Fallen arches, or flat feet as they are often referred to, are a structural deformity whereby the arch of the foot lags or collapses. It?s very common, can be painful or not, can lead to a string of other ailments, but it is easily corrected. It is not more common in sports people or people who are overweight, but you knew all that, right?
There is a lack of normal arch development, probably due to inherent ligamentous laxity. Around 20% of adults have Pes planus. The majority have a flexible flat foot and no symptoms. However, if there is also heel cord contracture, there may be symptoms (see 'Contributing factors', below). Loss of support for the arch. Dysfunction of the tibialis posterior tendon, a common and important cause. Tear of the spring ligament (rare). Tibialis anterior rupture (rare). A neuropathic foot, e.g from diabetes, polio, or other neuropathies. Degenerative changes in foot and ankle joints. Inflammatory arthropathy, eg rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis. Fractures. Bony abnormalities, eg tarsal coalition.
Pain and stiffness of the medial arch or anywhere along the mid-portion of the foot. Associated discomfort within and near the ankle joint. The knees, hips, and lower back may be the primary source of discomfort. Feet may often feel tired and achy. Painful shin splints may develop with activity. Gait may be awkward.
If you notice that your feet are flat, but you?re not really experiencing any pain, then you?re probably okay to go without a visit to the podiatrist (unless, of course, you have a lack of feeling in your foot). You can schedule a hair appointment instead, or maybe see a movie. However, once painful symptoms start to appear, it?s better to skip the hirsute (or cinematic) experience and go see your foot doctor. Your podiatrist will likely make the diagnosis by examining your foot visually, asking about symptoms you may be experiencing, and may test your muscle strength. You may be asked to stand on your toes (in a ballerina pose, if you prefer, although that?s certainly not required), or walk around the examining room, and you may need to show the podiatrist your shoes. He or she may comment on your excellent taste in footwear, but is more likely to check your shoes for signs of wear that may indicate fallen arches. Your podiatrist may recommend X-rays, a CT scan or an MRI in order to get a look at the interior of your foot, although the best diagnosis usually comes from the doctor?s own in-person examination.
Non Surgical Treatment
Most cases of flatfeet do not require treatment. However, if there is pain, or if the condition is caused by something other than normal development, there are several treatment options. Self-care options include rest, choosing non-weight-bearing exercise (e.g., swimming, cycling), weight loss, and avoiding high heels. Flexible flatfeet with some pain can be relieved with the use of orthotics-shoe inserts that support the arch-and/or heel wedges (in some cases). If pronation is a factor, special shoes can be worn that lift the arch and correct the inward leaning. Physical therapy may also be prescribed to stretch or lengthen the heel cord and other tendons. For rigid or inflexible flatfeet, treatment varies depending on the cause. Tarsal coalition if often treated with rest and the wearing of a cast. If this is ineffective, surgery can be done to separate the bones or to reset the bones into a correct position. If the flatfoot is caused by an injury to the tendons in the foot or ankle, rest, anti-inflammatory medications (e.g., ibuprofen), and the use of shoe inserts and ankle braces often relieve symptoms. In severe cases, surgery is performed to repair the tendon or to fuse some joints in the foot into a corrected position to reduce stress on the tendon. The prognosis after surgery is generally good. Complications include pain and some loss of ankle motion, especially when trying to turn the foot in or out. This may be improved with physical therapy.
Common indications for surgery are cerebral palsy with an equinovalgus foot, to prevent progression and breakdown of the midfoot. Rigid and painful Pes Planus. To prevent progression, eg with a Charcot joint. Tibialis posterior dysfunction, where non-surgical treatment is unsuccessful. Possible surgical procedures include Achilles tendon lengthening. Calcaneal osteotomy, to re-align the hindfoot. Reconstruction of the tibialis posterior tendon. For severe midfoot collapse of the arch, triple arthrodesis may be indicated.
Going barefoot, particularly over terrain such as a beach where muscles are given a good workout, is good for all but the most extremely flatfooted, or those with certain related conditions such as plantar fasciitis. Ligament laxity is also among the factors known to be associated with flat feet. One medical study in India with a large sample size of children who had grown up wearing shoes and others going barefoot found that the longitudinal arches of the bare footers were generally strongest and highest as a group, and that flat feet were less common in children who had grown up wearing sandals or slippers than among those who had worn closed-toe shoes. Focusing on the influence of footwear on the prevalence of pes planus, the cross-sectional study performed on children noted that wearing shoes throughout early childhood can be detrimental to the development of a normal or a high medial longitudinal arch. The vulnerability for flat foot among shoe-wearing children increases if the child has an associated ligament laxity condition. The results of the study suggest that children be encouraged to play barefooted on various surfaces of terrain and that slippers and sandals are less harmful compared to closed-toe shoes. It appeared that closed-toe shoes greatly inhibited the development of the arch of the foot more so than slippers or sandals. This conclusion may be a result of the notion that intrinsic muscle activity of the arch is required to prevent slippers and sandals from falling off the child?s foot.
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.