If you look at an adult foot from the inside, you'll usually notice an upward curve in the middle. This is called an arch. Tendons, tight bands that attach at the heel and foot bones form the arch. Several tendons in your foot and lower leg work together to form the arches in your foot. When the tendons all pull the proper amount, then your foot forms a moderate, normal arch. When tendons do not pull together properly, there is little or no arch. This is called flat foot or fallen arch.
Generally fallen arches are a condition inherited from one or both parents. In addition, age, obesity, and pregnancy cause our arches to collapse. Being in a job that requires long hours of standing and/or walking (e.g. teaching, retail, hospitality, building etc) contributes to this condition, especially when standing on hard surfaces like concrete floors. Last, but not least unsupportive footwear makes our feet roll in more than they should.
Depending on the cause of the flatfoot, a patient may experience one or more of the different symptoms below. Pain along the course of the posterior tibial tendon which lies on the inside of the foot and ankle. This can be associated with swelling on the inside of the ankle. Pain that is worse with activity. High intensity or impact activities, such as running, can be very difficult. Some patients can have difficulty walking or even standing for long periods of time. When the foot collapses, the heel bone may shift position and put pressure on the outside ankle bone (fibula). This can cause pain on the outside of the ankle. Arthritis in the heel also causes this same type of pain. Patients with an old injury or arthritis in the middle of the foot can have painful, bony bumps on the top and inside of the foot. These make shoewear very difficult. Occasionally, the bony spurs are so large that they pinch the nerves which can result in numbness and tingling on the top of the foot and into the toes. Diabetics may only notice swelling or a large bump on the bottom of the foot. Because their sensation is affected, people with diabetes may not have any pain. The large bump can cause skin problems and an ulcer (a sore that does not heal) may develop if proper diabetic shoewear is not used.
People who have flat feet without signs or symptoms that bother them do not generally have to see a doctor or podiatrist about them. However, if any of the following occur, you should see your GP or a podiatrist. The fallen arches (flat feet) have developed recently. You experience pain in your feet, ankles or lower limbs. Your unpleasant symptoms do not improve with supportive, well-fitted shoes. Either or both feet are becoming flatter. Your feet feel rigid (stiff). Your feet feel heavy and unwieldy. Most qualified health care professionals can diagnose flat feet just by watching the patient stand, walk and examining his/her feet. A doctor will also look at the patient's medical history. The feet will be observed from the front and back. The patient may be asked to stand on tip-toe while the doctor examines the shape and functioning of each foot. In some cases the physician may order an X-ray, CT (computed tomography) scan, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan.
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Non Surgical Treatment
For mild pain or aching, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and others) may be effective. Flexible Flatfoot. When there are no symptoms, treatment is not needed. If a child older than age 3 develops symptoms, the doctor may prescribe a therapeutic shoe insert made from a mold of the child's foot or a corrective shoe. As an alternative, some doctors recommend store-bought arch supports. These appear to work as well as more expensive treatments in many children. With any conservative, nonsurgical treatment, the goal is to relieve pain by supporting the arch and correcting any imbalance in the mechanics of the foot.
Rarely does the physician use surgery to correct a foot that is congenitally flat, which typically does not cause pain. If the patient has a fallen arch that is painful, though, the foot and ankle physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush may perform surgery to reconstruct the tendon and "lift up" the fallen arch. This requires a combination of tendon re-routing procedures, ligament repairs, and bone cutting or fusion procedures.
Patients may go home the day of surgery or they may require an overnight hospital stay. The leg will be placed in a splint or cast and should be kept elevated for the first two weeks. At that point, sutures are removed. A new cast or a removable boot is then placed. It is important that patients do not put any weight on the corrected foot for six to eight weeks following the operation. Patients may begin bearing weight at eight weeks and usually progress to full weightbearing by 10 to 12 weeks. For some patients, weightbearing requires additional time. After 12 weeks, patients commonly can transition to wearing a shoe. Inserts and ankle braces are often used. Physical therapy may be recommended. There are complications that relate to surgery in general. These include the risks associated with anesthesia, infection, damage to nerves and blood vessels, and bleeding or blood clots. Complications following flatfoot surgery may include wound breakdown or nonunion (incomplete healing of the bones). These complications often can be prevented with proper wound care and rehabilitation. Occasionally, patients may notice some discomfort due to prominent hardware. Removal of hardware can be done at a later time if this is an issue. The overall complication rates for flatfoot surgery are low.