In a normal foot, the tendons in your foot and lower leg work together to form the arch. When the tendons all pull properly, your foot forms a moderate, normal arch. When the tendons do not pull together properly, there is little or no arch, called flat foot or fallen arch. Children are born with flat feet. In infants and toddlers, prior to walking, the longitudinal arch is not developed and flat feet are normal. As children begin standing on their toes, the muscles start to develop and an arch appears. The arch continues to develop throughout childhood, and by adulthood most people have developed normal arches. But in some cases the arch doesn?t form completely.
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.
Pain and stiffness of the medial arch or anywhere along the mid-portion of the foot. Associated discomfort within and near the ankle joint. The knees, hips, and lower back may be the primary source of discomfort. Feet may often feel tired and achy. Painful shin splints may develop with activity. Gait may be awkward.
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.
Why do arches fall?
Non Surgical Treatment
Normally, flat feet disappear by age six as the feet become less flexible and the arches develop. Only about 1 or 2 out of every 10 children will continue to have flat feet into adulthood. For children who do not develop an arch, treatment is not recommended unless the foot is stiff or painful. Shoe inserts won?t help your child develop an arch, and may cause more problems than the flat feet themselves. However, certain forms of flat feet may need to be treated differently. For instance, a child may have tightness of the heel cord (Achilles tendon) that limits the motion of his foot. This tightness can result in a flat foot, but it usually can be treated with special stretching exercises to lengthen the heel cord. Rarely, a child will have truly rigid flat feet, a condition that can cause problems.
Surgical correction is dependent on the severity of symptoms and the stage of deformity. The goals of surgery are to create a more functional and stable foot. There are multiple procedures available to the surgeon and it may take several to correct a flatfoot deformity. Stage one deformities usually respond to conservative or non-surgical therapy such as anti-inflammatory medication, casting, functional orthotics or a foot ankle orthosis called a Richie Brace. If these modalities are unsuccessful surgery is warranted. Usually surgical treatment begins with removal of inflammatory tissue and repair of the posterior tibial tendon. A tendon transfer is performed if the posterior tibial muscle is weak or the tendon is badly damaged. The most commonly used tendon is the flexor digitorum longus tendon. This tendon flexes or moves the lesser toes downward. The flexor digitorum longus tendon is utilized due to its close proximity to the posterior tibial tendon and because there are minimal side effects with its loss. The remainder of the tendon is sutured to the flexor hallucis longus tendon that flexes the big toe so that little function is loss. Stage two deformities are less responsive to conservative therapies that can be effective in mild deformities. Bone procedures are necessary at this stage in order to recreate the arch and stabilize the foot. These procedures include isolated fusion procedures, bone grafts, and/or the repositioning of bones through cuts called osteotomies. The realigned bones are generally held in place with screws, pins, plates, or staples while the bone heals. A tendon transfer may or may not be utilized depending on the condition of the posterior tibial tendon. Stage three deformities are better treated with surgical correction, in healthy patients. Patients that are unable to tolerate surgery or the prolonged healing period are better served with either arch supports known as orthotics or bracing such as the Richie Brace. Surgical correction at this stage usually requires fusion procedures such as a triple or double arthrodesis. This involves fusing the two or three major bones in the back of the foot together with screws or pins. The most common joints fused together are the subtalar joint, talonavicular joint, and the calcaneocuboid joint. By fusing the bones together the surgeon is able to correct structural deformity and alleviate arthritic pain. Tendon transfer procedures are usually not beneficial at this stage. Stage four deformities are treated similarly but with the addition of fusing the ankle joint.