Fallen arches, or flatfoot, is a condition in which the arch on the inside of the foot is flat and the entire sole of the foot rests on the ground. It affects about 40% of the general population. Although flat feet in themselves are not usually problematic, they can create problems in the feet, hips, ankles and knees. Pain may be experienced in the lower back if there are alignment problems and if the individual is engaged in a lot of heavy, high impact activities that put stress on the bones and muscles in the lower legs. The arches of most individuals are fully developed by the age of 12 to 13. While some people are born with flat arches, for others the arches fall over time. The tibial tendon, which runs along the inside of the ankle from above the ankle to the arch, can weaken with age and with heavy activity. The posterior tendon, main support structure for the arch, can become inflamed (tendonitis) or even tear if overloaded. For women, wearing high heels can affect the Achilles tendon and alter the structure and function of the ankle. The posterior tibial tendon may compensate for this stress and break down, causing the arches to fall. Obesity is another contributing factor, as well as a serious injury to the ankle or foot, arthritis and bad circulation such as occurs with diabetes.
Flat feet are a common condition. In infants and toddlers, the arch is not developed and flat feet are normal. The arch develops in childhood. By adulthood, most people have developed normal arches. When flat feet persist, most are considered variations of normal. Most feet are flexible and an arch appears when the person stands on his or her toes. Stiff, inflexible, or painful flat feet may be associated with other conditions and require attention. Painful flat feet in children may be caused by a condition called tarsal coalition. In tarsal coalition, two or more of the bones in the foot fuse together. This limits motion and often leads to a flat foot. Most flat feet do not cause pain or other problems. Flat feet may be associated with pronation, in which the ankle bones lean inward toward the center line. When the shoes of children who pronate are placed side by side, they will lean toward each other (after they have been worn long enough for the foot position to remodel their sole). Foot pain, ankle pain, or lower leg pain (especially in children) may be a result of flat feet and should be evaluated by a health care provider. Adults can develop a flat foot when they are 60 - 70 years old. This type of flat foot is usually on one side.
Some people have fallen arches, and they aren?t even aware of it, fallen arches are sometimes asymptomatic and do not always cause pain. However, for others, the following symptoms may be present. Foot pain, particularly in the arches or heels, leg or back pain, feet feel tired quickly, swelling in the feet and difficulty moving the feet.
Determining whether you have fallen arches may be as easy as looking at the shape of the middle bottom of your foot. Is there any kind of arch there? If you cannot find any kind of arch, you may have a flat foot. There are, however, other ways to decide in case you're still not sure. Another way to figure out if you have flat feet is to look at a few pairs of your shoes. Where do you see the most wear on the heels? If you notice significant wear in the heel and the ball of the foot extending to the big toe, this means you are overpronating. Overpronators roll their feet too far inward and commonly have fallen arches. To figure out if you have flat feet, you can also do an easy test. Get the bottoms of your feet wet and then step on to a piece of paper carefully. Step off the paper and take a look at the print your foot made. If your print looks like the entire bottom of a foot, your feet are flat. People with an arch will be missing part of the foot on their print since the arch is elevated off of the paper. Regular visits to your podiatrist are highly recommended.
Non Surgical Treatment
There are home remedies to prevent or manage pain from fallen arches or flat feet. Here are some areas to consider. Wear footwear or shoe inserts that are appropriate to your activity. When pain occurs, try at-home treatment of rest, ice, and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, or NSAIDS, such as ibuprofen. Ask your doctor or a physical therapist to show you stretches that can prepare you for feet-intensive activities. Limit or treat risk factors that can make fallen arches or flat feet worse, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Avoid activities that put excessive stress on your feet, such as running on roads. Avoid high-impact sports such as basketball, hockey, soccer, and tennis. Know when to get help. When pain is severe or interferes with activities, it's time to see the doctor for a thorough exam and treatment.
Feet that do not respond to the treatments above may need surgery. The surgery will help to create a supportive arch.
Patients may go home the day of surgery or they may require an overnight hospital stay. The leg will be placed in a splint or cast and should be kept elevated for the first two weeks. At that point, sutures are removed. A new cast or a removable boot is then placed. It is important that patients do not put any weight on the corrected foot for six to eight weeks following the operation. Patients may begin bearing weight at eight weeks and usually progress to full weightbearing by 10 to 12 weeks. For some patients, weightbearing requires additional time. After 12 weeks, patients commonly can transition to wearing a shoe. Inserts and ankle braces are often used. Physical therapy may be recommended. There are complications that relate to surgery in general. These include the risks associated with anesthesia, infection, damage to nerves and blood vessels, and bleeding or blood clots. Complications following flatfoot surgery may include wound breakdown or nonunion (incomplete healing of the bones). These complications often can be prevented with proper wound care and rehabilitation. Occasionally, patients may notice some discomfort due to prominent hardware. Removal of hardware can be done at a later time if this is an issue. The overall complication rates for flatfoot surgery are low.