Flat feet also known as a fallen arch, is a condition where a person does not have an arch in the middle of his/her feet. Tendons present in this area are responsible for pulling up the area to form the arch of the foot. When these tendons do not function properly it leads to the falling of the arch and formation of a flat foot.
A flat foot is fairly common and is seen in children and adults alike. The symptoms of the condition include, pain in the feet – especially in the area of the arch, backache that is localized at the lower or mid back, ankle pain and in some cases pain behind the legs. A classic sign of this condition is the inability to stand on ones toes, which is caused due to weak muscles of the arch and those associated with it. (Read: Diabetic foot: Causes, treatment and care)
Diagnosing this condition is extremely simple. All you need to do is look at the shape of the underside of your feet. Another method is to look at the imprint of your feet. If you notice a complete foot print (with the part where the arch forms being present in the foot print like in figure 3) you most likely have a flat foot. Apart from self diagnosis your doctor will most likely like to identify the cause of this condition. Apart from that he/she will perform certain simple physical exams like looking at your walking patterns to check for disproportionate weight distribution and making you stand on your toes. He/she will also check for the health of the associated muscles like the Achilles tendon and muscles around the ankles. You may also be required to have an X-ray and MRI done for better diagnosis.
The causes of this condition are many; they include genetic predisposition, injury to the tendons of the feet, fractures or dislocation of the ankle bones and inflammation of the tendons around the ankle or other factors include obesity, diabetes, age and pregnancy.
Once diagnosed the treatment options are mainly symptomatic and include pain relief with the help of muscle relaxants, cold fomentation to the area to reduce swelling, wearing foot wear that has an inbuilt arch, inclusion of orthotic footwear or braces and physiotherapy. Apart from this the surgical options include:
- Tendon transfer: The tendons attached to the arch are shortened /tightened to help the formation of the arch.
- Arthrodesis: Fusing the bones of the ankle and foot.
- Synovectomy: Removal of the pretective covering of the tendon.
- Excision: Removal of excess bone growth, also known as spurs.
- Lateral column lengthening: Where bone is grafted into the foot in order to make the tendons rise more naturally.
Apart from all this, in children, regular stretching exercises that strengthen the muscles can help in formation of the arch. In the case of adults there are some home remedies you can try. If you have severe pain, try soaking your feet in a bucket of warm water with salt and ajwain. This will help reduce the pain and inflammation. Avoid wearing high heels and modify the shoes you wear to suit your feet. Finally, visiting a physiotherapist to learn exercises that can strengthen the tendons of your feet, is a good idea. (Read: Revealed: Why Indians have weaker bones than Americans and Britons)
Image source: foot-and-ankle-institute.com