Also known as fallen arches, the condition of flat feet is characterized by a lack of appropriate arch in the inner foot. It can be a genetic condition or the result of improper body mechanics. Often the whole of the foot will contact the ground. Because a healthy foot is structurally able to support the weight of the body thanks to the bone structure that comprises the arch, a flat foot often is unable to properly support this weight and will cause extreme pressure in the joints above, such as the ankles, knees and hips.
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.
Feet tire easily and become painful and achy, especially around the arch, ankle and heel. Swelling on the inside bottom of your feet. Back and leg pain. Difficulty standing on toes.
Many medical professionals can diagnose a flat foot by examining the patient standing or just looking at them. On going up onto tip toe the deformity will correct when this is a flexible flat foot in a child with lax joints. Such correction is not seen in the adult with a rigid flat foot. An easy and traditional home diagnosis is the "wet footprint" test, performed by wetting the feet in water and then standing on a smooth, level surface such as smooth concrete or thin cardboard or heavy paper. Usually, the more the sole of the foot that makes contact (leaves a footprint), the flatter the foot. In more extreme cases, known as a kinked flatfoot, the entire inner edge of the footprint may actually bulge outward, where in a normal to high arch this part of the sole of the foot does not make contact with the ground at all.
Non Surgical Treatment
The treatment your podiatrist recommends will depend upon the trouble and pain you?re experiencing. Custom shoe inserts (orthotics) are most often recommended and are quite effective. Stretching exercises to loosen and strengthen the supporting tendons may also be recommended. Orthotic devices or bracing. To give your arch the support it needs, your foot and ankle surgeon may recommend an ankle brace or a custom orthotic device that fits into your shoe to support the arch. A short-leg cast or boot may be worn to immobilize the foot and allow the tendon to heal. Ultrasound therapy and stretching exercises may help rehabilitate the tendon and muscle following immobilization. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce the pain and inflammation. Your foot and ankle surgeon may recommend changes in your footwear.
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.