How Much Do You Know About Your Feet Arches?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on August 11, 2021
4 min read

You're ready to get a new pair of shoes and visit the shoe store. While there, an associate asks you about your shoe size, if your feet are wide or narrow, and what type of arch you have.‌

You might be able to answer the first and second questions, but the third one's a bit of a headscratcher. Arch type?‌

Your foot's arch type is more than what your feet look like. An unsupported arch can lead to foot pain that makes it difficult to walk. In worst cases, an unsupported foot arch can cause long-term damage. 

You don't need a fancy tool or specialist to figure out your foot arch type. All you need is some water and cardboard.

  1. Dip your foot in some water so that it covers at least the bottom of your foot.
  2. Step on a piece of cardboard. Step naturally like you would if you were standing or walking.
  3. Look at your footprint, specifically the area between your heel and your toes. This area is the sole of your foot.

Half-filled. If the sole of your footprint is half-filled, you have a normal arch. Theoretically, your normal arch should adequately support your weight.‌

Filled. If you see your entire footprint, you have a flat arch. Flat arches are common, and any pain experienced from them is easy to treat. Feet with flat arches are commonly called flat feet. ‌

Empty. If you only see the heel and ball of your footprint (or little of the sole between), your feet have high arches. Like flat arches, high arches can lead to muscle and bone stress.

Flat arches are normal. They may be the result of an undeveloped arch from childhood or wear-and-tear on your arches over time.

The arches of babies' feet are flat. As they get older, the arches typically develop into normal arches. If they don't, they remain flat. ‌

Your arches can also flatten as you get older. In addition, common conditions like obesity, foot injuries, arthritis, and diabetes can put you at risk for a fallen arch. If your flat feet aren't causing you pain, no treatment is needed. ‌

Symptom of flat arches. Many people with flat feet experience no pain. But some have foot pain in their arch or heel, particularly during activities like walking or running. 

Treatment for flat arches. If your flat feet do cause you pain, you can use over-the-counter arch supports for your shoes or shoes with built-in supports. These are often fit for your feet, supporting your arches and reducing your symptoms. ‌

To relieve pain and tension, you can seek physical therapy or stretching routines to exercise the tendon in the arch.

Unlike flat feet, high arches are uncommon. Instead, high arches are usually the result of a bone or nerve condition.

Symptoms of high arches. High arches are typically painful. Since the sole of your foot isn't offering much support, there's extra stress on your heel and toes. This additional stress can make walking and running difficult.

Because high arches also change the shape of your foot, it can be challenging to find shoes that fit. Wearing shoes that don't fit can make your foot pain worse. 

Diagnosing high arches. Your doctor will perform imaging tests, such as X-rays, to see if your foot is still flexible. If your foot is still flexible, no significant treatment is typically needed.

Treatment for high arches. You can wear supportive shoes and inserts to relieve pain from your high arches. Severe cases, though, may require surgery to flatten the foot arches. 

As long as you have no severe symptoms, you can find relief through proper shoes and stretching routines

Plantar fasciitis can also cause foot pain. If you have normal arches but frequent, sharp foot pain, the tendon that supports your arch may be inflamed. ‌

The stress caused by high arches can potentially lead to plantar fasciitis. Tension on the tendon of your foot's arch can cause tears in the tendon, leading to inflammation.‌

Plantar fasciitis is typically a runner's condition and is most common in older adults. It's a painful condition that can be treated with rest, simple pain relief, and inflammation relief. ‌

Untreated plantar fasciitis can lead to chronic pain, problems with muscles and joints, and a hindrance of normal activities.

The best thing you can do for your feet — no matter your arch type — is to wear good shoes. Unfortunately, there's no perfect shoe for types of arches. Explore different shoes, try them on, and find a pair that is most comfortable for you.