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 percent of the general population. Although flat feet in and of themselves are not usually problematic, they can create problems in the feet, hips, ankles and knees. Pain may be experienced in the lower legs 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 of the lower legs.
The most common acquired flat foot in adults is due to Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction. This develops with repetitive stress on the main supporting tendon of the arch over a long period of time. As the body ages, ligaments and muscles can weaken, leaving the job of supporting the arch all to this tendon. The tendon cannot hold all the weight for long, and it gradually gives out, leading to a progressively lower arch. This form of flat foot is often accompanied by pain radiating behind the ankle, consistent with the course of the posterior tibial tendon. Compounding matters is the fact that the human foot was not originally designed to withstand the types of terrain and forces it is subjected to today. Nowhere in nature do you see the flat hard surfaces that we so commonly walk on in present times. Walking on this type of surface continuously puts unnatural stress on the arch. The fact that the average American is overweight does not help the arch much either-obesity is a leading cause of flat feet as the arch collapses under the excessive bodyweight. Furthermore, the average life span has increased dramatically in the last century, meaning that not only does the arch deal with heavy weight on hard flat ground, but also must now do so for longer periods of time. These are all reasons to take extra care of our feet now in order to prevent problems later.
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.
Many medical professionals can diagnose a flat foot by examining the patient standing or just looking at them. On going up onto tip toe the deformity will correct when this is a flexible flat foot in a child with lax joints. Such correction is not seen in the adult with a rigid flat foot. An easy and traditional home diagnosis is the "wet footprint" test, performed by wetting the feet in water and then standing on a smooth, level surface such as smooth concrete or thin cardboard or heavy paper. Usually, the more the sole of the foot that makes contact (leaves a footprint), the flatter the foot. In more extreme cases, known as a kinked flatfoot, the entire inner edge of the footprint may actually bulge outward, where in a normal to high arch this part of the sole of the foot does not make contact with the ground at all.
fallen arches insoles
Non Surgical Treatment
If the flat foot is rigid and causing problems, you will be referred to a foot specialist. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include the following. Physical Therapy and Exercises. Physical therapy may relieve discomfort. You may be given a specific stretching and strength program. You may also have treatment to help manage the discomfort. Exercises can help with the strength of the surrounding muscles. It may relieve some of the pressure in the foot. Orthotics are shoe inserts that support the foot. These inserts may help to reduce pain and disability in some people. In mild cases, a well-fitting pair of shoes with arch support may be all that is needed. Flat feet caused by nerve or muscle disease may need special braces. Fallen arches are usually treated using stretching exercises, physical therapy and medication (to reduce inflammation). In extreme cases however, surgery is recommended.
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.
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.