Foot Arches

Three Foot Arches Enable You to Stand and Move

A couple on a run together.
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The foot arches are formed by the bones, ligaments, and tendons of the foot and are essential for both movement and weight bearing. The shape and height of your foot arches are unique; no two people are the same.

The human foot is an incredibly complex mechanism that has two very important functions:

  1. Weight-bearing
  2. Propulsion in walking, running and jumping.

To perform these functions, the foot requires a high degree of stability as well as flexibility. The multiple bones and joints of the foot give it the necessary flexibility, but to fully support any weight, the bones of the foot need to form an arch.

The Three Arches of the Foot

The foot has three distinct arches. Two longitudinal arches (one on each side) run from front to back; one transverse arch runs across the midfoot from inside to outside.

Medial Longitudinal Arch: The medial longitudinal arch is the most prominent foot arch and what is typically referred to as simply, "the arch." It runs from front to back along the inside of the foot. This arch absorbs the majority of the shock of impact while walking, jumping or running.

Lateral Longitudinal Arch: The lateral longitudinal arch runs parallel to the medial longitudinal arch but is along the outer edge of the foot. Footprint #0 above, shows how prominent this arch can be; it is most visible in people with very high arches.

Transverse Arch: The final foot arch is called the transverse arch. It runs across the midfoot from outside to inside. This arch also provides support and flexibility to the foot.

The arches of the foot are maintained not only by the shapes of the bones as well as by ligaments. Also, muscles and tendons play an important role in supporting the arches.

Foot Types

The arches, along with the other tissues of the foot, help determine a person's foot type (see image). The most common foot types include:

High Arches

A high arch is also called pes cavus or cavus foot. As the height of each person's arches varies normally, it may not be a problem. They can be hereditary. A high arch can be more prone to overuse injuries when you play sports or run. High arches do not absorb shock as well or provide as much support while walking. You may benefit from cushioned shoes and custom-molded shoe inserts to help with shock absorption.

Flat Feet and Fallen Arches

Babies and children often appear to have flat feet because they have fat pads on the sole of their feet. They usually develop a more distinct arch. Adults can have flexible flatfoot or can acquire a flatfoot deformity when the posterior tibial tendon becomes weak, which is often called fallen arches. If flexible flatfoot is painful, custom shoe orthotics and stretching the Achilles tendon is often recommended. For adult-acquired flatfoot, the treatment may progress from custom shoe orthotics to a walking boot and physical therapy or even surgery.

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