Feet are very variable in shape within and between ethnic groups as well as in populations generally. There is not a normal profile but a wide variation with people with foot profiles at the extremes being very high arched or very low arched, with most people somewhere nearer the middle. What will dictate the general profile of a foot is the bony shape and the soft tissue support. The first thing to say about flat feet and fallen arches is that they are not medical terms and therefore have different meaning to different people. Therefore this question is not as easy as it first might seem. Pes Planus is the medical term for flat feet.
Having low or no arches is normal for some people. In these cases, flat feet are usually inherited and the feet are fairly flexible. Occasionally, flat feet can be caused by an abnormality that develops in the womb, such as a problem with a joint or where two or more bones are fused together. This is known as tarsal coalition and results in the feet being flat and stiff. Flat feet that develop in later life can be caused by a condition that affects the joints, such as arthritis, or an injury to a muscle, tendon or joint in the foot. Conditions that affect the nervous system (brain and spinal cord) can also cause the arches to fall. Over time, the muscles gradually become stiffer and weaker and lose their flexibility. Conditions where this can occur include cerebral palsy, spina bifida and muscular dystrophy. Adult-acquired flat feet often affect women over 40 years of age. It often goes undiagnosed and develops when the tendon that supports the foot arch gradually stretches over time. It's not fully understood what causes the tendon to become stretched, but some experts believe that wearing high heels and standing or walking for long periods may play a part. Obesity, high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes are all risk factors. Recent research has found a link with changes to the tendon in the foot and an increase in a type of protein called proteolytic enzyme. These enzymes can break down some areas of the tendon, weakening it and causing the foot arch to fall. Similar changes are also seen in other conditions, such as Achilles tendonitis. This could have important implications for treating flat feet because medication that specifically targets these enzymes could provide an alternative to surgery. However, further research is needed and this type of treatment is thought to be about 10 to 15 years away.
Flat feet don't usually cause problems, but they can put a strain on your muscles and ligaments (ligaments link two bones together at a joint). This may cause pain in your legs when you walk. If you have flat feet, you may experience pain in any of the following areas, the inside of your ankle, the arch of your foot, the outer side of your foot, the calf, the knee, hip or back. Some people with flat feet find that their weight is distributed unevenly, particularly if their foot rolls inwards too much (overpronates). If your foot overpronates, your shoes are likely to wear out quickly. Overpronation can also damage your ankle joint and Achilles tendon (the large tendon at the back of your ankle).
Many medical professionals can diagnose a flat foot by examining the patient standing or just looking at them. On going up onto tip toe the deformity will correct when this is a flexible flat foot in a child with lax joints. Such correction is not seen in the adult with a rigid flat foot. An easy and traditional home diagnosis is the "wet footprint" test, performed by wetting the feet in water and then standing on a smooth, level surface such as smooth concrete or thin cardboard or heavy paper. Usually, the more the sole of the foot that makes contact (leaves a footprint), the flatter the foot. In more extreme cases, known as a kinked flatfoot, the entire inner edge of the footprint may actually bulge outward, where in a normal to high arch this part of the sole of the foot does not make contact with the ground at all.
Non Surgical Treatment
There are different modalities of treatment that are available to manage flat feet and fallen arches. The type of treatment that is chosen depends upon how severe the condition is and what symptoms the patients are experiencing. Below is a brief description of the available treatment modalities. In the event that the patient is experiencing swelling of the feet, rest and ice application is usually the initial treatment step. Oral anti-inflammatories may be offered which can help reduce inflammation as well as associated pain. Physical therapy has good outcomes and can include different exercises such as stretches and strengthening of the surrounding muscles. Changes in footwear and activity modification are also important when dealing with a painful flat (pronated) foot. These days, orthotic insoles are easily available either over the counter or through your Podiatrist which can effectively help maintain the arch of the foot and reduce the amount of stress placed on the foot. Podiatrists are able to prescribe a variety of different devices from prefabricated to customized and are trained to determine the most appropriate device for each individual. In order to offer the right kind of orthotic insole, podiatrists may perform a test called gait analysis. This involves asking the patient to walk and videoing the different movements that the foot of forms during the walking. Features such as over pronation can be easily seen on this and orthotic insoles can be prescribed to correct the specific abnormalities that are picked up on this analysis. Overall, orthotic treatment can result in a significant improvement in foot movement and reduction in foot discomfort.
A combination of surgical procedures can be used to reconstruct the flatfoot. Generally, these procedures can be separated into those that correct deformities of the bones and those that repair ligaments and tendons. Your orthopaedic surgeon will choose the proper combination of procedures for your foot. Surgery of the foot can be performed under regional anesthesia, which is numbing the foot and ankle with a nerve or spinal block, or general anesthesia, which may require a breathing tube. A nerve block is often placed behind the knee to reduce pain after surgery.