By Rehan Iqbal
Flat feet (pes planus) may be inherited, or they may develop over time. If your flat feet don’t hurt and are not causing you any problems, your doctor will probably not recommend correcting your condition. If your flat feet are the result of years of stress and strain and excessive weight bearing that has led to painful fallen arches, that is an entirely different matter. In this case, your doctor may recommend treatments including weight loss, exercise, physical therapy and possibly even surgery. In this article, we discuss flat feet and the treatment of this condition. Read on to learn more.
What Do Flat Feet Look Like?
If you have flat feet, you may have little or no arch in your foot when standing. This is common for babies because the arch of the foot develops over time. If the sole of the foot remains flat, after the age of six the condition may or may not cause problems and become painful. About twenty percent of babies never develop foot arches.
Fallen arches also result in flat feet (aka: flatfoot). Your arches may collapse if you are overweight and/or if you otherwise stress your feet with a lot of standing, walking and/or running (especially on very hard surfaces). If you habitually wear non-supportive footwear, your arches are more likely to fall.
Fallen arches can be painful and cause misalignment and pain in your feet. This, in turn, will affect your gait and may cause misalignment and pain in your ankles, legs, knees, hips and lower back. You may find that you are walking differently than you used to, and you may notice that the toes on the affected foot/feet begin to point out to the sides or “drift”.
All Flat Feet Are Not Created Equal
There are four different kinds of flat-footedness:
1. Vertical talus flatfoot is a congenital birth defect that prevents a baby’s arches from forming at all because a bone in the ankle (the talus bone) is positioned incorrectly. This causes the sole of the foot to look something like the rung of a rocking chair. For this reason, this condition is commonly known as rocker-bottom foot.
2. Rigid flat feet show no arch at all, whether weight bearing (standing) or at rest (sitting or reclining). This is usually a progressive condition that begins during the teen years and worsens with the passage of time. Rigid flatfoot is usually painful and can make it hard to move the feet freely from side-to-side or to flex them up and down. Rigid flat foot may affect one foot or both feet.
3. Flexible flat feet have some arch at rest and no arch when weight bearing. This condition may begin in childhood or during the teenage years. This condition is progressive and worsens with the passage of time. Flexible flatfoot can cause tearing, stretching and swelling of the tendons and ligaments in the arch of the foot. This condition may affect one foot or both feet.
4. Fallen arches, or adult-acquired flatfoot, happens when the arch of the foot falls or collapses causing the foot to turn painfully outward. This usually happens because the posterior tibial tendon, which supports the arch, has torn or become inflamed. This tendon is located in the back of the calf. Fallen arches may occur on both feet, but this condition often only affects one foot.
What Are The Risk Factors For Having Or Developing Flat Feet?
Some injuries will predispose you to developing flat feet. Among them are broken bones and/or Achilles tendon injuries.
Health conditions, such as muscular dystrophy, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and/or pregnancy may lead to flat-footedness.
People born with conditions such as Down syndrome or cerebral palsy may also tend to have flat feet.
What Can You Do About Flat Feet?
In many cases, stretching exercises and the use of shoe insert (orthotics) may be all that is needed to relieve minor pain and complications of flat feet. Your doctor may simply examine your feet, make recommendations and send you on your merry way. If more serious intervention is needed, your doctor may refer you to physical therapy.
If you are experiencing more significant pain, it is very likely that you will be able to manage it with rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) and over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
In some cases, use of custom made orthotics or footwear with arch support may be necessary. Sometimes supportive devices, such as leg braces or foot braces can be helpful.
If your doctor finds that you have serious problems with tendons or bones and/or you have very painful rigid flat feet, surgery may be called for.
Should You Try To Fix Flat Feet?
Very often, flat feet cannot be fixed, but they can be managed. This is usually the best approach, and it is important to manage your flat feet with the right footwear, regular exercise and pain management and an overall healthy lifestyle. If you ignore the problem, you are more likely to develop problems such as:
Is It Necessary To See A Doctor About Flat Feet?
Even though it is usually possible to manage flat feet with OTC remedies and healthy lifestyle choices, it is still a good idea to consult your doctor. This is especially true if your arches fall suddenly or if your feet are very stiff and painful. If you are having a hard time walking and balancing, you should definitely see your doctor. Attempting to treat any problem without a proper diagnosis can be a big waste of time and money, and it can endanger your health.