Fallen arches, or flatfoot, is a condition in which the arch on the inside of the foot is flat and the entire sole of the foot rests on the ground. It affects about 40% of the general population. Although flat feet in themselves are not usually problematic, they can create problems in the feet, hips, ankles and knees. Pain may be experienced in the lower back if there are alignment problems and if the individual is engaged in a lot of heavy, high impact activities that put stress on the bones and muscles in the lower legs. 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.
Fallen arches have many causes. If you have fallen arches, or flat feet, the normal arch in the middle of your foot is not curved properly. You can have this condition called ples planus in medical terms and never have any symptoms. However, fallen arches can lead to foot pain, fatigue or more serious conditions. If fallen arches alter the way you walk, you may eventually develop knee, hip and low back pain. Your foot may lose normal range of motion making it hard to rise up onto your toes. In some cases, your feet can become swollen. If you have this condition, talk to your doctor about an appropriate treatment plan.
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.
There are a few simple ways to assess your foot type, and most include making an imprint of your footprint. The classic way is to stand on a hard floor surface with wet feet to make a wet foot print. Look at the narrowest part of your footprint, which should be between your heel and ball of your foot. If the print of your foot in this part is less than 10% of the width of the widest part then you are likely to have high arches. more than 10% but less than 25% then your foot profile is probably normal, more than 25% or even the widest part, then you have flat feet.
Why do arches fall?
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment often consists of giving the affected foot support from underneath so that the strain is taken off it (by the use of insoles or support pads) and so symptoms are relieved. A specialist in this problem is known as a podiatrist and these do work in the NHS - ask you father's doctor whether his condition is bad enough to warrant a referral to such a specialist.
Surgery for flat feet is separated into three kinds: soft tissue procedures, bone cuts, and bone fusions. Depending on the severity of the flat foot, a person?s age, and whether or not the foot is stiff determines just how the foot can be fixed. In most cases a combination of procedures are performed. With flexible flat feet, surgery is geared at maintaining the motion of the foot and recreating the arch. Commonly this may involve tendon repairs along the inside of the foot to reinforce the main tendon that lifts the arch. When the bone collapse is significant, bone procedures are included to physically rebuild the arch, and realign the heel. The presence of bunions with flat feet is often contributing to the collapse and in most situations requires correction. With rigid flat feet, surgery is focused on restoring the shape of the foot through procedures that eliminate motion. In this case, motion does not exist pre-operatively, so realigning the foot is of utmost importance. The exception, are rigid flat feet due to tarsal coalition (fused segment of bone) in the back of the foot where freeing the blockage can restore function.
Well-fitted shoes with good arch support may help prevent flat feet. Maintaining a healthy weight may also lower wear and tear on the arches.