Fallen arches is a common term used to describe a flatfoot condition that develops during adulthood. This should not be confused with other causes of flatfoot that may develop during childhood or adolescence. Most cases of ?fallen arches? develop when the main arch-supporting tendon (the posterior tibial tendon) becomes weakened or injured, causing the arch to gradually become lower. With time, the shape of the foot changes and secondary symptoms start to appear. Common problems associated with fallen arches include plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, increased fatigue, and arthritis of the foot and ankle.
There are many different causes of flat feet, which can be separated into two main categories. The first category, congenital flat foot, is a condition that one is born with or is predisposed to at birth. This type includes the completely asymptomatic, pediatric flexible flat foot-by far the most common form of congenital flat foot. Flexible means that an arch is present until weight is put on the foot, at which time the arch disappears. This foot type is a result of the fact that all people are born with different physical features. Some people have bigger noses than others, just as some people have flatter feet (of course, there is no known correlation between the two). Any alteration in the many building blocks of the foot can influence its shape. At the other end of the spectrum, yet within the same category of congenital flat foot, exist several rare, more severe forms of flat foot. These severe conditions include Vertical Talus, Congenital Calcaneal Valgus, and Tarsal Coalitions - all of which are more rigid (no arch with or without weight on the foot) and definitely symptomatic. Luckily, these are much less common, but can usually be identified by specialists at the time of presentation and treated appropriately. The second category, acquired flat foot, develops over time, rather than at birth. Many different factors can contribute to the development of flat feet. These include the types of shoes a child wears, a child's sitting or sleeping positions, compensation for other abnormalities further up the leg, or more severe factors such as rupture of ligaments or tendons in the foot. Very commonly, the reason for flat feet is that the foot is compensating for a tight Achilles tendon. If the Achilles tendon is tight, then it causes the foot to point down, or to plantarflex (as occurs when stepping on the accelerator of your car). Even minimal amounts of plantarflexion can simulate a longer leg on that particular side, assuming that the other foot is in the normal position. The body therefore tries to compensate by pronating, or flattening out the arch, thereby making up for the perceived extra length on the affected side.
Feet tire easily and become painful and achy, especially around the arch, ankle and heel. Swelling on the inside bottom of your feet. Back and leg pain. Difficulty standing on toes.
You can test yourself to see if you have flat feet or fallen arches by using a simple home experiment. First, dip your feet in water. Then step on a hard flat surface, like a dry floor or a piece of paper on the floor, where your footprints will show. Step away and examine your foot prints. If you see complete/full imprints of your feet on the floor, you may have fallen arches. However, it?s important to seek a second option from a podiatrist if you suspect you have fallen arches so they can properly diagnose and treat you.
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Non Surgical Treatment
If you have flat feet you may not necessarily need treatment -- sometimes a child or even an adult will have low arches and have no problems. It's normal for a baby's or young child's feet to appear flat until the structure of their feet is more fully developed. If flat feet are contributing to secondary problems, especially leg or foot pain, treatment may be necessary. Flat feet can sometimes cause difficulty walking or running and interfere with athletic activities. A visit to a podiatrist will involve an evaluation of foot structure and function. Besides a foot exam, a visit may include foot X-rays and an analysis of your feet while walking. Your podiatrist may prescribe arch supports or orthotics to control the pronation. While orthotics and arch supports don't permanently correct the shape of the arch, they do help control excess pronation that may be causing wear-and-tear on your muscles and joints. Sneakers with a design called motion control are also helpful for overpronators. This style of sneaker has a design that creates more stability by limiting movement in the heel and arch area of the shoe. Additionally, physical therapy and stretching exercises may be in order, especially if tendonitis (tendon inflammation) is present. Flat feet that are the result of congenital or developmental abnormalities may require further intervention, such as bracing, casting or surgical correction. A brace incorporates an arch support into a device that attaches to the lower leg, giving extra support and flat-foot control. Bracing or foot surgery may also be warranted in cases when flat feet are caused by neurological diseases or are aggravated by posterior tibial tendonitis, which can be a long-term complication of flat feet. Casting is a method used for children whose flat feet are caused by bone positional abnormalities, such as metatarsus adductus. It involves using a series of casts to assist in re-aligning leg and foot bones to their proper anatomical position.
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.
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.