Fallen arches, the medical term for flat feet, are simply feet that do not arch in the middle. Such feet lay flat with the whole of the sole on the ground. All children are born with flat feet, but as they grow the feet normally develop an arch so that by the age of ten almost all children have arched feet. Occasionally a child will not develop properly arched feet. This may be due to a bone malformation present at birth, or abnormalities in ligaments within the feet or legs that cause the child's weight to be unevenly distributed.
As children grow, their legs will experience developmental changes that can result in excess flattening of the arches with weight bearing. One example is genu valgum, or knock-knees, a usually normal, temporary condition in children at different stages of growth. A tight calf muscle or Achilles tendon can also contribute to a flat foot. Many children will experience tight calf muscles as they go through growth spurts. Conditions that are present at birth and are often diagnosed early include: metatarsus adductus, calcaneovalgus and congenital vertical talus. Tarsal coalitions are congenitally fused foot bones that cause a rigid flat foot often associated with painful muscle spasms. This type of flat foot is usually diagnosed later in childhood or in adulthood. Any condition that causes loose ligaments can result in a flat foot or lower-than-normal arch. Ligaments are bands of tissue that connect bones to each other and have an important role in giving form to foot arches. An example of a condition that causes loosening of ligaments is pregnancy, where normal hormonal changes relax the ligaments. Diseases that cause loose ligaments include Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Marfan's syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis. If one leg is longer than the other, one foot may be flat in relation to the other to compensate. Usually the foot on the longer limb will have a flatter arch in an effort to shorten that limb, balancing-out the unevenness. Leg length inequality can be caused by spinal abnormalities such as scoliosis. It can also be due to an actual difference in length of one leg bone compared to the other.
The majority of children and adults with flexible flatfeet never have symptoms. However, their toes may tend to point outward as they walk, a condition called out-toeing. A person who develops symptoms usually complains of tired, aching feet, especially after prolonged standing or walking. Symptoms of rigid flatfoot vary depending on the cause of the foot problem. Congenital vertical talus. The foot of a newborn with congenital vertical talus typically has a convex rocker-bottom shape. This is sometimes combined with an actual fold in the middle of the foot. The rare person who is diagnosed at an older age often has a "peg-leg" gait, poor balance and heavy calluses on the soles where the arch would normally be. If a child with congenital vertical talus has a genetic disorder, additional symptoms often are seen in other parts of the body. Tarsal coalition. Many people have no symptoms, and the condition is discovered only by chance when an X-ray of the foot is obtained for some other problem. When symptoms occur, there is usually foot pain that begins at the outside rear of the foot. The pain tends to spread upward to the outer ankle and to the outside portion of the lower leg. Symptoms usually start during a child's teenage years and are aggravated by playing sports or walking on uneven ground. In some cases, the condition is discovered when a child is evaluated for unusually frequent ankle sprains. Lateral subtalar dislocation. Because this often is caused by a traumatic, high-impact injury, the foot may be significantly swollen and deformed. There also may be an open wound with bruising and bleeding.
Runners are often advised to get a gait analysis to determine what type of foot they have and so what kind of running shoe they require. This shouldn?t stop at runners. Anyone that plays sports could benefit from this assessment. Sports shoes such as football boots, astro trainers and squash trainers often have very poor arch support and so for the 60-80% of us who do overpronate or have flat feet they are left unsupported. A change of footwear or the insertion of arch support insoles or orthotics can make a massive difference to your risk of injury, to general aches and pains and even to your performance.
Why do arches fall?
Non Surgical Treatment
During walking and running, there is a small natural inward drop (slight pronation) that is part of the spring and propulsion. Allowing exaggerated sagging is like rounding your shoulders too much. Legs and feet have posture that you can control yourself. Use your own muscles and get free built-in exercise and arch support all day, and stop painful poor positioning. Some people with existing abnormality or growths in the ball of the foot will roll inward (or outward) to get the pressure off the deformed area because standing straight hurts. See your doctor first. Remember, don't force. If it hurts, it's wrong. All you are doing is learning how to stand neutral, not tilted so much that you compress the joints. The concept is to hold your feet in the same healthful position that shoe supports would. It is like an ice skater holds their skates straight at the ankle, not angled.
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.
Sit up straight in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Scrunch up the toes of one foot as if you are trying to grab hold of the floor then use your toes to drag your foot a small distance forwards. Do this a couple of times on each foot, but don?t use your leg muscles to push your foot forward -- the movement should come solely from the muscles in your feet. Sit in a chair and place a cleaning cloth, towel or small ball on the floor at your feet. Use the toes of one foot to grasp the object and lift it off the floor. This action will require you to clench your toes and contract your arch. Once you have lifted the object a little way off the floor, try to throw it in the air and catch it by stretching your toes and arch out and upwards. Repeat the exercise several times on both feet. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you then bend your knees out to either side and place the soles of your feet together so your legs form a diamond. Hold on to your ankles and, keeping your heels together at all times, separate your feet so your toes point out to either side. Open and close your feet in this way several times, making sure your little toes stay in contact with the floor throughout the exercise. Starting in the same position, try separating your heels, keeping your toes together at all times.