Flat Feet and Fallen Arches are terms used to describe feet that have a low or no arch when weight bearing. There are two types of Flat Feet. Rigid Flat Foot. This type of foot is structurally flat, therefore, it has the same appearance when weight bearing and non weight bearing. Flexible Flat Foot. This is where the arch is present when non-weight bearing; however, when weight bearing it falls or collapses to a flat foot. This foot type is commonly referred to as Fallen Arches. Both of these foot types may be asymptomatic; however, they are characterised by excessive pronation of the joints of the foot (commonly the subtalar joint). The forces associated with this excessive pronation commonly results in pathological conditions, such as plantar fasciitis and tibialis posterior dysfunction which may cause pain in the feet.
Having low or no arches is normal for some people. In these cases, flat feet are usually inherited and the feet are fairly flexible. Occasionally, flat feet can be caused by an abnormality that develops in the womb, such as a problem with a joint or where two or more bones are fused together. This is known as tarsal coalition and results in the feet being flat and stiff. Flat feet that develop in later life can be caused by a condition that affects the joints, such as arthritis, or an injury to a muscle, tendon or joint in the foot. Conditions that affect the nervous system (brain and spinal cord) can also cause the arches to fall. Over time, the muscles gradually become stiffer and weaker and lose their flexibility. Conditions where this can occur include cerebral palsy, spina bifida and muscular dystrophy. Adult-acquired flat feet often affect women over 40 years of age. It often goes undiagnosed and develops when the tendon that supports the foot arch gradually stretches over time. It's not fully understood what causes the tendon to become stretched, but some experts believe that wearing high heels and standing or walking for long periods may play a part. Obesity, high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes are all risk factors. Recent research has found a link with changes to the tendon in the foot and an increase in a type of protein called proteolytic enzyme. These enzymes can break down some areas of the tendon, weakening it and causing the foot arch to fall. Similar changes are also seen in other conditions, such as Achilles tendonitis. This could have important implications for treating flat feet because medication that specifically targets these enzymes could provide an alternative to surgery. However, further research is needed and this type of treatment is thought to be about 10 to 15 years away.
The primary symptom of fallen arches is painful or achy feet in the area in which the foot arches or on the heel. This area may become swollen and painful to stand still on. This causes the patient to improperly balance on their feet which in turn will cause other biomechanical injuries such as back, leg and knee pain.
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.
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Non Surgical Treatment
Flat feet and fallen arches can be treated effectively by wearing an orthotic insert in your shoes. Orthotics can be custom-made and prescribed by your foot specialist (podiatrist), or you can use a so called pre-made foot orthotic. Most people do not require expensive custom-made orthotics to combat excess pronation, unless they have a specific medical foot condition. Orthotic insoles were developed to correct excess pronation, thereby providing sustainable, long-lasting pain relief to many aches and pains in a natural way. Comfort, Casual and Sports are products which promote excellent biomechanical control of the foot.
Rarely does the physician use surgery to correct a foot that is congenitally flat, which typically does not cause pain. If the patient has a fallen arch that is painful, though, the foot and ankle physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush may perform surgery to reconstruct the tendon and "lift up" the fallen arch. This requires a combination of tendon re-routing procedures, ligament repairs, and bone cutting or fusion procedures.