and even some younger children, will appear to have flat feet. This is mainly because they have fatter pads on the soles. As they age, lose fat, and their feet become stronger, this should develop into a distinct arch.
For a variety of reasons, some adults don’t develop well-formed arches. This could result in a well-functioning, flexible flat foot. However, flat foot deformity–when the posterior tibial tendon becomes too weak to shape the arch–also results in fallen arches, and is more of a problem.
Painful flexible flat feet can be addressed with custom shoe orthotics to stretch the Achilles tendon. Adult-acquired flat feet may require specialized shoes or even walking boots, as well as physical therapy or surgery. Some shoes can help with posterior tibial tendonitis.
Does Arch Type Matter?
Sometimes, even the smallest of things can create discomfort. Hence, knowing your arch type is an absolute must, regardless of whether you are a runner or an average Joe. Knowledge is power, and finding out whether you have flat feet, high arches, or normal arches can help you be more proactive the next time you go shoe shopping.
Once you know your exact foot arch type, you will either be able to buy shoes according to your arch, or be able to buy inserts that will work well for your feet. You will also be better equipped to treat your foot pain and to prevent injuries such as plantar fasciitis.
Determining your arch type probably doesn’t require a trip to the orthopedist or podiatrist. You can do it easily on your own. If you are experiencing significant pain or discomfort, however, seek a doctor’s advice to get your feet back to good health quickly.
Foot Arch Test
This is a quick and simple way to know what your foot arch is. All you just need is a brown paper bag or cardboard, along with some water.
- Start by thoroughly wetting the bottom of your feet.
- Carefully remove your feet from the water and place them on the brown paper bag or piece of cardboard. Stand up evenly with your full body weight so that there is a clear footprint on the paper.
- Step off the bag or cardboard and carefully examine your arch type.
- Depending on the shape of your feet on the bag, you will be able to see whether you have flat or normal feet, as well as high, fallen, or normal arches.
Knowing how to determine arch types is a simple process, and knowing your exact arch type is essential. Keep in mind that nothing is absolute, and your feet are unique.
High arches are rare but not always inflexible. Flat feet do not always have to be a problem. The right shoes, as well as stretching and strengthening, can help manage very high or fallen arches. Orthotics are also another assured way that you will be able to avoid plantar fasciitis and enjoy pain-free activity.