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.
Fallen arches may be caused by a number of causes, including increased elastin during pregnancy, arthritis, injury, excessive stress on the foot, fused bones in the foot, or an extra bone. They may cause not only foot pain, but also pain in the legs, knees, and back and a loss of mobility. The condition is most often treated with orthotics, structures placed in the shoes to support the feet, but this may not be enough for severe cases. Exercises to strengthen and rebuild the arches can also be helpful. Surgery is sometimes the best method of treatment, as it can completely rebuild the arches and has lasting results, but it is quite expensive and considered a last resort.
A symptom is something the patient feels and reports, while a sign is something other people, including the doctor may detect. An example of a symptom may be pain in the ankle, while a sign may be a swelling. Symptoms may vary and generally depend on the severity of the condition. Some have an uneven distribution of bodyweight and find that the heel of their shoes wears out more rapidly and more on one side than the other. The most common signs or symptoms of flat feet are pain in the ankle (inner side), there may also be swelling of the foot in general, swelling in the arch of the foot, the calf, knee, the hip, the back, the general lower leg area. People with flat feet may also experience stiffness in one or both feet. One or both feet may be flat on the ground (either no arch, or very slight arch). Shoes may wear unevenly.
People who have flat feet without signs or symptoms that bother them do not generally have to see a doctor or podiatrist about them. However, if any of the following occur, you should see your GP or a podiatrist. The fallen arches (flat feet) have developed recently. You experience pain in your feet, ankles or lower limbs. Your unpleasant symptoms do not improve with supportive, well-fitted shoes. Either or both feet are becoming flatter. Your feet feel rigid (stiff). Your feet feel heavy and unwieldy. Most qualified health care professionals can diagnose flat feet just by watching the patient stand, walk and examining his/her feet. A doctor will also look at the patient's medical history. The feet will be observed from the front and back. The patient may be asked to stand on tip-toe while the doctor examines the shape and functioning of each foot. In some cases the physician may order an X-ray, CT (computed tomography) scan, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan.
Non Surgical Treatment
Most cases of flatfeet do not require treatment. However, if there is pain, or if the condition is caused by something other than normal development, there are several treatment options. Self-care options include rest, choosing non-weight-bearing exercise (e.g., swimming, cycling), weight loss, and avoiding high heels. Flexible flatfeet with some pain can be relieved with the use of orthotics-shoe inserts that support the arch-and/or heel wedges (in some cases). If pronation is a factor, special shoes can be worn that lift the arch and correct the inward leaning. Physical therapy may also be prescribed to stretch or lengthen the heel cord and other tendons. For rigid or inflexible flatfeet, treatment varies depending on the cause. Tarsal coalition if often treated with rest and the wearing of a cast. If this is ineffective, surgery can be done to separate the bones or to reset the bones into a correct position. If the flatfoot is caused by an injury to the tendons in the foot or ankle, rest, anti-inflammatory medications (e.g., ibuprofen), and the use of shoe inserts and ankle braces often relieve symptoms. In severe cases, surgery is performed to repair the tendon or to fuse some joints in the foot into a corrected position to reduce stress on the tendon. The prognosis after surgery is generally good. Complications include pain and some loss of ankle motion, especially when trying to turn the foot in or out. This may be improved with physical therapy.
In cases of flat feet that have progressed substantially or have failed to improve with non-surgical treatment, surgery may be required and in some advanced cases, surgery may be the only option. Your foot and ankle surgeon will determine the best approach for you.
Flatfeet in children are often an inherited family trait, but it may be possible to prevent the condition in some cases. Recent research has shown that there are several social or cultural factors that can cause flatfeet. These factors include the following, obesity, overweight, unnecessary orthopedic treatments, wearing rigid shoes at a young age, In 1992, a study in India of 2300 children aged 4-13 demonstrated a significant difference in the rate of flatfeet among those who wore shoes regularly and those who did not. In this study, wearing inflexible, closed-toe shoes in early childhood was shown to have a negative effect on the normal development of arches. Children who were allowed to go barefoot or who wore light sandals and slippers had a much lower rate of flatfeet. In 1999, a study in Spain of 1181 children aged 4-13 revealed that the use of orthopedic shoes for treatment of flatfeet in children not only failed to correct the problem, but actually worsened the condition by preventing the normal flexing and arch development of bare or lightly protected feet. Finally, in 2006, a study of 835 children aged 3-6 showed significant differences in the rate of flatfeet based on weight, with normal-weight children having lower rates of flatfeet than children who were overweight or obese. Among adults, flatfeet due to injury, disease, or normal aging are not preventable. However, when flatfeet are related to lifestyle factors, such as physical activities, shoe selection, and weight gain, careful attention to these factors may prevent the development of flatfeet.