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Fallen Arches What To Look For

July 3, 2017
Overview

Acquired Flat Foot

A ?fallen arch? is a change in the shape of the foot. The normal gap between the floor and the arch on the inside of the foot narrows. It is usually painful, sometimes cripplingly painful and crippling. The heel leans to the inside, giving the inner ankle a bowed appearance. The joints of the outside of the crush together causing pain and swelling. The ligaments on the inside of the ankle stretch causing additional pain. Over time, the joints of the midfoot and forefoot adapt to the tilting of the ankle so that the front of the foot remains on the floor, complicating the deformity.

Causes

Having low or no arches is normal for some people. In these cases, flat feet are usually inherited and the feet are fairly flexible. Occasionally, flat feet can be caused by an abnormality that develops in the womb, such as a problem with a joint or where two or more bones are fused together. This is known as tarsal coalition and results in the feet being flat and stiff. Flat feet that develop in later life can be caused by a condition that affects the joints, such as arthritis, or an injury to a muscle, tendon or joint in the foot. Conditions that affect the nervous system (brain and spinal cord) can also cause the arches to fall. Over time, the muscles gradually become stiffer and weaker and lose their flexibility. Conditions where this can occur include cerebral palsy, spina bifida and muscular dystrophy. Adult-acquired flat feet often affect women over 40 years of age. It often goes undiagnosed and develops when the tendon that supports the foot arch gradually stretches over time. It's not fully understood what causes the tendon to become stretched, but some experts believe that wearing high heels and standing or walking for long periods may play a part. Obesity, high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes are all risk factors. Recent research has found a link with changes to the tendon in the foot and an increase in a type of protein called proteolytic enzyme. These enzymes can break down some areas of the tendon, weakening it and causing the foot arch to fall. Similar changes are also seen in other conditions, such as Achilles tendonitis. This could have important implications for treating flat feet because medication that specifically targets these enzymes could provide an alternative to surgery. However, further research is needed and this type of treatment is thought to be about 10 to 15 years away.

Symptoms

Not everyone who has flat feet experiences symptoms. Others, however, feel persistent pain in their feet and wearing shoes can prove additionally painful. Others only feel symptoms when they walk more than normal, go jogging or participate in a sport that involves running or kicking.

Diagnosis

If you notice that your feet are flat, but you?re not really experiencing any pain, then you?re probably okay to go without a visit to the podiatrist (unless, of course, you have a lack of feeling in your foot). You can schedule a hair appointment instead, or maybe see a movie. However, once painful symptoms start to appear, it?s better to skip the hirsute (or cinematic) experience and go see your foot doctor. Your podiatrist will likely make the diagnosis by examining your foot visually, asking about symptoms you may be experiencing, and may test your muscle strength. You may be asked to stand on your toes (in a ballerina pose, if you prefer, although that?s certainly not required), or walk around the examining room, and you may need to show the podiatrist your shoes. He or she may comment on your excellent taste in footwear, but is more likely to check your shoes for signs of wear that may indicate fallen arches. Your podiatrist may recommend X-rays, a CT scan or an MRI in order to get a look at the interior of your foot, although the best diagnosis usually comes from the doctor?s own in-person examination.

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Non Surgical Treatment

There are different modalities of treatment that are available to manage flat feet and fallen arches. The type of treatment that is chosen depends upon how severe the condition is and what symptoms the patients are experiencing. Below is a brief description of the available treatment modalities. In the event that the patient is experiencing swelling of the feet, rest and ice application is usually the initial treatment step. Oral anti-inflammatories may be offered which can help reduce inflammation as well as associated pain. Physical therapy has good outcomes and can include different exercises such as stretches and strengthening of the surrounding muscles. Changes in footwear and activity modification are also important when dealing with a painful flat (pronated) foot. These days, orthotic insoles are easily available either over the counter or through your Podiatrist which can effectively help maintain the arch of the foot and reduce the amount of stress placed on the foot. Podiatrists are able to prescribe a variety of different devices from prefabricated to customized and are trained to determine the most appropriate device for each individual. In order to offer the right kind of orthotic insole, podiatrists may perform a test called gait analysis. This involves asking the patient to walk and videoing the different movements that the foot of forms during the walking. Features such as over pronation can be easily seen on this and orthotic insoles can be prescribed to correct the specific abnormalities that are picked up on this analysis. Overall, orthotic treatment can result in a significant improvement in foot movement and reduction in foot discomfort.

Surgical Treatment

Adult Acquired Flat Feet

Surgery is typically offered as a last resort in people with significant pain that is resistant to other therapies. The treatment of a rigid flatfoot depends on its cause. Congenital vertical talus. Your doctor may suggest a trial of serial casting. The foot is placed in a cast and the cast is changed frequently to reposition the foot gradually. However, this generally has a low success rate. Most people ultimately need surgery to correct the problem. Tarsal coalition. Treatment depends on your age, extent of bone fusion and severity of symptoms. For milder cases, your doctor may recommend nonsurgical treatment with shoe inserts, wrapping of the foot with supportive straps or temporarily immobilizing the foot in a cast. For more severe cases, surgery is necessary to relieve pain and improve the flexibility of the foot. Lateral subtalar dislocation. The goal is to move the dislocated bone back into place as soon as possible. If there is no open wound, the doctor may push the bone back into proper alignment without making an incision. Anesthesia is usually given before this treatment. Once this is accomplished, a short leg cast must be worn for about four weeks to help stabilize the joint permanently. About 15% to 20% of people with lateral subtalar dislocation must be treated with surgery to reposition the dislocated bone.

Prevention

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.

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