Fairly common in infants and small children, but also prevalent in adults, flat feet becomes a problem if pain or discomfort is present in the foot or even around the knee and lower leg area. Pain around the knee and lower leg areas can arise because flat feet can alter proper foot and leg alignment, which will put unusual strain on the knee. Adults can develop the condition as the result of injury or even from normal wear and tear due to the natural aging process.
Flat feet are often a congenital problem which has no specific cause. They can however occur after an injury, especially conditions such as Tibialis Posterior Syndrome or more traumatic injuries such as fractures or mid-tarsal joint sprains. The other thing to look out for is Overpronation. Often this is confused with having flat feet (or a fallen arch) although it is not technically the same thing. If an individual does not have flat feet but does overpronate then the arch of their foot appears to be normal when standing. However, when they walk the arch collapses and the foot rolls in excessively. This is more difficult to spot than flat feet. It is estimated that between 60 and 80% of the population overpronate!
Pain and stiffness of the medial arch or anywhere along the mid-portion of the foot. Associated discomfort within and near the ankle joint. The knees, hips, and lower back may be the primary source of discomfort. Feet may often feel tired and achy. Painful shin splints may develop with activity. Gait may be awkward.
If your child has flatfeet, his or her doctor will ask about any family history of flatfeet or inherited foot problems. In a person of any age, the doctor will ask about occupational and recreational activities, previous foot trauma or foot surgery and the type of shoes worn. The doctor will examine your shoes to check for signs of excessive wear. Worn shoes often provide valuable clues to gait problems and poor bone alignment. The doctor will ask you to walk barefoot to evaluate the arches of the feet, to check for out-toeing and to look for other signs of poor foot mechanics. The doctor will examine your feet for foot flexibility and range of motion and feel for any tenderness or bony abnormalities. Depending on the results of this physical examination, foot X-rays may be recommended. X-rays are always performed in a young child with rigid flatfeet and in an adult with acquired flatfeet due to trauma.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of flat feet really depends on how far the damage has progressed. Conservative treatments often include immobilization (often by cast or brace) to reduce inflammation. Your doctor may also recommend anti-inflammatory medication (like ibuprofen) to get your inflamed tendon to calm down a bit. Orthotics can also offer significant relief. If these treatments fail to significantly improve symptoms, then surgery may be your best option to get the structure of your body back where it needs to be. Your podiatrist can discuss surgical options with you in great depth.
Surgery is typically offered as a last resort in people with significant pain that is resistant to other therapies. The treatment of a rigid flatfoot depends on its cause. Congenital vertical talus. Your doctor may suggest a trial of serial casting. The foot is placed in a cast and the cast is changed frequently to reposition the foot gradually. However, this generally has a low success rate. Most people ultimately need surgery to correct the problem. Tarsal coalition. Treatment depends on your age, extent of bone fusion and severity of symptoms. For milder cases, your doctor may recommend nonsurgical treatment with shoe inserts, wrapping of the foot with supportive straps or temporarily immobilizing the foot in a cast. For more severe cases, surgery is necessary to relieve pain and improve the flexibility of the foot. Lateral subtalar dislocation. The goal is to move the dislocated bone back into place as soon as possible. If there is no open wound, the doctor may push the bone back into proper alignment without making an incision. Anesthesia is usually given before this treatment. Once this is accomplished, a short leg cast must be worn for about four weeks to help stabilize the joint permanently. About 15% to 20% of people with lateral subtalar dislocation must be treated with surgery to reposition the dislocated bone.