Our feet have arches that are maintained by the bones, tendons and muscles of the feet. These arches help us in walking and running by transferring body weight evenly over the whole of the feet. Hence these arches are important for locomotion. One of the arches is the longitudinal arch. If this arch is not high enough or comes in contact with the ground as one walks, the condition is referred to as flat feet or fallen arch.
Infants and toddlers sometimes have flat feet. The arch however, develops between 4 and 8 years. In adults, the condition may be caused by age, injury or pregnancy. In most cases, flat feet are not a cause of worry. However, sometimes certain problems in children as well as adults (like joint pain and pain in the tendons) may be a cause of concern.
Many people, almost 25% of Americans (who have flat feet), do not complain of any problems. However, that doesn't mean that it is a deformity that would not have any side effects. There are certain flat feet complications, the most common of these are pain in the foot, knee and the hip.
People with flat feet tend to pronate or roll their feet inwards when they walk. This causes the leg to rotate inwards. With internal rotation, there is stress on the hips that results in hip pain.
It is again for the same reason of rolling in their feet, that people with flat feet may experience knee pain. Turning the knees inwards, so that they face each other, causes an unnatural alignment of the knees. This may cause knee pain in those with flat feet.
Excessive flattening of the foot causes the joints to move beyond their normal range. This damages the bones at the joints and may result in arthritis.
Every time a person with flat feet steps on the floor, his feet elongate. This causes an excess pull on the plantar fascia, which is known as the arch tendon of the foot. Repeated elongation may lead to the inflammation of the structure. This condition is known as plantar fasciitis.
Unnatural positioning of the feet causes excess strain on the tendons of the legs and feet. This may lead to tendonitis.
Other concerns are :
- Shin splints, which refers to pain in the front part of the lower leg
- Fractures in the lower legs
- Corns and Calluses
If you are suffering from any of the above due to your flat feet, there are numerous ways to tackle your problems. You can try any of the following treatment methods.
These are arch supports that may be available over-the-counter or custom-made as per one's requirement. Orthotics provide the foot support that is missing due to flat feet and make up for the biomechanical inadequacy due to the flattened arch. Custom-made orthotics are more preferable to the over-the-counter varieties, as these fit better on one's feet. Orthotics can help alleviate pain and prevent further flattening of the arch. This in turn reduces the need for flat feet surgery.
Additional Foot Support
In case one has posterior tibial tendinitis, he may be required to use additional foot support like ankle braces or walking boots, till the inflammation of the tendon has healed.
Certain over-the-counter medicines may also be suggested by the doctor. However, these don't have a direct role to play in the treatment. These medicines are prescribed to relieve flat feet pain.
There are special shoes for those with flat feet. These shoes offer support to the legs. From dress shoes to running shoes, there are quite a few options as far as footwear for people with flat feet is concerned.
There are some exercises that one's doctor may advise one to do on a regular basis. These exercises help one to strengthen his foot and leg muscles, that would help his legs to better take the strain of balancing one's weight in the absence of the arch.
Flat feet surgery is an option in certain cases. Usually it involves repairing the damaged tendons and in rare cases fusion of joints may also be required. However, there is always the added risk of developing infection or the fusions not healing in a proper way.
As it has already been mentioned, many people with flat feet do not feel any discomfort. However, in case one suffers from any of the problems discussed in this article, proper medical attention is necessary. Be it in children or in grown-ups, timely treatment can reduce the inconvenience as well as the complications due to flat feet.