Sometimes referred to as “fallen arches,” flatfeet is a condition where the normal curve of the foot isn’t sufficiently supported or is non-existent. Having flat feet can place added pressure on foot and ankle joints and result in pain while walking. Treatment depends on the extent of the abnormality and how much discomfort is experienced.
Some people are born with arches that never fully develop and others develop the condition later in life, usually after age forty. Arches can also fall as a result of soft-tissue injuries, with damage to the posterior tibial tendon, which starts in the calf and continues to the bones of the foot, being a common source of arch issues. Inflammatory arthritis and diabetes can also cause changes to feet.
Symptoms of flatfeet include:
While flatfeet is a normal trait in babies and toddlers, it can cause problems in people older than this. In some people, the arch simply never develops and they keep the flatfeet they had as babies. In others, there are environmental or medical causes for this condition. In some patients who have a normal arch, over time the arch can fall and cause this condition. This is often caused by wear and tear that eventually weakens the ankle tendon that gives support to the arch of the foot. In addition, obesity can add to this problem because of excess weight placed on the feet. It can also be caused simply by aging. In some patients, an injury to the ankle or foot can cause it. Two common causes in middle and old age are diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Some children develop this condition because they wear shoes that are too rigid, and this condition can persist into later years of life because the normal development of the arches has been affected. Getting unnecessary orthopedic treatments can also be a cause. The condition can also be inherited and can run in families as a natural foot-shape variety.
Muscle and tendon strength tests and observation of movement are some of the steps taken to initially diagnose flatfeet, although image tests are often performed to determine the extent and location of the condition. Corrective surgery, while often a last resort, may include fusing of bones, repair to damaged tendons or muscles, or the transfer of a tendon from another part of the body to restore foot support.
Most people with flatfeet enjoy relief with properly adjusted, or custom, orthotics. For some people, management of underlying conditions may also minimize pain from insufficient arch support. Avoiding high foot-stress activities and wearing comfortable shoes can also provide welcome relief.
In many cases, flatfeet is not a preventable condition. In cases of genetic predisposition or a simple failure of the foot to develop an arch, there is no way to prevent it from occurring. In other cases, the choice of footwear is important for preventing this condition. Choose shoes that have proper arch support and plenty of padding under the foot. The shoes should not be too stiff when worn by children. To test shoes, try to bend a shoe upward before purchasing it. A shoe that does not bend even slightly is likely too stiff for a child’s use. Also, it’s important to stay a healthy weight. Obesity greatly increases the chance of the arches falling, and it can even cause childhood cases of flatfeet.