Flat feet and fallen arches are common conditions that are in most cases asymptomatic. However, in patients who do have symptoms, treatments are available that can help reduce pain and promote efficient movement. Orthotic devices are well recognised as an excellent treatment and podiatrists can offer these different treatment modalities as individualised treatments for patients.
There are a number of different causes that can lead to flat feet or fallen arches. These include, birth defects, while technically not a defect as such, flat feet can be a normal finding in patients from birth. However, a condition called tarsal coalition may occur where some of the bones in the foot are fused together resulting in a flatfoot. Inflammation or damage of the posterior tibial tendon. This tendon forms the end of a muscle that connects the lower leg to the foot, winding around the ankle and attaching to the inner aspect where the arch is normally present. The main role of the posterior tibial tendon is to invert the foot and maintain the arch height throughout the gait cycle. Torn muscles of the leg and foot can cause flat feet. Problems with the nerve supply to the muscles can result in reduction in tone and fallen arches. Fracture dislocation of the bones in the foot. Severe arthritis. While these are the common causes that can result in fallen arches and flat feet, it is important to recognise that there are certain risk factors that can also lead to this condition. These include advancing age, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, obesity and pregnancy.
Arches can be seen as ?rolling downward? or collapsing when walking. Pain may present in lower back, hips or knees. Pain may be present on the bottom of the heels, within the arch, within the ankles or even the forefoot. Swelling can occur. Pain may occur in the anterior leg muscles.
It is important for people with foot pain to know if they have flat feet. The following tests can help you determine your arch type. When you get out of a swimming pool, look at your footprint on the concrete. The front of the foot will be joined to the heel by a strip. If your foot is flat, then the strip is the same width as the front of the foot, creating a footprint that looks like a stretched out pancake. With a normal arch, the strip is about half the width of the front of the foot. If you have a high arch, only a thin strip connects the front of the foot with the heel. Put your shoes on a flat table and view them at eye level from behind. See if the sole is worn evenly. A flat foot will cause more wear on the inside of the sole, especially in the heel area. The shoe will easily rock side to side. A flat foot will also cause the upper part of the shoe to lean inward over the sole. Both shoes should wear about the same way. If you have pain in one foot, you should make sure you don't have a fallen arch on that side. There are two good tests you can perform at home to detect this problem. Place your fingertips on a wall that you are directly facing and stand on your tiptoes on one foot. If you can't do it, a fallen arch may be the culprit. Stand with your feet parallel. Have someone stand in back of you and look at your feet from behind. You can also do it yourself if you stand with your back to a mirror. Normally, only the pinky toe is visible from behind. If one foot is flatter than the other, the 4th and sometimes the 3rd toe on that foot can also be seen.
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Non Surgical Treatment
Some patients with flat feet may automatically align their limbs in such a way that unpleasant symptoms never develop. In such cases treatment is not usually required. Pain in the foot that is caused by flat feet may be alleviated if the patient wears supportive well-fitted shoes. Some patients say that symptoms improve with extra-wide fitting shoes. Fitted insoles or orthotics (custom-designed arch supports) may relieve pressure from the arch and reduce pain if the patient's feet roll or over-pronate. The benefits of an orthotic only exist while it is being worn. Patients with tendonitis of the posterior tibial tendon may benefit if a wedge is inserted along the inside edge of the orthotic - this takes some of the load off the tendon tissue. Wearing an ankle brace may help patients with posterior tibial tendinitis, until the inflammation comes down. Rest, doctors may advise some patients to rest and avoid activities which may make the foot (feet) feel worse, until the foot (feet) feels better. A combination of an insole and some kind of painkiller may help patients with a ruptured tendon, as well as those with arthritis. Patients with a ruptured tendon or arthritis who find insoles with painkillers ineffective may require surgical intervention. Patients, usually children, whose bones did not or are not developing properly, resulting in flat feet from birth, may require surgical intervention to separate fused bones (rare). Bodyweight management, if the patient is obese the doctor may advise him/her to lose weight. A significant number of obese patients with flat feet who successfully lose weight experience considerable improvement of symptoms.
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.
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.