Flexible flatfeet are considered normal in young children because babies are not born with a normal arch. The arch may not form fully until sometime between ages 7 and 10. Even in adulthood, 15% to 25% of people have flexible flatfeet. Most of these people never develop symptoms. In many adults who have had flexible flatfeet since childhood, the missing arch is an inherited condition related to a general looseness of ligaments. These people usually have extremely flexible, very mobile joints throughout the body, not only in the feet. Flatfeet also can develop during adulthood. Causes include joint disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and disorders of nerve function (neuropathy). Unlike a flexible flatfoot, a rigid flatfoot is often the result of a significant problem affecting the structure or alignment of the bones that make up the foot's arch. Some common causes of rigid flatfeet include. Congenital vertical talus. In this condition, there is no arch because the foot bones are not aligned properly. In some cases, there is a reverse curve (rocker-bottom foot, in which the shape is like the bottom rails of a rocking chair) in place of the normal arch. Congenital vertical talus is a rare condition present at birth. It often is associated with a genetic disorder, such as Down syndrome, or other congenital disorders. The cause is unknown in up to half of cases. Tarsal coalition (peroneal spastic flatfoot). In this inherited condition, two or more of the foot bones are fused together, interfering with the flexibility of the foot and eliminating the normal arch. A rare condition, it often affects several generations of the same family. Lateral subtalar dislocation. Sometimes called an acquired flatfoot, it occurs in someone who originally had a normal foot arch. In a lateral subtalar dislocation, there is a dislocation of the talus bone, located within the arch of the foot. The dislocated talus bone slips out of place, drops downward and sideways and collapses the arch. It usually occurs suddenly because of a high-impact injury related to a fall from a height, a motor vehicle accident or participation in sports, and it may be associated with fractures or other injuries.
When flat feet develop at a later age, they are known as fallen arches. The arches may fall because the muscles supporting them are no longer able to do so. In addition the spring ligament within the foot may have lost some of its tension allowing the arch of the foot to flatten. Other conditions causing fallen arches include sudden weight gain, a nervous system injury, or a loss of sensation caused by a disease such as diabetes. Most people with fallen arches are flat on both feet.
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.
Most children and adults with flatfeet do not need to see a physician for diagnosis or treatment. However, it is a good idea to see a doctor if the feet tire easily or are painful after standing, it is difficult to move the foot around or stand on the toes, the foot aches, especially in the heel or arch, and there is swelling on the inner side of the foot, the pain interferes with activity or the person has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Most flatfeet are diagnosed during physical examination. During the exam, the foot may be wetted and the patient asked to stand on a piece of paper. An outline of the entire foot will indicate a flattened arch. Also, when looking at the feet from behind, the ankle and heel may appear to lean inward (pronation). The patient may be asked to walk so the doctor can see how much the arch flattens during walking. The doctor may also examine the patient's shoes for signs of uneven wear, ask questions about a family history of flatfeet, and inquire about known neurological or muscular diseases. Imaging tests may be used to help in the diagnosis. If there is pain or the arch does not appear when the foot is flexed, x-rays are taken to determine the cause. If tarsal coalition is suspected, computed tomography (CT scan) may be performed, and if an injury to the tendons is suspected, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan) may be performed.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment for flat feet and fallen arches depends on the severity and cause of the problem. If flat feet cause no pain or other difficulties, then treatment is probably not needed. In other cases, your doctor may suggest one or more of these treatments. Rest and ice to relieve pain and reduce swelling, stretching exercises, pain relief medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, orthotic devices, shoe modifications, braces, or casts, injected medications to reduce inflammation, such as corticosteroids. If pain or foot damage is severe, your doctor may recommend surgery.
Feet that do not respond to the treatments above may need surgery. The surgery will help to create a supportive arch.
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.