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Are Fallen Arches Flat Feet?

Overview

Flat Feet

Flexible flatfeet are considered normal in young children because babies are not born with a normal arch. The arch may not form fully until sometime between ages 7 and 10. Even in adulthood, 15% to 25% of people have flexible flatfeet. Most of these people never develop symptoms. In many adults who have had flexible flatfeet since childhood, the missing arch is an inherited condition related to a general looseness of ligaments. These people usually have extremely flexible, very mobile joints throughout the body, not only in the feet. Flatfeet also can develop during adulthood. Causes include joint disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and disorders of nerve function (neuropathy). Unlike a flexible flatfoot, a rigid flatfoot is often the result of a significant problem affecting the structure or alignment of the bones that make up the foot's arch. Some common causes of rigid flatfeet include. Congenital vertical talus. In this condition, there is no arch because the foot bones are not aligned properly. In some cases, there is a reverse curve (rocker-bottom foot, in which the shape is like the bottom rails of a rocking chair) in place of the normal arch. Congenital vertical talus is a rare condition present at birth. It often is associated with a genetic disorder, such as Down syndrome, or other congenital disorders. The cause is unknown in up to half of cases. Tarsal coalition (peroneal spastic flatfoot). In this inherited condition, two or more of the foot bones are fused together, interfering with the flexibility of the foot and eliminating the normal arch. A rare condition, it often affects several generations of the same family. Lateral subtalar dislocation. Sometimes called an acquired flatfoot, it occurs in someone who originally had a normal foot arch. In a lateral subtalar dislocation, there is a dislocation of the talus bone, located within the arch of the foot. The dislocated talus bone slips out of place, drops downward and sideways and collapses the arch. It usually occurs suddenly because of a high-impact injury related to a fall from a height, a motor vehicle accident or participation in sports, and it may be associated with fractures or other injuries.

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

Structural problems in your feet like fallen arches can alter your walking pattern, running pattern and cause pain throughout your body. Clear and accurate assessment of the mechanics of your lower limbs is key to understanding the profound effect that subtle faults in your foot, ankle, knee and hip alignment can cause.

Diagnosis

Determining whether you have fallen arches may be as easy as looking at the shape of the middle bottom of your foot. Is there any kind of arch there? If you cannot find any kind of arch, you may have a flat foot. There are, however, other ways to decide in case you're still not sure. Another way to figure out if you have flat feet is to look at a few pairs of your shoes. Where do you see the most wear on the heels? If you notice significant wear in the heel and the ball of the foot extending to the big toe, this means you are overpronating. Overpronators roll their feet too far inward and commonly have fallen arches. To figure out if you have flat feet, you can also do an easy test. Get the bottoms of your feet wet and then step on to a piece of paper carefully. Step off the paper and take a look at the print your foot made. If your print looks like the entire bottom of a foot, your feet are flat. People with an arch will be missing part of the foot on their print since the arch is elevated off of the paper. Regular visits to your podiatrist are highly recommended.

Can you fix a fallen arch?

Non Surgical Treatment

In many cases of PTTD, treatment can begin with non-surgical approaches that may include orthotic devices or bracing. To give your arch the support it needs, your foot and ankle surgeon may provide you with an ankle brace or a custom orthotic device that fits into the shoe. Immobilization. Sometimes a short-leg cast or boot is worn to immobilize the foot and allow the tendon to heal, or you may need to completely avoid all weight-bearing for a while. Physical therapy. Ultrasound therapy and exercises may help rehabilitate the tendon and muscle following immobilization. Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce the pain and inflammation. Shoe modifications. Your foot and ankle surgeon may advise changes to make with your shoes and may provide special inserts designed to improve arch support.

Surgical Treatment

Flat Foot

A combination of surgical procedures can be used to reconstruct the flatfoot. Generally, these procedures can be separated into those that correct deformities of the bones and those that repair ligaments and tendons. Your orthopaedic surgeon will choose the proper combination of procedures for your foot. Surgery of the foot can be performed under regional anesthesia, which is numbing the foot and ankle with a nerve or spinal block, or general anesthesia, which may require a breathing tube. A nerve block is often placed behind the knee to reduce pain after surgery.

Prevention

Orthotic inserts, either prescribed or bought over the counter, can help keep the arches fixed into position, but always wear them as although they support, they don?t strengthen, which is why some experts reccomend avoiding them. Gait analysis at a run specialist can help to diagnose overpronation and flat feet. Most brands produce shoes that will give support and help to limit the negative effects of a poor gait on the rest of the body. Barefoot exercises, such as standing on a towel and making fists with the toes, can help to strengthen the arches. Start easy and build up the reps to avoid cramping. Short barefoot running sessions can help take pressure off the arches by using the natural elasticity of the foot?s tendons to take impact and build strength to help prevent flat feet. These should be done on grass for only a few minutes at a time.