Flat feet, also referred to as overpronated feet or fallen arches is a common postural deformity with various degrees of physical impact. It can occur on one foot or both and develop from a variety of causes. The lack of an arch characterizes a flat foot, meaning the arches have collapsed, and the entire sole touches the floor while standing or walking. Most people have a degree of arch support in the foot that acts like a shock absorber while walking or standing. This is known as pronation, and the degree of pronation varies from patient to patient.
There are two general types of flat feet, flexible and rigid. A flexible flat foot means the arches give way when the foot supports the body but regains an arch once the foot is relaxed. A rigid flat foot means that the arch is flat while supporting weight and also when relaxed.
Many patients who have a flat foot were born with a flexible flat foot that didn’t fully develop with age. Flat feet are common in young children, but as their body grows, the arch and the muscles supporting it strengthen and will become a normal arch by adulthood.
People with severely overpronated feet are predisposed to developing a rigid flat foot. Injury and trauma can also cause abnormalities in the tendons, ligaments, and muscles of the foot and ankle, resulting in a flat foot. Other causes can include heredity, tight tendons, arthritis, diabetes, excess weight, overuse, strain, and age.
A large number of people with flat feet may not experience any pain or symptoms and will not need treatment. However, this is not the case for all patients. The most common symptom is pain felt in the arch, heel, foot, and ankle. Other symptoms include:
- Noticeable low or flat arch
- Pain or discomfort in the foot, leg, or lower back
- Associated deformities such as bunions or hammertoes
- Fatigue in the inner side of the foot
- Abnormal gait
- Plantar fasciitis
- Shin splints
- Pain along arches after standing or walking for extended periods
How is it recognized?
If you aren’t experiencing any pain or other symptoms, treatment is often not required. For those who seek relief, scheduling an appointment with a podiatrist can provide you with a proper diagnosis and treatment plan to relieve you of pain and discomfort.
A podiatrist will conduct a clinical examination and request a detailed medical history. X-rays and other imaging tests may be performed to evaluate the extent of the deformity and the condition of the tissues, muscles, and bone of the foot. Other tests, such as a gait test, may also be done to see the extent of the condition and evaluate other contributing factors of the patient’s flat foot.
As mentioned above, if you aren’t experiencing any pain or other symptoms, treatment is often not required. However, if you do experience pain, your podiatrist will recommend treatment for you to reduce pain and discomfort. Some forms of treatment include:
- Medication to reduce swelling and inflammation and alleviate pain
- Custom arch supports, or orthotics, to take the pressure off your arches and provide cushioning support. Braces and support may also be fitted to you
- Performing stretches to keep the muscles and tendons flexible
- Physical therapy can help when foot pain is due to an injury. This will help to strengthen ligaments, tendons, and muscles of the foot and ankle
- Wearing appropriate footwear with adequate arch support
- Lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise to manage weight and reduce the amount of pressure on your feet.
In severe cases, surgery may be recommended, but it is often used as a last resort. An orthopedic surgeon may create arches in your foot, repair tendons, or fuse bones and joints together to gain function back to your feet. Each case differs depending on the patient’s condition and severity.
For more information on flat feet or how to get relief with this condition, please contact Kenrick J. Dennis, DPM today.