Most of us have a low arch. The foot actually appears quite normal and a clear (but low) arch is present under the foot, especially when sitting down. The situation changes with weight bearing: when we get up the arch lowers. When we start walking the arches collapse and the ankles roll inwards. This is called over-pronation - or fallen arches. Over-pronation is not the same as flat feet as often noted. Pronation itself is not wrong as we need to pronate and supinate as part of our gait. Pronation (rolling in) acts as a shock absorbing process and supination (rolling out) helps to propel our feet forward.
Just as there are many different causes of flat feet, there are also many different treatment options. The most important aspect of treatment is determining the exact type or underlying cause of flat feet that you have. Foot and ankle specialists can determine this through thorough clinical examination and special imaging studies (e.g., x-rays, computed tomography, and/or magnetic resonance imaging). Conservative treatment is effective in the vast majority of flat foot cases, and consists of things such as insoles, splints, manipulation, or casting. Surgery is required much less frequently, and is reserved only for some of the severe types of flat foot that do not respond to conservative therapy. You may have noticed that one common element in the conservative treatment of all types of flat feet is orthoses. Many companies now manufacture semi-custom orthotic devices that not only improve comfort, but also seek to control abnormal motion of the foot. These over-the-counter inserts, in the $25 to $50 range, are an economical treatment that may help a majority of people. Unfortunately, these semi-custom devices will not fit everyone perfectly, and those of us who differ too much from the average may respond better to custom orthotic devices. Custom inserts are prescribed by your foot and ankle specialist and are made individually from either a physical or computerized impression of your feet. The only drawback of custom orthoses is their cost, ranging anywhere from $300 to $500. Many physicians recommend trying over-the-counter inserts first (and even keep them in stock) as they may save their patients large sums of money.
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.
You can always give yourself the ?wet test? described above to see whether you have flat feet. Most people who do not notice their flat feet or have no pain associated with them do not think to see a foot doctor. Flat feet can lead to additional problems such as stiffness or pain, however, especially if the condition appears out of nowhere. If you think you may have flat feet, you should seek medical attention to ensure there are no additional issues to worry about. Your doctor will be able to diagnose you with a number of tests. For example, he or she may have you walk around, stand still, or stand on your tiptoes while you are being examined. Your doctor may also examine your foot?s shape and functionality. It?s important to let your foot doctor know about your medical and family history. In some cases, your doctor may order imaging tests such as x-rays or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to determine a cause of your flat foot. If tarsal coalition is suspected in children, a CT scan is often ordered.
Is flat footedness genetic?
Non Surgical Treatment
Heel cord stretching is an important part of treatment, as a tight Achilles tendon tends to pronate the foot. Orthotics (inserts or insoles, often custom-made) may be used. These usually contain a heel wedge to correct calcaneovalgus deformity, and an arch support. This is the usual treatment for flexible Pes Planus (if treatment is needed). A suitable insole can help to correct the deformity while it is worn. Possibly it may prevent progression of flat feet, or may reduce symptoms. However, the effectiveness of arch support insoles is uncertain. Arch supports used without correcting heel cord contracture can make symptoms worse. In patients with fixed Pes planus or arthropathy, customised insoles may relieve symptoms. Reduce contributing factors, wear shoes with low heels and wide toes. Lose weight if appropriate. Do exercises to strengthen foot muscles - walking barefoot (if appropriate), toe curls (flexing toes) and heel raises (standing on tiptoe).
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.
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.