Jo Vanhauen

Facts Concerning Foot Problems

Are Fallen Arches Flat Feet?

Overview

Flat Foot

The terms fallen arches and flat feet are used interchangeably to refer to a condition in which there is no arch of the foot. An arch is formed by tendons in the foot that stretch from the heel of the foot to the base of the toes, or metatarsals. There are also supporting tendons that originate in the lower leg. Together, these tendons work to form an arch, noticeable as a slight rise in the inner midsole of the foot. This rise or arch can be classified as a normal arch, a high arch, or a fallen arch. When tendons do not work together to pull properly, this results in a fallen arch or flat foot. Aside from the occasional pain associated with flat feet, problems with fallen arches can extend upwards to the ankles, knees, hips, and even the back, altering the biomechanics of the body.

Causes

A fallen arch occurs because one of the main structures that support the arch has broken or torn. Usually it occurs without trauma, although a small injury associated with the onset of the pain is often recalled, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether the injury was clearly big enough to permanently injure the leg. I suspect that even before the symptoms that the structure that broke was weakening and the injury was simply the ?needle that broke the camels back?. The structure that is most commonly torn is the posterior tibial tendon. This tendon is attached to a muscle on the inside of the back of the ankle, and runs along the medial malleolus, the bony prominence on the inside of the ankle, to attach to a bone in the arch called the navicular bone. It usually begins to weaken and stretch along the back of the medial malleolus. It often begins as a swelling and the arch flattens over the next several weeks to months. As the arch flattens, other structures that support the arch begin to stretch and tear. The bones along the outside of the ankle begin to crush together, causing pain and swelling in this are, and the toes may tilt to the outside as the arch collapses. It is not known why this process begins. It is often associated with diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. It also is more common as a person enters the fifty to seventy year age range. ?Fallen arches? are much more common in people who are already flat footed.

Symptoms

Flat feet can cause a myriad of symptoms, from experiencing pain in the foot, heels, arch, calves, the shin, the knee, the hip and into the lower back due to overworking of the hip flexors or they may find it hard to stand on tip toes.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of flat feet or fallen arches can be made by your health practitioner and is based on the following. Clinical assessment involving visual gait assessment, as well as biomechanical assessment. A detailed family and medical history. A pain history assessment determining the location of painful symptoms. Physical palpation of the feet and painful areas. Imaging such as MRI or x-ray can be used by your practitioner to assist in the diagnosis.

What does it mean when you have flat feet?

Non Surgical Treatment

Treatment of flat feet really depends on how far the damage has progressed. Conservative treatments often include immobilization (often by cast or brace) to reduce inflammation. Your doctor may also recommend anti-inflammatory medication (like ibuprofen) to get your inflamed tendon to calm down a bit. Orthotics can also offer significant relief. If these treatments fail to significantly improve symptoms, then surgery may be your best option to get the structure of your body back where it needs to be. Your podiatrist can discuss surgical options with you in great depth.

Surgical Treatment

Flat Feet

Feet that do not respond to the treatments above may need surgery. The surgery will help to create a supportive arch.

After Care

Time off work depends on the type of work as well as the surgical procedures performed. . A patient will be required to be non-weight bearing in a cast or splint and use crutches for four to twelve weeks. Usually a patient can return to work in one to two weeks if they are able to work while seated. If a person's job requires standing and walking, return to work may take several weeks. Complete recovery may take six months to a full year. Complications can occur as with all surgeries, but are minimized by strictly following your surgeon's post-operative instructions. The main complications include infection, bone that is slow to heal or does not heal, progression or reoccurrence of deformity, a stiff foot, and the need for further surgery. Many of the above complications can be avoided by only putting weight on the operative foot when allowed by your surgeon.
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