Flat feet (also called pes planus or fallen arches) is a postural deformity in which the arch of the foot collapses, with the entire sole of the foot coming into complete or near-complete contact with the ground. Some individuals (an estimated 20-30% of the general population) have an arch that simply never develops in one foot (unilaterally) or both feet (bilaterally).
A fallen arch occurs because one of the main structures that support the arch has broken or torn. Usually it occurs without trauma, although a small injury associated with the onset of the pain is often recalled, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether the injury was clearly big enough to permanently injure the leg. I suspect that even before the symptoms that the structure that broke was weakening and the injury was simply the ?needle that broke the camels back?. The structure that is most commonly torn is the posterior tibial tendon. This tendon is attached to a muscle on the inside of the back of the ankle, and runs along the medial malleolus, the bony prominence on the inside of the ankle, to attach to a bone in the arch called the navicular bone. It usually begins to weaken and stretch along the back of the medial malleolus. It often begins as a swelling and the arch flattens over the next several weeks to months. As the arch flattens, other structures that support the arch begin to stretch and tear. The bones along the outside of the ankle begin to crush together, causing pain and swelling in this are, and the toes may tilt to the outside as the arch collapses. It is not known why this process begins. It is often associated with diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. It also is more common as a person enters the fifty to seventy year age range. ?Fallen arches? are much more common in people who are already flat footed.
It?s possible to have fallen arches and experience no symptoms whatsoever. But many people do notice some problems with this condition. Their feet, back and legs ache. Standing on their toes is difficult, if not impossible, and they note swelling around the arch and heel.
Most children and adults with flatfeet do not need to see a physician for diagnosis or treatment. However, it is a good idea to see a doctor if the feet tire easily or are painful after standing, it is difficult to move the foot around or stand on the toes, the foot aches, especially in the heel or arch, and there is swelling on the inner side of the foot, the pain interferes with activity or the person has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Most flatfeet are diagnosed during physical examination. During the exam, the foot may be wetted and the patient asked to stand on a piece of paper. An outline of the entire foot will indicate a flattened arch. Also, when looking at the feet from behind, the ankle and heel may appear to lean inward (pronation). The patient may be asked to walk so the doctor can see how much the arch flattens during walking. The doctor may also examine the patient's shoes for signs of uneven wear, ask questions about a family history of flatfeet, and inquire about known neurological or muscular diseases. Imaging tests may be used to help in the diagnosis. If there is pain or the arch does not appear when the foot is flexed, x-rays are taken to determine the cause. If tarsal coalition is suspected, computed tomography (CT scan) may be performed, and if an injury to the tendons is suspected, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan) may be performed.
Non Surgical Treatment
What we want to do is support the arch and maintain it in that curved position. So what you want is to bring the foot into a position where you hold and support the arch so you can get that correct heel-midfoot-big toe contact. You would achieve that with a level of arch support. People will take different levels of support, if you?re somebody who has movement in your arch, a strong level of support will hold and maintain you whereas if you?re someone whose arch has collapsed it could need more support and a level of correction built into the support to realign you. If you think of it, when your arch drops, it affects your foot but it also has a biomechanical effect on the rest of the body. But nothing that can?t be solved.
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.
Well-fitted shoes with good arch support may help prevent flat feet. Maintaining a healthy weight may also lower wear and tear on the arches.