The terms fallen arches and flat feet are used interchangeably to refer to a condition in which there is no arch of the foot. An arch is formed by tendons in the foot that stretch from the heel of the foot to the base of the toes, or metatarsals. There are also supporting tendons that originate in the lower leg. Together, these tendons work to form an arch, noticeable as a slight rise in the inner midsole of the foot. This rise or arch can be classified as a normal arch, a high arch, or a fallen arch. When tendons do not work together to pull properly, this results in a fallen arch or flat foot. Aside from the occasional pain associated with flat feet, problems with fallen arches can extend upwards to the ankles, knees, hips, and even the back, altering the biomechanics of the body.
As children grow, their legs will experience developmental changes that can result in excess flattening of the arches with weight bearing. One example is genu valgum, or knock-knees, a usually normal, temporary condition in children at different stages of growth. A tight calf muscle or Achilles tendon can also contribute to a flat foot. Many children will experience tight calf muscles as they go through growth spurts. Conditions that are present at birth and are often diagnosed early include: metatarsus adductus, calcaneovalgus and congenital vertical talus. Tarsal coalitions are congenitally fused foot bones that cause a rigid flat foot often associated with painful muscle spasms. This type of flat foot is usually diagnosed later in childhood or in adulthood. Any condition that causes loose ligaments can result in a flat foot or lower-than-normal arch. Ligaments are bands of tissue that connect bones to each other and have an important role in giving form to foot arches. An example of a condition that causes loosening of ligaments is pregnancy, where normal hormonal changes relax the ligaments. Diseases that cause loose ligaments include Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Marfan's syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis. If one leg is longer than the other, one foot may be flat in relation to the other to compensate. Usually the foot on the longer limb will have a flatter arch in an effort to shorten that limb, balancing-out the unevenness. Leg length inequality can be caused by spinal abnormalities such as scoliosis. It can also be due to an actual difference in length of one leg bone compared to the other.
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.
Podiatrists are trained in expertly assessing flat feet and identifying different risk factors and the causes for it. Initial assessment will begin with a detailed history attempting to find out if any underlying illness has resulted in this. A detailed clinical examination normally follows. The patient may be asked to perform certain movements such as walking or standing on their toes to assess the function of the foot. Footwear will also be analysed to see if there has been excessive wear or if they are contributing to the pronation of the foot. To assess the structure of the foot further, the podiatrist may perform certain x-rays to get a detailed idea of the way the bones are arranged and how the muscle tissues may be affecting them. It also helps assess any potential birth defects in a bit more detail.
Non Surgical Treatment
If you have flat feet and foot pain, especially if one foot is flatter than the other, you should have an evaluation by an orthopedic surgeon . You may have a problem with the posterior tibial tendon , the main tendon that supports the arch. Factors that can contribute to this problem are obesity, diabetes , high blood pressure , certain types of arthritis and athletic overuse. In some cases a shoe insert/orthotic can be used to alleviate the symptoms of flat feet.
Surgical correction is dependent on the severity of symptoms and the stage of deformity. The goals of surgery are to create a more functional and stable foot. There are multiple procedures available to the surgeon and it may take several to correct a flatfoot deformity. Stage one deformities usually respond to conservative or non-surgical therapy such as anti-inflammatory medication, casting, functional orthotics or a foot ankle orthosis called a Richie Brace. If these modalities are unsuccessful surgery is warranted. Usually surgical treatment begins with removal of inflammatory tissue and repair of the posterior tibial tendon. A tendon transfer is performed if the posterior tibial muscle is weak or the tendon is badly damaged. The most commonly used tendon is the flexor digitorum longus tendon. This tendon flexes or moves the lesser toes downward. The flexor digitorum longus tendon is utilized due to its close proximity to the posterior tibial tendon and because there are minimal side effects with its loss. The remainder of the tendon is sutured to the flexor hallucis longus tendon that flexes the big toe so that little function is loss. Stage two deformities are less responsive to conservative therapies that can be effective in mild deformities. Bone procedures are necessary at this stage in order to recreate the arch and stabilize the foot. These procedures include isolated fusion procedures, bone grafts, and/or the repositioning of bones through cuts called osteotomies. The realigned bones are generally held in place with screws, pins, plates, or staples while the bone heals. A tendon transfer may or may not be utilized depending on the condition of the posterior tibial tendon. Stage three deformities are better treated with surgical correction, in healthy patients. Patients that are unable to tolerate surgery or the prolonged healing period are better served with either arch supports known as orthotics or bracing such as the Richie Brace. Surgical correction at this stage usually requires fusion procedures such as a triple or double arthrodesis. This involves fusing the two or three major bones in the back of the foot together with screws or pins. The most common joints fused together are the subtalar joint, talonavicular joint, and the calcaneocuboid joint. By fusing the bones together the surgeon is able to correct structural deformity and alleviate arthritic pain. Tendon transfer procedures are usually not beneficial at this stage. Stage four deformities are treated similarly but with the addition of fusing the ankle joint.
Strap the arches into the anatomically correct positions with athletic tape and leave them like this for some time. If the fallen arches are an issue with the muscular structure, this may give the muscles an opportunity to strengthen. This is definitely not a fallen arches cure all the time but it can help prevent it more times than not. Ask a doctor or physical therapists to show you how to do this taping. Find shoes that fit. This may require that you get your foot measured and molded to ensure that the shoe will fit. Shoes that are too big, too tight or too short, may not directly cause the fallen arches, but they can assist with the damage to the area. These shoes should have thick cushioning inside and have plenty of room for your toes. Walk without shoes as much as possible. Shoes directly assist with weakening and distorting the arches of the feet so going without shoes can actually help strengthen your arches and prevent fallen arches. Walking on hard and bumpy surfaces barefooted makes the muscles in your feet strengthen in order to prevent injury. It is a coping mechanism by your body. Insert heel cups or insoles into the shoes that you wear the most. Many people wear uncomfortable shoes to work and these are the same shoes that cause their arches the most problems. Inserting the heel cups and insoles into these shoes can prevent fallen arches from occurring. Many people place these inserts into all their shoes to ensure support. Ask a medical professional, either your doctor or a physical therapist, about daily foot exercises that may keep the arches stronger than normal. Many times, you can find exercises and stretches on the Internet on various websites. Curling your toes tightly and rotating your feet will help strengthen your longitudinal arches. Relax your feet and shake them for a minute or so before you do any arch exercises. This will loosen the muscles in your feet that stay tight due to normal daily activities. Wear rigid soled sandals whenever possible to provide a strong support for your arches. Wooden soled sandals are the best ones if available. Walk or jog on concrete as much as you can. This will create a sturdy support for your arches. Running or walking in sandy areas or even on a treadmill, does not give rigid support. Instead, these surfaces absorb the step, offering no support for arches.
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.