Feet usually have an arch on the inside portion of the foot. A flat foot is a foot that has lost or never developed this arch. It is often associated with the lower part of the legs being angled outwards. Most flat feet are flexible. This type rarely causes problems and usually do not require treatment. Rigid flat feet can cause problems and are best treated.
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.
The primary symptom of flatfeet is the absence of an arch upon standing. Additional signs of flatfeet include the following. Foot pain. Pain or weakness in the lower legs. Pain or swelling on the inside of the ankle. Uneven shoe wear. While most cases of flatfeet do not cause problems, complications can sometimes occur. Complications include the following, bunions and calluses, inability to walk or run normally, inflammation and pain in the bottom of the foot (plantar fasciitis), tendonitis in the Achilles heel and other ligaments, pain in the ankles, knees, and hips due to improper alignment, shin splints, stress fractures in the lower legs.
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.
How do you get an arch in your foot?
Non Surgical Treatment
If fallen arches are not causing any pain or discomfort, then they will not need any treatment. If they were causing a persistent pain in the feet, or in the hips, legs or knees, then it would be best to consult your family doctor. Walking is the natural activity of feet and if it is not too painful, sufferers should walk as much as possible to strengthen their arches. When it is possible, go barefoot, or wear soft flexible shoes. In cases of severe fallen arches, your doctor may recommend special shoe inserts.
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.