Lorena Bautz

The Globe's Premier Foot Blog

Are Fallen Arches Flat Feet?

Overview

Flat Foot

Most people (approx. 60-70% of the population) suffer from excessive pronation due to flat feet when walking, running and standing. Though the foot may appear normal when sitting down, with a clear arch present under the foot, over-pronation becomes noticeable when we stand or walk as a result of weight bearing. The arches collapse with every step we take, and the ankles roll inwards. This is called overpronation, a biomechanical imbalance that can lead to many painful foot conditions such as heel pain, plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, tendonitis, and can even affect other parts of your body such as the knees and lower back.

Causes

Infants and young children naturally have flat feet. The arch should develop over time. Sometimes, the arch does not develop. It is not always clear why this happens. Flat feet may develop because of ruptured or damaged tendon that supports the arch, medical conditions that affect muscles or nerves in the foot, degenerative changes in certain foot joints, Ligament damage in the foot.

Symptoms

Many people have flat feet and notice no problems and require no treatment. But others may experience the following symptoms, Feet tire easily, painful or achy feet, especially in the areas of the arches and heels, the inside bottom of your feet become swollen, foot movement, such as standing on your toes, is difficult, back and leg pain, If you notice any of these symptoms, it's time for a trip to the doctor.

Diagnosis

It is important for people with foot pain to know if they have flat feet. The following tests can help you determine your arch type. When you get out of a swimming pool, look at your footprint on the concrete. The front of the foot will be joined to the heel by a strip. If your foot is flat, then the strip is the same width as the front of the foot, creating a footprint that looks like a stretched out pancake. With a normal arch, the strip is about half the width of the front of the foot. If you have a high arch, only a thin strip connects the front of the foot with the heel. Put your shoes on a flat table and view them at eye level from behind. See if the sole is worn evenly. A flat foot will cause more wear on the inside of the sole, especially in the heel area. The shoe will easily rock side to side. A flat foot will also cause the upper part of the shoe to lean inward over the sole. Both shoes should wear about the same way. If you have pain in one foot, you should make sure you don't have a fallen arch on that side. There are two good tests you can perform at home to detect this problem. Place your fingertips on a wall that you are directly facing and stand on your tiptoes on one foot. If you can't do it, a fallen arch may be the culprit. Stand with your feet parallel. Have someone stand in back of you and look at your feet from behind. You can also do it yourself if you stand with your back to a mirror. Normally, only the pinky toe is visible from behind. If one foot is flatter than the other, the 4th and sometimes the 3rd toe on that foot can also be seen.

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Non Surgical Treatment

Get shoes made for walking or running. One way to support your arch is to wear good-quality running or walking shoes, says Dr. Gastwirth. "These shoes generally provide good support to the foot." Add support. The top-of-the-line arch support is an orthotic insole, which may cost $900 or more and must be custom-made. "But many people with sore arches will get relief with over-the-counter arch supports for about $10," suggests Judith Smith, M.D., assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "The thing to remember about arch supports is that your shoe must have enough depth to accommodate them. Otherwise, you'll get a lot of rubbing on the top of your foot, or your heel will come out of the shoe." Most mens shoes are deep enough to accommodate the insoles; women should take their shoes with them to the drugstore when buying the insoles to ensure a good fit. If your heels are high, keep them wide. High heels may be your Achilles' heel--especially if you wear them constantly. "Flatter shoes are no doubt better," says Dr. Sanfilippo. Flat heels help prevent fallen arches and are kinder to your feet if fallen arches have already occurred. "If you must wear high heels, choose styles with a wide heel. Stay away from stiletto heels."

Surgical Treatment

Adult Acquired Flat Foot

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).
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