We all leave footprints in this world. There are carbon footprints, water footprints, and footprints in the sand.

What does your footprint say about you?

In orthopedic terms, footprints say a lot about foot health.

To see what type of footprint you leave, wet your bare feet and then stand on a piece of craft paper or concrete. Note the shape of the footprint you leave behind. Typically, you will see your toes in each print. The differences in footprints are most often seen in the arch, the section between the toes and the heels.

The arches in your feet provide very important functions. They:

  • Keep you balanced on uneven ground.
  • Absorb the stress of your step.
  • Stabilize you as you walk, run, or stand.

Your arch is made up of a series of ligaments and tendons that run along the bottom of your foot. When these ligaments and tendons are stretched beyond normal limits, they affect the health of your arch.

What type of footprint do you have?

Normal footprint.

A normal footprint connects with the ground from the toes to the heel along the entire length of the outer edge of the foot. This type of footprint shows that you distribute weight evenly across the structure of your foot as you walk.

A rectangular footprint.

If you leave behind a rectangular footprint without the characteristic serpentine shape, you may have fallen arches. A flat foot often indicates injury, arthritis, diabetes, or obesity. Age-related conditions may also cause fallen arches.

For most people, flat feet do not cause pain. For others, symptoms show up as knee pain, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and painful or swollen ankles. If you experience these symptoms, rest, elevate your foot, and use over-the-counter medications to

 control the pain

 and discomfort.

If you experience pain for two weeks or longer or if pain interferes with your lifestyle, contact your primary care provider or an orthopedic specialist for an appointment. Flat feet can be treated with physical therapy, stretching exercises, custom shoe inserts known as orthotics, or supportive shoes.

A broken footprint.

Broken footprints, showing toes and the heel, but no connection between the two, indicate a high arch. High arches can lead to pain in the ball of the foot at the base of the toes, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures.

Some people are born with high arches. Others develop high arches when they experience ruptured peroneal tendons or ankle instability.

If high arches are causing you pain or limiting your movement, make an appointment with your primary care provider. You may be referred to a foot specialist or a podiatrist. Often surgery is needed to correct high arches.

Can you prevent arch pain?

Sometimes arch pain cannot be prevented. It may be caused by factors out of your control such as heredity, age, or injury. You can minimize the risk of arch pain by changing the factors you can control such as your weight and footwear.

  • Losing weight will lighten the load on your feet.
  • Choosing shoes with proper arch support will also help you avoid foot pain.