Are Fallen Arches Flat Feet?

Overview

Adult Acquired Flat Foot

Our feet are incredibly well specialized structures. There are 26 different bones in each foot, held together by 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments (in each foot). They way they weave and align together determine the formation of our arches. The aim of the arches is to give us spring and distribute our body weight across our feet and legs. The structures of the arches of our feet determine how we walk - they are rigid levels which allow us to move smoothly. However, the arches need to be sturdy as well as flexible to adapt to various surfaces and stresses. During childhood it is normal to have flat feet. This is because our feet form during our childhood. In other words, having what appears to be flat feet during early childhood does not necessarily mean that it will persist throughout the individual's life. People with very low arches or what appear to be no arches at all may experience no problems.




Causes

Flat feet are a common condition. In infants and toddlers, the arch is not developed and flat feet are normal. The arch develops in childhood. By adulthood, most people have developed normal arches. When flat feet persist, most are considered variations of normal. Most feet are flexible and an arch appears when the person stands on his or her toes. Stiff, inflexible, or painful flat feet may be associated with other conditions and require attention. Painful flat feet in children may be caused by a condition called tarsal coalition. In tarsal coalition, two or more of the bones in the foot fuse together. This limits motion and often leads to a flat foot. Most flat feet do not cause pain or other problems. Flat feet may be associated with pronation, in which the ankle bones lean inward toward the center line. When the shoes of children who pronate are placed side by side, they will lean toward each other (after they have been worn long enough for the foot position to remodel their sole). Foot pain, ankle pain, or lower leg pain (especially in children) may be a result of flat feet and should be evaluated by a health care provider. Adults can develop a flat foot when they are 60 - 70 years old. This type of flat foot is usually on one side.




Symptoms

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.




Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical and foot exam will be done. Flat feet can be diagnosed by appearance. To determine if the foot is rigid, you may be asked to do some simple tasks.




Non Surgical Treatment

Foot orthotic devices can stabilize some of the causes of flat feet, optimize muscle function and reduce the occurrence of painful symptoms. Generally, a custom-made semi-rigid functional posted orthotic is effective for flat feet. These devices are prescribed based on a thorough biomechanical examination by a qualified chiropodist/podiatrist. Over-the-counter arch supports may be helpful for mild cases, but often prove ineffective to relieve symptoms associated with flatfoot. Wear shoes with a good fit in the arch. Keep active and fit to strengthen leg and foot musculature. Control body weight to decrease load on the feet. Avoid prolonged periods weight bearing with bare feet. Taping to support strained ligaments and joints. Physical therapy modalities such as ultrasound. Referral for surgical correction a severe symptomatic flatfoot.




Surgical Treatment

Acquired Flat Feet

This is rare and usually only offered if patients have significant abnormalities in their bones or muscles. Treatments include joint fusion, reshaping the bones in the foot, and occasionally moving around tendons in the foot to help balance out the stresses (called tendon transfer). Flat feet and fallen arches are common conditions that are in most cases asymptomatic. However, in patients who do have symptoms, treatments are available that can help reduce pain and promote efficient movement. Orthotic devices are well recognised as an excellent treatment and podiatrists can offer these different treatment modalities as individualised treatments for patients.




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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