Managing Fallen Arches

Overview

Acquired Flat Foot

Fallen arches, the medical term for flat feet, are simply feet that do not arch in the middle. Such feet lay flat with the whole of the sole on the ground. All children are born with flat feet, but as they grow the feet normally develop an arch so that by the age of ten almost all children have arched feet. Occasionally a child will not develop properly arched feet. This may be due to a bone malformation present at birth, or abnormalities in ligaments within the feet or legs that cause the child's weight to be unevenly distributed.

Causes

Most cases of flatfeet are simply the result of normal development. When that is not the case, the condition can be caused by a number of factors, including the following, Age, disease, injury, obesity or being overweight, physical abnormality, pregnancy. Flattened arches in adults may result from the stresses of aging, weight gain, and the temporary increase in elastin (protein in connective tissue) due to pregnancy. In some cases, flatfeet are caused by a physical abnormality, such as tarsal coalition (two or more bones in the foot that have grown together) or accessory navicular (an extra bone along the side of the foot). The effects of diseases such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis can lead to flatfeet. An injury (e.g., bone fracture, dislocation, sprain or tear in any of the tendons and ligaments in the foot and leg) also can cause flatfeet.

Symptoms

Having flat feet can be painless and is actually normal in some people. But others with flat feet experience pain in the heel or arch area, difficulty standing on tiptoe, or have swelling along the inside of the ankle. They may also experience pain after standing for long periods of time or playing sports. Some back problems can also be attributed to flat feet.

Diagnosis

Runners are often advised to get a gait analysis to determine what type of foot they have and so what kind of running shoe they require. This shouldn?t stop at runners. Anyone that plays sports could benefit from this assessment. Sports shoes such as football boots, astro trainers and squash trainers often have very poor arch support and so for the 60-80% of us who do overpronate or have flat feet they are left unsupported. A change of footwear or the insertion of arch support insoles or orthotics can make a massive difference to your risk of injury, to general aches and pains and even to your performance.

pes planus treatment

Non Surgical Treatment

Most cases of flatfeet do not require treatment. However, if there is pain, or if the condition is caused by something other than normal development, there are several treatment options. Self-care options include rest, choosing non-weight-bearing exercise (e.g., swimming, cycling), weight loss, and avoiding high heels. Flexible flatfeet with some pain can be relieved with the use of orthotics-shoe inserts that support the arch-and/or heel wedges (in some cases). If pronation is a factor, special shoes can be worn that lift the arch and correct the inward leaning. Physical therapy may also be prescribed to stretch or lengthen the heel cord and other tendons. For rigid or inflexible flatfeet, treatment varies depending on the cause. Tarsal coalition if often treated with rest and the wearing of a cast. If this is ineffective, surgery can be done to separate the bones or to reset the bones into a correct position. If the flatfoot is caused by an injury to the tendons in the foot or ankle, rest, anti-inflammatory medications (e.g., ibuprofen), and the use of shoe inserts and ankle braces often relieve symptoms. In severe cases, surgery is performed to repair the tendon or to fuse some joints in the foot into a corrected position to reduce stress on the tendon. The prognosis after surgery is generally good. Complications include pain and some loss of ankle motion, especially when trying to turn the foot in or out. This may be improved with physical therapy.

Surgical Treatment

Flat Foot

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.

Prevention

Wear Supportive Footwear. Spend the money it takes to get proper fitting and quality footwear with good arch supports. Most sufferers of fallen arches and plantar fasciitis are born with high arches that sag as they get older. Good footwear can prevent this from becoming a problem. Flat feet, however, can become just as problematic. So, really we should all be wearing good footwear to avoid this potentially painful condition. Take It Easy. If your heel starts to hurt, take a rest. If the pain doesn?t go away after several days of resting, it may be time to see a podiatrist. Orthotics. Special insoles to support the arch of the foot can provide some much needed help. You can buy these at your local drugstore (not recommended), or you can have them specially made and custom fit for your feet. It can take awhile to get just the right one for your foot, but sometimes it can be just what you needed. Weight Control. Yes, maintaining a sensible diet with your ideal weight can be beneficial in many ways. It makes sense to think that the more weight your arches are supporting, the more easily they will fall and become painful.
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