Chantell Leyden

Foot Troubles Solved

Are Fallen Arches Flat Feet?

Overview

Flat Foot

A normal foot should arch so the middle of the foot does not touch the ground when the patient stands up. If it does touch, the patient has a flat foot or fallen arch. Flat feet are normal for young children. Their arches should develop by adulthood, but sometimes they fail to develop. Some people with flat feet have pain in the heel or arch, but others do not.

Causes

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.

Symptoms

Depending on the cause of the flatfoot, a patient may experience one or more of the different symptoms below. Pain along the course of the posterior tibial tendon which lies on the inside of the foot and ankle. This can be associated with swelling on the inside of the ankle. Pain that is worse with activity. High intensity or impact activities, such as running, can be very difficult. Some patients can have difficulty walking or even standing for long periods of time. When the foot collapses, the heel bone may shift position and put pressure on the outside ankle bone (fibula). This can cause pain on the outside of the ankle. Arthritis in the heel also causes this same type of pain. Patients with an old injury or arthritis in the middle of the foot can have painful, bony bumps on the top and inside of the foot. These make shoewear very difficult. Occasionally, the bony spurs are so large that they pinch the nerves which can result in numbness and tingling on the top of the foot and into the toes. Diabetics may only notice swelling or a large bump on the bottom of the foot. Because their sensation is affected, people with diabetes may not have any pain. The large bump can cause skin problems and an ulcer (a sore that does not heal) may develop if proper diabetic shoewear is not used.

Diagnosis

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.

fallen arches support

Non Surgical Treatment

If fallen arches are not causing any pain or discomfort, then they will not need any treatment. If they were causing a persistent pain in the feet, or in the hips, legs or knees, then it would be best to consult your family doctor. Walking is the natural activity of feet and if it is not too painful, sufferers should walk as much as possible to strengthen their arches. When it is possible, go barefoot, or wear soft flexible shoes. In cases of severe fallen arches, your doctor may recommend special shoe inserts.

Surgical Treatment

Acquired Flat Feet

Surgical procedures for flat feet vary depending on the root cause of the condition. Surgical correction to control pronation may include bone implants or Achilles tendon lengthening. Tendon transfer, which is a procedure to re-attach a tendon to another area of bone, may also be used to reduce pronation and improve foot function.

After Care

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.
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