The most common arch problem is the flat foot. This sometimes starts in childhood or may gradually develop in adulthood. In most cases the flat foot is related to a tight calf. The tightness of the calf forces the foot to overpronate (the inside of the foot rolls inwards) and the arch to break down and collapse. The arch collapse leads to abnormal stress on the plantar fascia leading to heel pain, as well as to the main medial tendon (the posterior tibial tendon), leading to tendonitis and even tears of the tendon. The other common symptom in severe flat feet is pain on the outside of the foot as well as calf and Achilles symptoms.
Flat feet are often a congenital problem which has no specific cause. They can however occur after an injury, especially conditions such as Tibialis Posterior Syndrome or more traumatic injuries such as fractures or mid-tarsal joint sprains. The other thing to look out for is Overpronation. Often this is confused with having flat feet (or a fallen arch) although it is not technically the same thing. If an individual does not have flat feet but does overpronate then the arch of their foot appears to be normal when standing. However, when they walk the arch collapses and the foot rolls in excessively. This is more difficult to spot than flat feet. It is estimated that between 60 and 80% of the population overpronate!
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.
If you notice that your feet are flat, but you?re not really experiencing any pain, then you?re probably okay to go without a visit to the podiatrist (unless, of course, you have a lack of feeling in your foot). You can schedule a hair appointment instead, or maybe see a movie. However, once painful symptoms start to appear, it?s better to skip the hirsute (or cinematic) experience and go see your foot doctor. Your podiatrist will likely make the diagnosis by examining your foot visually, asking about symptoms you may be experiencing, and may test your muscle strength. You may be asked to stand on your toes (in a ballerina pose, if you prefer, although that?s certainly not required), or walk around the examining room, and you may need to show the podiatrist your shoes. He or she may comment on your excellent taste in footwear, but is more likely to check your shoes for signs of wear that may indicate fallen arches. Your podiatrist may recommend X-rays, a CT scan or an MRI in order to get a look at the interior of your foot, although the best diagnosis usually comes from the doctor?s own in-person examination.
Non Surgical Treatment
If you have flat feet you may not necessarily need treatment -- sometimes a child or even an adult will have low arches and have no problems. It's normal for a baby's or young child's feet to appear flat until the structure of their feet is more fully developed. If flat feet are contributing to secondary problems, especially leg or foot pain, treatment may be necessary. Flat feet can sometimes cause difficulty walking or running and interfere with athletic activities. A visit to a podiatrist will involve an evaluation of foot structure and function. Besides a foot exam, a visit may include foot X-rays and an analysis of your feet while walking. Your podiatrist may prescribe arch supports or orthotics to control the pronation. While orthotics and arch supports don't permanently correct the shape of the arch, they do help control excess pronation that may be causing wear-and-tear on your muscles and joints. Sneakers with a design called motion control are also helpful for overpronators. This style of sneaker has a design that creates more stability by limiting movement in the heel and arch area of the shoe. Additionally, physical therapy and stretching exercises may be in order, especially if tendonitis (tendon inflammation) is present. Flat feet that are the result of congenital or developmental abnormalities may require further intervention, such as bracing, casting or surgical correction. A brace incorporates an arch support into a device that attaches to the lower leg, giving extra support and flat-foot control. Bracing or foot surgery may also be warranted in cases when flat feet are caused by neurological diseases or are aggravated by posterior tibial tendonitis, which can be a long-term complication of flat feet. Casting is a method used for children whose flat feet are caused by bone positional abnormalities, such as metatarsus adductus. It involves using a series of casts to assist in re-aligning leg and foot bones to their proper anatomical position.
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.