In our Elmhurst podiatry practice, we see a lot of patients with heel pain. And, most often, the cause of that heel pain is plantar fasciitis. What is plantar fasciitis? It’s a term describing the inflammation of a band of tissue that starts at your heel, goes across your arch and inserts into the ball of your foot.
When you experience heel pain, you are often just feeling inflammation where your plantar fascia begins: on the inside and bottom of your heel. But, as it turns out, your arch has a lot to do with your heel pain. That’s because, when you stand without arch support, your arch collapses and the plantar fascia gets stretched—sometimes to the point of irritation. When you have proper arch support, however, you also support the plantar fascia tissue, and you stop this painful stretching. In other words, if you support your arch, you take pressure off your heels. There are lots of ways we can do that—all of which we’ll review later in this post—but this fact begs a question: Why do we need an arch in the first place? And, thanks to a new study, we’ve got a great answer to share with you!
Arched Feet: A Miracle of Evolution
According to a study in the journal Nature, that arch on the top of our feet is crucial to human mobility. Called the transverse tarsal arch, this little curve works together with the arch on the bottom of your feet: the medial longitudinal arch. In combination, the two arches keep our feet in a fairly stiff state; that stiffness allows humans to push off the ground, or any solid surfaces, without falling. It’s also one of the major differences between humans and primates, who can bend their feet to grasp branches, vines or even food.
Until recently, we talked a lot about the bottom arch—especially given its connection to your heel pain. But the top foot arch was largely ignored which is why “We were surprised by what an effect [that arch] had,” says Dr. Madhusudhan Venkadesan, the Yale University professor leading the study.
In order to prove the importance of your transverse tarsal arch, researchers came up with a series of experiments involving human cadavers and bent feet. We know, that sounds creepy, but it was much easier to isolate stiffness in non-living humans, since the scientists were able to remove elastic tissue from their feet in order to focus entirely on the stiffness of their feet.
Next, in order to understand how this arch has helped humanity involve, the research team used models to reconstruct the feet of earlier humans, comparing differences between prehistoric and present-day arches.
And what they discovered was a big deal: our transverse arch first appeared (about 3 million years ago) at about the same time that humanity started walking on two feet. And the transverse arch actually showed up before the medial one—that arch only came to play about 1.8 million years ago. After that, running, jumping (basically every form of human movement) became a whole lot easier. In short, the two arches in your feet are a really big deal.
Exploring Flat Feet in the Context of Evolution
We’ve already talked about the problems that come from unsupported arches. But what does this new discovery mean for people with collapsed or unformed arches [flat feet]?
According to this research, those people have the transverse arch to thank for still being able to walk—basically, the top arch keeps your flat feet from losing their stiffness. And from impairing your ability to walk like a person.
Now, how will these new findings contribute to future foot research? Study authors hope to find new ways to study and support the transverse arch, to see if that is another avenue for proving people with foot pain relief. In fact, they hope to use these findings to help design better prosthetic feet for amputees, or even to improve robot design in the future.
In the meantime, however, our podiatrists have to focus on supporting your lower arch—the one we already understand pretty well. And if collapsed arches or plantar fasciitis are giving you heel pain, we have plenty of ways to help you feel better.
The Best Ways to Support Your Foot Arch
At Prairie Path Foot & Ankle, we’ve got a lot of options when it comes to your arch support. Some of our patients will find relief with over the counter options such as Powersteps and Footsteps. Others will need to be fitted for custom orthotics. And, still others will need additional treatments—including MLS Laser Therapy—in order to completely resolve their heel pain. But here’s the deal: we can’t know which treatment will work for you unless you come into our office. So, call us today and get set up with one of our Elmhurst podiatrists. Together, we can determine the best way to support your arches and free you from heel pain.