The most common arch problem is the flat foot. This sometimes starts in childhood or may gradually develop in adulthood. In most cases the flat foot is related to a tight calf. The tightness of the calf forces the foot to overpronate (the inside of the foot rolls inwards) and the arch to break down and collapse. The arch collapse leads to abnormal stress on the plantar fascia leading to heel pain, as well as to the main medial tendon (the posterior tibial tendon), leading to tendonitis and even tears of the tendon. The other common symptom in severe flat feet is pain on the outside of the foot as well as calf and Achilles symptoms.
There are a number of different causes that can lead to flat feet or fallen arches. These include, birth defects, while technically not a defect as such, flat feet can be a normal finding in patients from birth. However, a condition called tarsal coalition may occur where some of the bones in the foot are fused together resulting in a flatfoot. Inflammation or damage of the posterior tibial tendon. This tendon forms the end of a muscle that connects the lower leg to the foot, winding around the ankle and attaching to the inner aspect where the arch is normally present. The main role of the posterior tibial tendon is to invert the foot and maintain the arch height throughout the gait cycle. Torn muscles of the leg and foot can cause flat feet. Problems with the nerve supply to the muscles can result in reduction in tone and fallen arches. Calcaneal Fracture dislocation of the bones in the foot. Severe arthritis. While these are the common causes that can result in fallen arches and flat feet, it is important to recognise that there are certain risk factors that can also lead to this condition. These include advancing age, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, obesity and pregnancy.
Pain and stiffness of the medial arch or anywhere along the mid-portion of the foot. Associated discomfort within and near the ankle joint. The knees, hips, and lower back may be the primary source of discomfort. Feet may often feel tired and achy. Painful shin splints may develop with activity. Gait may be awkward.
Many medical professionals can diagnose a flat foot by examining the patient standing or just looking at them. On going up onto tip toe the deformity will correct when this is a flexible flat foot in a child with lax joints. Such correction is not seen in the adult with a rigid flat foot. An easy and traditional home diagnosis is the “wet footprint” test, performed by wetting the feet in water and then standing on a smooth, level surface such as smooth concrete or thin cardboard or heavy paper. Usually, the more the sole of the foot that makes contact (leaves a footprint), the flatter the foot. In more extreme cases, known as a kinked flatfoot, the entire inner edge of the footprint may actually bulge outward, where in a normal to high arch this part of the sole of the foot does not make contact with the ground at all.
Non Surgical Treatment
The treatment is simple for flat feet. We will carry out a biomechanical assessment and full history, often along side a Computerised Gait Scan to give us an idea of how the foot is compensating. Treatment will be to, control how the foot hits the ground, support the middle of the foot and prevent the arch collapsing, promote normal movement in the front of the foot. The ability to do this will be dictated by the movement within the foot to start with. Treatment for all the above problems are often combined with a physiotherapy session in order to help develop a stretching and strengthening program for the back of the legs and the pelvis in order to allow normal function when the orthoses have been prescribed. If you are born with flat feet you will not grow out of them – if you get orthoses, like glasses you will need them for the rest of your life if you want to correct the mechanics in your foot. In 95% of cases, orthoses will reduce symptoms by at least 85%. In the other 5% we will work with them to get them to this level.
A combination of surgical procedures can be used to reconstruct the flatfoot. Generally, these procedures can be separated into those that correct deformities of the bones and those that repair ligaments and tendons. Your orthopaedic surgeon will choose the proper combination of procedures for your foot. Surgery of the foot can be performed under regional anesthesia, which is numbing the foot and ankle with a nerve or spinal block, or general anesthesia, which may require a breathing tube. A nerve block is often placed behind the knee to reduce pain after surgery.