Flat Feet


Flat feet occur when the arch of the foot becomes flattened and the entirety of the sole comes into contact with the floor during weight bearing activities such as standing or walking. In some cases the arches fail to fully develop during childhood but this condition can also develop after an injury or from overuse as well as the aging process in general.

While most people with flat feet do not develop painful symptoms other cases may cause problems such as swelling in the feet or ankles, pain and/or swelling in the arch of the feet, pain in the knee, calf, hip, back and lower leg area in general.

The ankles and knees may be affected as this condition can alter the alignment of the body, particularly in the hips and legs. Stiffness in one or both feet is also a common complaint, and many sufferers find that their shoes wear unevenly. People with flat feet are also at higher risk for developing Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, hammertoe, plantar fasciitis, arthritis in the ankles and feet, and posterior tibial tendonitis.

There are several factors other than aging and injury that increase the risk of developing flat feet. These risks include obesity, family history, rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy, nervous system diseases such as muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy, diabetes and tarsal coalition (unusual fusion of the bones in the feet).

The most common method of diagnosis is a physical examination by a doctor, though most cases of flat foot are easily observable, however, many healthcare professionals will also be interested in observing the deeper mechanics of the feet. X-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, and MRI’s may be used to gather more information about the structure of the feet and any underlying factors that may be contributing to the problem.

If the patient remains pain-free then steps are not usually taken to correct flat feet, as it is a relatively harmless condition unless it interferes with quality of life. When discomfort does occur the first line of treatment usually involves the introduction of orthotic devices in the form of arch supports. While orthotic devices won’t ‘cure’ flat feet they often reduce discomfort.

It sometimes happens that people with flat feet also have a markedly short Achilles tendon, so stretching exercise often help reduce the pain, as does proper foot wear. A shoe that provides adequate support is highly recommended as sandals or shoes with minimal structure may aggravate the problem.

Regardless of the preferred treatment method when discomfort is especially acute most doctors recommend using the RICE method to alleviate or reduce pain symptoms. R.I.C.E stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, and it is widely recommended for a variety of lower limb discomforts. Patients may also be advised to lose weight in order to reduce pressure on the arches of the feet.

While surgery is never performed for the sole purpose of correcting flat feet it may be introduced as a way to treat an associated problem such as tear or rupture to a related tendon. Flat feet can cause secondary problems in some patients and it is these secondary problems that may require surgical intervention and not the initial occurrence of flat foot.

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