If you look at an adult foot from the inside, you'll usually notice an upward curve in the middle. This is called an arch. Tendons, tight bands that attach at the heel and foot bones form the arch. Several tendons in your foot and lower leg work together to form the arches in your foot. When the tendons all pull the proper amount, then your foot forms a moderate, normal arch. When tendons do not pull together properly, there is little or no arch. This is called flat foot or fallen arch.
Most commonly fallen arches in adulthood can arise due to Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction (PTTD). The posterior tibial tendon plays a pivotal role in holding up the arch of the foot, damage to this tendon results in the arch collapsing. Another cause of acquired flat feet in adulthood may be due to Rheumatoid arthritis as this disease attacks the bone, cartilage and ligaments in the foot causing it to change shape and flatten. Injury to the ligament, fracture and/or dislocation of the bones in the mid foot can all lead to a flat foot deformity. Adult acquired flat fleet can also arise in people who have diabetes or a neurological condition which limits normal feeling in the foot, the muscles in feet switch off, the tendons and ligaments weaken, and the arch eventually collapses.
The primary symptom of flatfeet is the absence of an arch upon standing. Additional signs of flatfeet include the following. Foot pain. Pain or weakness in the lower legs. Pain or swelling on the inside of the ankle. Uneven shoe wear. While most cases of flatfeet do not cause problems, complications can sometimes occur. Complications include the following, bunions and calluses, inability to walk or run normally, inflammation and pain in the bottom of the foot (plantar fasciitis), tendonitis in the Achilles heel and other ligaments, pain in the ankles, knees, and hips due to improper alignment, shin splints, stress fractures in the lower legs.
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
The type of treatment will depend on the stage of PTTD present. There are four stages of posterior tibial tendon dysfunction. Stage I. The posterior tibial tendon is inflamed but has normal strength. There is little to no change in the arch of the foot. The patient can still perform a single-limb heel rise and has a flexible hindfoot. Orthotic treatment options include modified off the shelf inserts and custom molded orthotics. Stage 2. The tendon is partially torn or shows degenerative changes and as a result loses strength.There is considerable flattening of the arch without arthritic changes in the foot. The patient cannot perform single-limb heel rise. Pain is now present on the lateral aspect of the ankle. Orthotic treatment is similar as that in stage I, with the addition of more rigid arch supports and wedging. Stage 3. Results when the posterior tibial tendon is torn and not functioning. As a result the arch is completely collapsed with arthritic changes in the foot. A solid ankle AFO is suggested in conjunction with a modified orthopedic shoe. Stage 4. Is identical to stage three except that the ankle joint also becomes arthritic. A rigid AFO and modified orthopedic shoe is required.
In cases of flat feet that have progressed substantially or have failed to improve with non-surgical treatment, surgery may be required and in some advanced cases, surgery may be the only option. Your foot and ankle surgeon will determine the best approach for you.