Several recent studies have shown that strengthening the arch of the feet can help support the arch and decrease foot fatigue. This post will present the two most effective methods to strengthen the arch.
A 2008 study of the function of the arch muscles showed that the abductor hallucis muscle (small muscle on the bottom inside portion of the arch) contracts to support the arch and control pronation while standing.1 This article suggested that strengthening and thus improving the endurance of these intrinsic foot muscles may reduce over-pronation, and the subsequent problems that are associated with it. These problems would include plantar fasciitis, shin splints and even some causes of knee pain.
A study in 2011 compared the two most common arch strengthening exercises. This study suggested that while both the “Short Foot Exercise” (see video 1 below) and the “Toe Curl Exercise” (see video 2 below) were effective, the Short Foot Exercise was the better of the two.2
Although the Short Foot Exercise is a bit more effective, we tend to recommend a version of the Toe Curl Exercise the most. It is simply easier to do (especially when you follow the instructions in Video #3 below).
An easier version of the Toe Curl Exercise using an arch strengthening tool that can be found on Amazon can be seen in the 3rd video. Because this is an easier and more convenient way to strengthen the arch, we recommend it to many of our patients.
We do still recommend the Short Foot Exercise to high level athletes.
You can get the Archexerciser here.
A study in 2011 also looked at how the use of orthotics affected arch strength. This study found that in persons with flat feet, the use of orthotics in combination with arch strengthening exercises resulted in stronger feet than the when using the exercises alone.
Orthotics appear to help strengthen the arch due to the fact that when using orthotics the muscles of the arch were in a better position to fire normally. Without the orthotics these muscles lost the mechanical advantage to support the foot. In other words, when wearing the orthotics the muscles were able to fire in a more normal position and thus ended up functioning better and stronger.
There was no mention in the article as to whether prefabricated or custom orthotics worked best. It does make sense that the better the alignment of the foot the better the muscle function will be. Thus, custom orthotics are likely to help the most.
Prefabricated orthotics are still likely to be very beneficial, however. The prefabricated orthotics we recommend the most are the