Our feet are incredibly well specialized structures. There are 26 different bones in each foot, held together by 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments (in each foot). They way they weave and align together determine the formation of our arches. The aim of the arches is to give us spring and distribute our body weight across our feet and legs. The structures of the arches of our feet determine how we walk - they are rigid levels which allow us to move smoothly. However, the arches need to be sturdy as well as flexible to adapt to various surfaces and stresses. During childhood it is normal to have flat feet. This is because our feet form during our childhood. In other words, having what appears to be flat feet during early childhood does not necessarily mean that it will persist throughout the individual's life. People with very low arches or what appear to be no arches at all may experience no problems.
There are a number of different causes that can lead to flat feet or fallen arches. These include, birth defects, while technically not a defect as such, flat feet can be a normal finding in patients from birth. However, a condition called tarsal coalition may occur where some of the bones in the foot are fused together resulting in a flatfoot. Inflammation or damage of the posterior tibial tendon. This tendon forms the end of a muscle that connects the lower leg to the foot, winding around the ankle and attaching to the inner aspect where the arch is normally present. The main role of the posterior tibial tendon is to invert the foot and maintain the arch height throughout the gait cycle. Torn muscles of the leg and foot can cause flat feet. Problems with the nerve supply to the muscles can result in reduction in tone and fallen arches. Fracture dislocation of the bones in the foot. Severe arthritis. While these are the common causes that can result in fallen arches and flat feet, it is important to recognise that there are certain risk factors that can also lead to this condition. These include advancing age, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, obesity and pregnancy.
Knee/Hip/Back Pain - When the arch collapses in the foot, it triggers a series of compensations up the joint chain, leading to increased stress on the knee, pelvis and low back. Plantar fasciitis - This condition is characterized by heel pain, especially with the first few steps you take. The plantar fascia stretches as the arch falls, putting stress on the heel. Bunions - If you see a bony bump developing at the base of your big toe, you are likely developing a bunion. It may be swollen, red or painful when it rubs against your shoe. A flattened arch spreads the forefoot and causes the big toe to deviate toward the second toe. Shin splints - This term generally refers to pain anywhere along the shinbone. It is typically due to overuse and is aggravated after exercise and activity.
Your doctor examines your feet to determine two things, whether you have flat feet and the cause or causes. An exam may include the following steps, Checking your health history for evidence of illnesses or injuries that could be linked to flat feet or fallen arches, Looking at the soles of your shoes for unusual wear patterns, Observing the feet and legs as you stand and do simple movements, such as raising up on your toes, Testing the strength of muscles and tendons, including other tendons in the feet and legs, such as the Achilles tendon or the posterior tibial tendon, Taking X-rays or an MRI of your feet.
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Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment isn't usually needed for flat feet because the condition doesn't usually cause any significant problems. Aching feet can often be relieved by wearing supportive shoes that fit properly. You may need to wear shoes that are wider than normal. If your feet overpronate, you may need to wear a special insole (an orthotic) inside your shoes to stop your feet rolling inwards when you walk or run. These will usually need to be made and fitted by a podiatrist. Stretching your calf and Achilles tendon may also help as a tight Achilles can make your foot overpronate. To stretch your calf and Achilles tendon, step forwards with your left leg and bend it, with your right leg straight and both feet pointing forwards, push your right heel into the ground while keeping your right leg straight; you should feel the stretch at the back of your right leg, below the knee, hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat with the opposite leg, repeat the stretch two to four times on each leg, and repeat the overall exercise three to four times a day.
Feet that do not respond to the treatments above may need surgery. The surgery will help to create a supportive arch.