Feet come in all shapes and sizes, and that includes arch height. Most people have a more or less “normal” shape to their sole, while a sizeable minority have low arches or flat feet. High arches are rarer, but they do exist, and unfortunately can often lead to painful problems.
Why Some Arches are Higher than Normal
Often, unusually high arches are the result of a neurologic condition or disorder, including cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, muscular dystrophy, or others.
However, sometimes it’s just simple genetics, rather than any diagnosable medical condition. If one of your parents had high arches, there’s a decent chance they’ll pass that foot shape on to you, too.
Potential Symptoms and Complications of High Arches
High arches are more likely to be painful than flat feet or other foot shape abnormalities because of the excess stress it places on the balls of the feet. They’re also often more rigid and less flexible than other foot shapes, and may make finding a good pair of shoes difficult.
Aside from foot pain (especially when standing, walking, or running), high arches may be a contributing factor in the development of other foot conditions, including hammertoes, claw toes, neuromas, bunions, and drop foot, a condition in which lifting the front part of the foot becomes difficult. You may be more likely to sprain your ankle or develop corns or calluses in pressure zones like the ball and heel, and are more likely to develop arthritis in your feet at an earlier age.
Do I Need Treatment or Not?
If you have high arches, we strongly recommend you see a professional for an evaluation—especially if you are experiencing any pain. Establishing a cause is critically important in determining what kind of treatment, if any, is necessary in your case. An underlying neurologic condition, for example, may require immediate treatment to prevent this situation from getting worse, while a simple structural abnormality that is not causing any pain will likely remain stable and may only warrant careful monitoring.
Available Treatment Options
Painful feet and ankles resulting from high arches are usually treated conservatively. Common approaches include:
- A change in footwear. You may benefit from higher tops (which support the ankle) and wider bottoms (to provide additional stability).
- Shoe inserts or custom orthotics. Many people with high arches see positive results from these devices, which can add extra support and cushioning where needed. The best choice is the full custom orthotic, which is made to the exact specifications of your feet, although in less severe cases a simple over-the-counter insert may be sufficient.
- Braces may sometimes be recommended for ankle stability.
If you have an underlying medical condition causing the high arch, such as spina bifida, you will of course need to seek appropriate treatment for it as well. In rare cases where conservative measures do not provide adequate support or pain relief, our office will consider a surgical procedure to restructure the arch.
Evaluating Arch Height: The Wet Test
Not sure if your arches are high or not? Perform the wet test! Although not as accurate as a professional examination, it’s an easy and handy way to get a general idea.
Simply wet the bottom of your foot and step on a surface that will reveal a clear print—paper grocery bags are an ideal choice.
If you have a “normal” or “medium” arch, you should see about half of it appear on the paper. Someone with high arches may only see a thin sliver connecting the toes to the heel, or perhaps even a complete disconnect.