The appearance of flat feet is normal and common in infants, partly due to "baby fat" which masks the developing arch and partly because the arch has not yet fully developed. The human arch develops in infancy and early childhood as part of normal muscle, tendon, ligament and bone growth. Training of the feet, especially by foot gymnastics and going barefoot on varying terrain, can facilitate the formation of arches during childhood, with a developed arch occurring for most by the age of four to six years. Flat arches in children usually become proper arches and high arches while the child progresses through adolescence and into adulthood.
The arches of most individuals are fully developed by the age of 12 to 13. While some people are born with flat arches, for others, the arches fall over time. The tibial tendon, which runs along the inside of the ankle from above the ankle to the arch, can weaken with age and with heavy activity. The posterior tendon, main support structure for the arch, can become inflamed (tendonitis) or even tear if overloaded. For women, wearing high heels can affect the Achilles tendon and alter the structure and function of the ankle. The posterior tibial tendon may compensate for this stress and break down, causing the arches to fall. Obesity is another contributing factor, as well as a serious injury to the ankle or foot, arthritis and bad circulation such as occurs with diabetes.
A significant number of people with fallen arches (flat feet) experience no pain and have no problems. Some, however, may experience pain in their feet, especially when the connecting ligaments and muscles are strained. The leg joints may also be affected, resulting in pain. If the ankles turn inwards because of flat feet the most likely affected areas will be the feet, ankles and knees. Some people have flat feet because of a developmental fault during childhood, while others may find that the problem develops as they age, or after a pregnancy. There are some simple devices which may prevent the complications of flat feet.
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.
Non Surgical Treatment
The typical treatment for pain from fallen arches is an arch insert. While many people experience dramatic pain relief from this, others continue to suffer from chronic achy feet despite the arch support. The problem with this approach is that it does not do anything to strengthen the weak ligaments that may be at the root of the problem and, thus, does not alleviate the chronic pain that people with this condition experience. Another standard practice of modern medicine is to use steroids or to prescribe anti-inflammatory medications. However, in the long run, these treatments do more damage than good. Cortisone shots and anti-inflammatory drugs have been shown to produce short-term pain benefit, but both result in long-term loss of function and even more chronic pain by actually inhibiting the healing process of soft tissues and accelerating cartilage degeneration. Plus, long-term use of these drugs can lead to other sources of chronic pain, allergies and leaky gut syndrome.
Surgery is typically offered as a last resort in people with significant pain that is resistant to other therapies. The treatment of a rigid flatfoot depends on its cause. Congenital vertical talus. Your doctor may suggest a trial of serial casting. The foot is placed in a cast and the cast is changed frequently to reposition the foot gradually. However, this generally has a low success rate. Most people ultimately need surgery to correct the problem. Tarsal coalition. Treatment depends on your age, extent of bone fusion and severity of symptoms. For milder cases, your doctor may recommend nonsurgical treatment with shoe inserts, wrapping of the foot with supportive straps or temporarily immobilizing the foot in a cast. For more severe cases, surgery is necessary to relieve pain and improve the flexibility of the foot. Lateral subtalar dislocation. The goal is to move the dislocated bone back into place as soon as possible. If there is no open wound, the doctor may push the bone back into proper alignment without making an incision. Anesthesia is usually given before this treatment. Once this is accomplished, a short leg cast must be worn for about four weeks to help stabilize the joint permanently. About 15% to 20% of people with lateral subtalar dislocation must be treated with surgery to reposition the dislocated bone.
Donning a first-rate pair of arch supports, therapeutic socks and proper footwear before heading out to enjoy hours of holiday fun is one option to consider. Your podiatrist can help you find just the right ones. Once you have them on, they?ll help ease the amount of pressure being put on your body and keep the blood flowing in the right direction. While you?re standing in line, consider doing a bit of exercise as well. We?re not talking about channeling your inner Jack LaLanne here. Otherwise, you might attract the attention of the mall security guards. Simple ankle rotations and walking in place may help to reduce edema and give your flat feet a bit of a break. If you happen to be in a shopping mall or center where foot massages are available, take advantage of them periodically. They are likely to make you feel better and it?s a great excuse to carve out a few quiet moments for yourself. If you can?t visit a professional, tuck a personal foot massager into your purse. That way, you can lightly massage your own feet during the car ride home. Lastly, there are certain foods and nutritional supplements available that may reduce edema caused by standing on flat feet for hours at a time. The list includes potassium rich foods like raisins, bananas, baby carrots, nuts and yogurt. So, you may want to pack a snack for those trips to the mall or hit the food court before you hit the stores.