Flat feet are a common condition. In infants and toddlers, the longitudinal arch is not developed and flat feet are normal. Most feet are flexible and an arch appears when the person stands on his or her toes. The arch develops in childhood, and by adulthood most people have developed normal arches. Most flat feet usually do not cause pain or other problems. Flat feet may be associated with pronation, a leaning inward of the ankle bones toward the center line. Shoes of children who pronate, when placed side by side, will lean toward each other (after they have been worn long enough for the foot position to remodel their shape). Foot pain, ankle pain or lower leg pain, especially in children, may be a result of flat feet and should be evaluated.
There are several reasons why arch pain develops. Sometimes it?s due to a condition known as plantar fasciitis, in which the plantar fascia (the band of tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot from your heel to your toes) becomes inflamed after excessive stress. Heel pain results from this inflammation. Sometimes the pain is due to extensive time spent on your feet. Many people feel pain on the arch of their feet after a long workday, while others overuse their feet exercising or playing sports. A foot deformity, such as hammertoe or clubfoot, can also cause this pain. Medical conditions such as diabetes or obesity can put additional stress on your feet, thereby causing arch pain. Your footwear is also important. Shoes should support all parts of your foot, especially the bottom. This is very important if you spend excessive time on your feet, if your obese, if your pregnant, or if you engage in sport-related activities. Injuries to any of the twenty-six bones, thirty-three joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments in the feet can also cause arch pain. Because the foot is such a complex structure, it?s important to see a podiatrist at the first sign of symptoms.
Plantar fasciitis is most often seen in middle-aged men and women, but can be found in all age groups. The condition is diagnosed with the classic symptoms of pain well focused deep in the heel area of the bottom of the foot. Often the pain from plantar fasciitis is most severe when you first stand on your feet in the morning. Pain often subsides quite quickly, but then returns after prolonged standing or walking. Plantar fasciitis is sometimes, but not always, associated with a rapid gain of weight. It is also sometimes seen in recreational athletes, especially runners. In these athletes, it is thought that the repetitive nature of the sports causes the damage to the fibrous tissue that forms the arch of the foot.
A patient is asked to step with full body weight on the symptomatic foot, keeping the unaffected foot off the ground. The patient is then instructed to “raise up on the tip toes” of the affected foot. If the posterior tibial tendon has been attenuated or ruptured, the patient will be unable to lift the heel off the floor and rise onto the toes. In less severe cases, the patient will be able to rise on the toes, but the heel will not be noted to invert as it normally does when we rise onto the toes. X-rays can be helpful but are not diagnostic of the adult acquired flatfoot. Both feet, the symptomatic and asymptomatic – will demonstrate a flatfoot deformity on x-ray. Careful observation may show a greater severity of deformity on the affected side.
Non Surgical Treatment
Relieving the pain caused by plantar fasciitis boils down to two basic needs. Reduce the inflammation. Support and stretch the plantar fascia. If you can accomplish those two goals, you should note pain relief more quickly. Doctors treating plantar fasciitis will recommend the following options for accomplishing this. Rest, Get off your feet as much as possible when the pain is at its worst. If you must walk or run, try to stay off hard, unforgiving surfaces and wear supporting footwear. Use ice on the arch several times a day to help reduce swelling if necessary. Take Tylenol, Advil, or other over-the-counter pain relievers that contain acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen to help lessen the inflammation and ease pain. Stretch your toes, calves, and foot repeatedly throughout the day to keep the plantar fasciia limber. Purchase insoles, inserts, or orthopedic shoes designed to support the arch of the foot and wear them at all times. Purchase splints that will stretch the Achilles tendon as you sleep, helping to lessen morning heel pain. If none of the above helps, your doctor may prescribe regular injections of cortisone to control the pain. As a last resort, your doctor may attempt surgery to repair the plantar fascia.
In cases where cast immobilization, orthoses and shoe therapy have failed, surgery is the next alternative. The goal of surgery and non-surgical treatment is to eliminate pain, stop progression of the deformity and improve mobility of the patient. Opinions vary as to the best surgical treatment for adult acquired flatfoot. Procedures commonly used to correct the condition include tendon debridement, tendon transfers, osteotomies (cutting and repositioning of bone) and joint fusions.
Foot and ankle injuries are common in sports, especially running, tennis and soccer. But sports enthusiasts can decrease the risk of injury by taking some precautions. Lightly stretch or better yet, do a slow jog for two to three minutes to warm up the muscles. Don’t force the stretch with a “bouncing motion.” The amount of time spent on the activity should be increased gradually over a period of weeks to build both muscle strength and mobility. Cross training by participating in different activities can help build the muscles. People whose feet pronate or who have low arches should choose shoes that provide support in both the front of the shoe and under the arch. The heel and heel counter (back of the shoe) should be very stable. Those with a stiffer foot or high arches should choose shoes with more cushion and a softer platform. Use sport-specific shoes. Cross training shoes are an overall good choice; however, it is best to use shoes designed for the sport.
Strengthening exercises. Below are two simple strength exercises to help condition the muscles, tendons and joints around the foot and ankle. Plantar Rolling. Place a small tin can or tennis ball under the arch of the affected foot. Slowly move the foot back and forth allowing the tin can or tennis ball to roll around under the arch. This activity will help to stretch, strengthen and massage the affected area. Toe Walking. Stand upright in bare feet and rise up onto the toes and front of the foot. Balance in this position and walk forward in slow, small steps. Maintain an upright, balanced posture, staying as high as possible with each step. Complete three sets of the exercise, with a short break in between sets, for a total of 20 meters.