Flexible flatfeet are considered normal in young children because babies are not born with a normal arch. The arch may not form fully until sometime between ages 7 and 10. Even in adulthood, 15% to 25% of people have flexible flatfeet. Most of these people never develop symptoms. In many adults who have had flexible flatfeet since childhood, the missing arch is an inherited condition related to a general looseness of ligaments. These people usually have extremely flexible, very mobile joints throughout the body, not only in the feet. Flatfeet also can develop during adulthood. Causes include joint disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and disorders of nerve function (neuropathy). Unlike a flexible flatfoot, a rigid flatfoot is often the result of a significant problem affecting the structure or alignment of the bones that make up the foot's arch. Some common causes of rigid flatfeet include. Congenital vertical talus. In this condition, there is no arch because the foot bones are not aligned properly. In some cases, there is a reverse curve (rocker-bottom foot, in which the shape is like the bottom rails of a rocking chair) in place of the normal arch. Congenital vertical talus is a rare condition present at birth. It often is associated with a genetic disorder, such as Down syndrome, or other congenital disorders. The cause is unknown in up to half of cases. Tarsal coalition (peroneal spastic flatfoot). In this inherited condition, two or more of the foot bones are fused together, interfering with the flexibility of the foot and eliminating the normal arch. A rare condition, it often affects several generations of the same family. Lateral subtalar dislocation. Sometimes called an acquired flatfoot, it occurs in someone who originally had a normal foot arch. In a lateral subtalar dislocation, there is a dislocation of the talus bone, located within the arch of the foot. The dislocated talus bone slips out of place, drops downward and sideways and collapses the arch. It usually occurs suddenly because of a high-impact injury related to a fall from a height, a motor vehicle accident or participation in sports, and it may be associated with fractures or other injuries.
Fallen arches may be caused by a number of causes, including increased elastin during pregnancy, arthritis, injury, excessive stress on the foot, fused bones in the foot, or an extra bone. They may cause not only foot pain, but also pain in the legs, knees, and back and a loss of mobility. The condition is most often treated with orthotics, structures placed in the shoes to support the feet, but this may not be enough for severe cases. Exercises to strengthen and rebuild the arches can also be helpful. Surgery is sometimes the best method of treatment, as it can completely rebuild the arches and has lasting results, but it is quite expensive and considered a last resort.
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.
Podiatrists are trained in expertly assessing flat feet and identifying different risk factors and the causes for it. Initial assessment will begin with a detailed history attempting to find out if any underlying illness has resulted in this. A detailed clinical examination normally follows. The patient may be asked to perform certain movements such as walking or standing on their toes to assess the function of the foot. Footwear will also be analysed to see if there has been excessive wear or if they are contributing to the pronation of the foot. To assess the structure of the foot further, the podiatrist may perform certain x-rays to get a detailed idea of the way the bones are arranged and how the muscle tissues may be affecting them. It also helps assess any potential birth defects in a bit more detail.
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Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment for flat feet and fallen arches depends on the severity and cause of the problem. If flat feet cause no pain or other difficulties, then treatment is probably not needed. In other cases, your doctor may suggest one or more of these treatments. Rest and ice to relieve pain and reduce swelling, stretching exercises, pain relief medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, orthotic devices, shoe modifications, braces, or casts, injected medications to reduce inflammation, such as corticosteroids. If pain or foot damage is severe, your doctor may recommend surgery.
This is rare and usually only offered if patients have significant abnormalities in their bones or muscles. Treatments include joint fusion, reshaping the bones in the foot, and occasionally moving around tendons in the foot to help balance out the stresses (called tendon transfer). Flat feet and fallen arches are common conditions that are in most cases asymptomatic. However, in patients who do have symptoms, treatments are available that can help reduce pain and promote efficient movement. Orthotic devices are well recognised as an excellent treatment and podiatrists can offer these different treatment modalities as individualised treatments for patients.
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.