In a normal foot, the tendons in your foot and lower leg work together to form the arch. When the tendons all pull properly, your foot forms a moderate, normal arch. When the tendons do not pull together properly, there is little or no arch, called flat foot or fallen arch. Children are born with flat feet. In infants and toddlers, prior to walking, the longitudinal arch is not developed and flat feet are normal. As children begin standing on their toes, the muscles start to develop and an arch appears. The arch continues to develop throughout childhood, and by adulthood most people have developed normal arches. But in some cases the arch doesn?t form completely.
When flat feet develop at a later age, they are known as fallen arches. The arches may fall because the muscles supporting them are no longer able to do so. In addition the spring ligament within the foot may have lost some of its tension allowing the arch of the foot to flatten. Other conditions causing fallen arches include sudden weight gain, a nervous system injury, or a loss of sensation caused by a disease such as diabetes. Most people with fallen arches are flat on both feet.
Structural problems in your feet like fallen arches can alter your walking pattern, running pattern and cause pain throughout your body. Clear and accurate assessment of the mechanics of your lower limbs is key to understanding the profound effect that subtle faults in your foot, ankle, knee and hip alignment can cause.
Determining whether you have fallen arches may be as easy as looking at the shape of the middle bottom of your foot. Is there any kind of arch there? If you cannot find any kind of arch, you may have a flat foot. There are, however, other ways to decide in case you're still not sure. Another way to figure out if you have flat feet is to look at a few pairs of your shoes. Where do you see the most wear on the heels? If you notice significant wear in the heel and the ball of the foot extending to the big toe, this means you are overpronating. Overpronators roll their feet too far inward and commonly have fallen arches. To figure out if you have flat feet, you can also do an easy test. Get the bottoms of your feet wet and then step on to a piece of paper carefully. Step off the paper and take a look at the print your foot made. If your print looks like the entire bottom of a foot, your feet are flat. People with an arch will be missing part of the foot on their print since the arch is elevated off of the paper. Regular visits to your podiatrist are highly recommended.
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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.
Surgical correction is dependent on the severity of symptoms and the stage of deformity. The goals of surgery are to create a more functional and stable foot. There are multiple procedures available to the surgeon and it may take several to correct a flatfoot deformity. Stage one deformities usually respond to conservative or non-surgical therapy such as anti-inflammatory medication, casting, functional orthotics or a foot ankle orthosis called a Richie Brace. If these modalities are unsuccessful surgery is warranted. Usually surgical treatment begins with removal of inflammatory tissue and repair of the posterior tibial tendon. A tendon transfer is performed if the posterior tibial muscle is weak or the tendon is badly damaged. The most commonly used tendon is the flexor digitorum longus tendon. This tendon flexes or moves the lesser toes downward. The flexor digitorum longus tendon is utilized due to its close proximity to the posterior tibial tendon and because there are minimal side effects with its loss. The remainder of the tendon is sutured to the flexor hallucis longus tendon that flexes the big toe so that little function is loss. Stage two deformities are less responsive to conservative therapies that can be effective in mild deformities. Bone procedures are necessary at this stage in order to recreate the arch and stabilize the foot. These procedures include isolated fusion procedures, bone grafts, and/or the repositioning of bones through cuts called osteotomies. The realigned bones are generally held in place with screws, pins, plates, or staples while the bone heals. A tendon transfer may or may not be utilized depending on the condition of the posterior tibial tendon. Stage three deformities are better treated with surgical correction, in healthy patients. Patients that are unable to tolerate surgery or the prolonged healing period are better served with either arch supports known as orthotics or bracing such as the Richie Brace. Surgical correction at this stage usually requires fusion procedures such as a triple or double arthrodesis. This involves fusing the two or three major bones in the back of the foot together with screws or pins. The most common joints fused together are the subtalar joint, talonavicular joint, and the calcaneocuboid joint. By fusing the bones together the surgeon is able to correct structural deformity and alleviate arthritic pain. Tendon transfer procedures are usually not beneficial at this stage. Stage four deformities are treated similarly but with the addition of fusing the ankle joint.