Pes cavus, also known as cavus foot or simply high arches, is the least common of the three basic foot shapes (normal and flat feet are the other two), but often the most problematic. Although some people with high arches live full lives without pain, and don’t need treatment, this particular foot type tends to be the least flexible and poorest at absorbing shocks. It can develop at any age and for a variety of reasons, and often leads to pain, instability, and secondary conditions.
Symptoms and Complications
Unlike genetically inherited flat feet, which often do not cause any discomfort, high arches are usually painful and can make standing and walking difficult. That’s because this foot shape puts particularly large stresses on the metatarsal bones on the top of your foot, as well as the contact points at the forefoot and heel. This leads to instability in your ankles, tightness in calves, and other painful problems.
A high arch shape also greatly increases your risk of developing secondary complications. Hammertoes and calluses are particularly likely, and because people with pes cavus often have heels that tilt inward, you’re susceptible to sprains and other joint injuries. Those with high arches tend to supinate when walking or running, which means the heel rolls inward, the ankle rolls outward, and extra pressure is placed on the outside of the foot.
What Causes Pes Cavus?
There’s no one single cause, and sometimes no cause can be determined at all. Genetics and family history play a role, but aren’t the only factors.
High arches are often related to neurological conditions. Cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, and stroke are often precipitating factors. Assessing the root cause of pes cavus and whether it’s related to a particular disease is important, because it gives us clues as to whether the condition is likely to remain the same or progressively worsen with time.
How Can I Tell if I Have High Arches?
If you aren’t sure what kind of arch shape you have, you can perform a quick test at home known as the “wet test.” Fill a shallow pan with a thin layer of water and step in it to get your sole wet. Then, press your foot on a blank piece of construction paper—an old grocery bag works well.
If you have a normal foot shape, your footprint will include about half your arch. If, however, you only see a sliver of arch, or even a gap between your forefoot and heel, you probably have pes cavus.
North Austin Foot & Ankle Institute Can Help
Because high arches are one of those “fundamental” foot problems, serving as an underlying cause for a wide variety of other painful secondary conditions, it’s very important to take care of them as soon as possible.
The good news is that there are a wide variety of treatments that help, and most do not require surgery. In minor cases, corrective shoes, arch support inserts, or silicone or felt pads at pressure points may be more than enough to ease your pain, improve walking comfort, and dramatically reduce the risk of complications. In more severe situations, we may give you a wearable brace or fashion a custom orthotic (specially molded to your foot shape to provide a better fit than off-the-rack inserts).
If conservative treatments fail and you’re still experiencing significant discomfort, we may then consider surgical correction. Since every case is different, procedures and recovery times vary from patient to patient, though you can rest assured that Dr. McSpadden will craft a procedure appropriate for your condition and lifestyle and keep you fully informed.
If you’re experiencing foot pain related to high arches, call North Austin Foot & Ankle Institute for a check-up and diagnosis today. We will assess your condition quickly and accurately and help you build the best plan for your feet going forward. Call our office in Cedar Park at 512-593-2949, or 512-528-8506 for Round Rock.