There are three types of flat feet: flexible flatfoot, painful rigid flatfoot, and spasmodic flatfoot. Flexible flat feet have some arch, even if the arch only appears while the person is flexing the foot or standing on their toes. Flexible flat feet may not cause pain or require treatment. Painful rigid flatfoot, on the other hand, is abnormal and causes pain, stiffness, and the inability to flex the foot. This often indicates that there is a problem with the bones in the foot, a disease is present, or an injury has occurred. Spasmodic flatfoot involves the foot being forced outward by spasmodic contractions of the peroneal muscle.
The arches of most individuals are fully developed by the age of 12 to 13. While some people are born with flat arches, for others, the arches fall over time. The tibial tendon, which runs along the inside of the ankle from above the ankle to the arch, can weaken with age and with heavy activity. The posterior tendon, main support structure for the arch, can become inflamed (tendonitis) or even tear if overloaded. For women, wearing high heels can affect the Achilles tendon and alter the structure and function of the ankle. The posterior tibial tendon may compensate for this stress and break down, causing the arches to fall. Obesity is another contributing factor, as well as a serious injury to the ankle or foot, arthritis and bad circulation such as occurs with diabetes.
Most patients who suffer from flat feet or fallen arches often do not complain of any symptoms whatsoever. However, on some occasions, patients may find that their feet are fatigued fairly easily and following activity on long periods of standing may have a painful foot or arch. On occasions, swelling may be seen on the inner aspect of the foot and performing certain movements may be painful and difficult. Some patients who have flat feet may find that their feet tend to roll in (over-pronate) a lot more when they walk and run. As a result, they may experience damage to the ankle joint and the Achilles tendon, as well as excessive shoe wear.
If your child has flatfeet, his or her doctor will ask about any family history of flatfeet or inherited foot problems. In a person of any age, the doctor will ask about occupational and recreational activities, previous foot trauma or foot surgery and the type of shoes worn. The doctor will examine your shoes to check for signs of excessive wear. Worn shoes often provide valuable clues to gait problems and poor bone alignment. The doctor will ask you to walk barefoot to evaluate the arches of the feet, to check for out-toeing and to look for other signs of poor foot mechanics. The doctor will examine your feet for foot flexibility and range of motion and feel for any tenderness or bony abnormalities. Depending on the results of this physical examination, foot X-rays may be recommended. X-rays are always performed in a young child with rigid flatfeet and in an adult with acquired flatfeet due to trauma.
Non Surgical Treatment
Orthotics. Interpod orthotics re-align and support the foot; therefore reducing any excessive stress when walking or during activity. Orthotics can assist with maintaining arch profile and allow for more effective functioning of joints. Footwear. A strong supportive, well fitted shoe may assist with reducing excessive pronation and support the joints of your feet. A supportive shoe will also help maximise the function of your Interpod orthotic. Padding may be applied to your shoes or feet by your practitioner to reduce excessive stress. Specific taping techniques can be applied by your practitioner to improve foot function. Your practitioner may advise certain stretches or exercises to assist with maintaining foot function and reduce painful symptoms. Pain medication such as NSAIDs (ibuprofen) may be advised by your practitioner. If all conservative options have been exhausted, then surgical correction of flat feet may be undertaken.
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.