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Foot Concerns Sorted

Fallen Arches Explained

Overview

Adult Acquired Flat Feet

It is rare to find someone who walks with both feet in perfect alignment. A foot that is flat or has a very high arch does not necessarily require treatment unless there is pain. Often we walk on the inside or outsides of our feet, or with our toes or heels rotated inward or outward more than they should be. These atypical walking patterns can cause many problems not just with the feet but also for the whole body as the alignment of the feet sets the foundation for the whole body?s alignment. One of the most common effects of improper alignment is known as flatfoot, or pes planus.

Causes

Inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can cause a painful flatfoot. This type of arthritis attacks not only the cartilage in the joints, but also the ligaments that support the foot. Inflammatory arthritis not only causes pain, but also causes the foot to change shape and become flat. The arthritis can affect the back of the foot or the middle of foot, both of which can result in a fallen arch. An injury to the ligaments in the foot can cause the joints to fall out of alignment. The ligaments support the bones and prevent them from moving. If the ligaments are torn, the foot will become flat and painful. This more commonly occurs in the middle of the foot (Lisfranc injury), but can also occur in the back of the foot. In addition to ligament injuries, fractures and dislocations of the bones in the midfoot can also lead to a flatfoot deformity. People with diabetes or with a nerve problem that limits normal feeling in the feet, can have arch collapse. This type of arch collapse is typically more severe than that seen in patients with normal feeling in their feet. This is because patients do not feel pain as the arch collapses. In addition to the ligaments not holding the bones in place, the bones themselves can sometimes fracture and disintegrate, without the patient feeling any pain. This may result in a severely deformed foot that is very challenging to correct with surgery. Special shoes or braces are the best method for dealing with this problem.

Symptoms

Most people do not exhibit any symptoms of flat feet, but if the condition is due to an underlying problem, symptoms can include foot pain, mainly in the arch or heel areas, difficulty standing on tiptoes, swelling that occurs on the inside of the ankle, pain in the calf, knee, hip, or lower leg area, both feet lie flat on the ground with no gap, Shoes may not fit properly, heel may tilt away from the midline of the body more than usual, absence of foot arch when standing. If you are experiencing these symptoms and have flat feet, you should consider seeing your doctor or a podiatrist immediately for an examination.

Diagnosis

People who have flat feet without signs or symptoms that bother them do not generally have to see a doctor or podiatrist about them. However, if any of the following occur, you should see your GP or a podiatrist. The fallen arches (flat feet) have developed recently. You experience pain in your feet, ankles or lower limbs. Your unpleasant symptoms do not improve with supportive, well-fitted shoes. Either or both feet are becoming flatter. Your feet feel rigid (stiff). Your feet feel heavy and unwieldy. Most qualified health care professionals can diagnose flat feet just by watching the patient stand, walk and examining his/her feet. A doctor will also look at the patient's medical history. The feet will be observed from the front and back. The patient may be asked to stand on tip-toe while the doctor examines the shape and functioning of each foot. In some cases the physician may order an X-ray, CT (computed tomography) scan, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan.

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Non Surgical Treatment

Treatment of flat feet may be appropriate if there is associated foot or lower leg pain, or if the condition affects the knees or the lower back. Treatment may include using Orthoses such as an arch support, foot gymnastics or other exercises as recommended by a podiatrist/orthotist or physical therapist. In cases of severe flat feet, orthoses should be used through a gradual process to lessen discomfort. Over several weeks, slightly more material is added to the orthosis to raise the arch. These small changes allow the foot structure to adjust gradually, as well as giving the patient time to acclimatise to the sensation of wearing orthoses. Once prescribed, orthoses are generally worn for the rest of the patient's life. In some cases, surgery can provide lasting relief, and even create an arch where none existed before; it should be considered a last resort, as it is usually very time consuming and costly.

Surgical Treatment

Adult Acquired Flat Feet

This is rare and usually only offered if patients have significant abnormalities in their bones or muscles. Treatments include joint fusion, reshaping the bones in the foot, and occasionally moving around tendons in the foot to help balance out the stresses (called tendon transfer). Flat feet and fallen arches are common conditions that are in most cases asymptomatic. However, in patients who do have symptoms, treatments are available that can help reduce pain and promote efficient movement. Orthotic devices are well recognised as an excellent treatment and podiatrists can offer these different treatment modalities as individualised treatments for patients.

Prevention

Going barefoot, particularly over terrain such as a beach where muscles are given a good workout, is good for all but the most extremely flatfooted, or those with certain related conditions such as plantar fasciitis. Ligament laxity is also among the factors known to be associated with flat feet. One medical study in India with a large sample size of children who had grown up wearing shoes and others going barefoot found that the longitudinal arches of the bare footers were generally strongest and highest as a group, and that flat feet were less common in children who had grown up wearing sandals or slippers than among those who had worn closed-toe shoes. Focusing on the influence of footwear on the prevalence of pes planus, the cross-sectional study performed on children noted that wearing shoes throughout early childhood can be detrimental to the development of a normal or a high medial longitudinal arch. The vulnerability for flat foot among shoe-wearing children increases if the child has an associated ligament laxity condition. The results of the study suggest that children be encouraged to play barefooted on various surfaces of terrain and that slippers and sandals are less harmful compared to closed-toe shoes. It appeared that closed-toe shoes greatly inhibited the development of the arch of the foot more so than slippers or sandals. This conclusion may be a result of the notion that intrinsic muscle activity of the arch is required to prevent slippers and sandals from falling off the child?s foot.

After Care

Patients may go home the day of surgery or they may require an overnight hospital stay. The leg will be placed in a splint or cast and should be kept elevated for the first two weeks. At that point, sutures are removed. A new cast or a removable boot is then placed. It is important that patients do not put any weight on the corrected foot for six to eight weeks following the operation. Patients may begin bearing weight at eight weeks and usually progress to full weightbearing by 10 to 12 weeks. For some patients, weightbearing requires additional time. After 12 weeks, patients commonly can transition to wearing a shoe. Inserts and ankle braces are often used. Physical therapy may be recommended. There are complications that relate to surgery in general. These include the risks associated with anesthesia, infection, damage to nerves and blood vessels, and bleeding or blood clots. Complications following flatfoot surgery may include wound breakdown or nonunion (incomplete healing of the bones). These complications often can be prevented with proper wound care and rehabilitation. Occasionally, patients may notice some discomfort due to prominent hardware. Removal of hardware can be done at a later time if this is an issue. The overall complication rates for flatfoot surgery are low.
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