Our feet are incredibly well specialized structures. There are 26 different bones in each foot, held together by 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments (in each foot). They way they weave and align together determine the formation of our arches. The aim of the arches is to give us spring and distribute our body weight across our feet and legs. The structures of the arches of our feet determine how we walk - they are rigid levels which allow us to move smoothly. However, the arches need to be sturdy as well as flexible to adapt to various surfaces and stresses. During childhood it is normal to have flat feet. This is because our feet form during our childhood. In other words, having what appears to be flat feet during early childhood does not necessarily mean that it will persist throughout the individual's life. People with very low arches or what appear to be no arches at all may experience no problems.
Over-pronation is a common biomechanical problem that occurs when the arches collapse while walking or standing. This condition hampers our natural walking pattern, causing an imbalance, and leading to wear and tear in other parts of the body with every step we take. Whether you suffer from over-pronation like most of the population, or you have a true flat foot, in both cases your poor walking pattern may contribute to a range of different complaints. As we age, poor aligment of the feet causes very common conditions such as heel pain or knee pain. Over-pronation has different causes. Obesity, pregnancy, age or repetitive pounding on a hard surface can weaken the arch, leading to over-pronation. Over-pronation is also very common with athletes, especially runners, who most of them nowadays use orthotics inside their shoes.
The majority of children and adults with flexible flatfeet never have symptoms. However, their toes may tend to point outward as they walk, a condition called out-toeing. A person who develops symptoms usually complains of tired, aching feet, especially after prolonged standing or walking. Symptoms of rigid flatfoot vary depending on the cause of the foot problem. Congenital vertical talus. The foot of a newborn with congenital vertical talus typically has a convex rocker-bottom shape. This is sometimes combined with an actual fold in the middle of the foot. The rare person who is diagnosed at an older age often has a "peg-leg" gait, poor balance and heavy calluses on the soles where the arch would normally be. If a child with congenital vertical talus has a genetic disorder, additional symptoms often are seen in other parts of the body. Tarsal coalition. Many people have no symptoms, and the condition is discovered only by chance when an X-ray of the foot is obtained for some other problem. When symptoms occur, there is usually foot pain that begins at the outside rear of the foot. The pain tends to spread upward to the outer ankle and to the outside portion of the lower leg. Symptoms usually start during a child's teenage years and are aggravated by playing sports or walking on uneven ground. In some cases, the condition is discovered when a child is evaluated for unusually frequent ankle sprains. Lateral subtalar dislocation. Because this often is caused by a traumatic, high-impact injury, the foot may be significantly swollen and deformed. There also may be an open wound with bruising and bleeding.
Runners are often advised to get a gait analysis to determine what type of foot they have and so what kind of running shoe they require. This shouldn?t stop at runners. Anyone that plays sports could benefit from this assessment. Sports shoes such as football boots, astro trainers and squash trainers often have very poor arch support and so for the 60-80% of us who do overpronate or have flat feet they are left unsupported. A change of footwear or the insertion of arch support insoles or orthotics can make a massive difference to your risk of injury, to general aches and pains and even to your performance.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of flat feet may be appropriate if there is associated foot or lower leg pain, or if the condition affects the knees or the lower back. Treatment may include using Orthoses such as an arch support, foot gymnastics or other exercises as recommended by a podiatrist/orthotist or physical therapist. In cases of severe flat feet, orthoses should be used through a gradual process to lessen discomfort. Over several weeks, slightly more material is added to the orthosis to raise the arch. These small changes allow the foot structure to adjust gradually, as well as giving the patient time to acclimatise to the sensation of wearing orthoses. Once prescribed, orthoses are generally worn for the rest of the patient's life. In some cases, surgery can provide lasting relief, and even create an arch where none existed before; it should be considered a last resort, as it is usually very time consuming and costly.
Surgical correction is dependent on the severity of symptoms and the stage of deformity. The goals of surgery are to create a more functional and stable foot. There are multiple procedures available to the surgeon and it may take several to correct a flatfoot deformity. Stage one deformities usually respond to conservative or non-surgical therapy such as anti-inflammatory medication, casting, functional orthotics or a foot ankle orthosis called a Richie Brace. If these modalities are unsuccessful surgery is warranted. Usually surgical treatment begins with removal of inflammatory tissue and repair of the posterior tibial tendon. A tendon transfer is performed if the posterior tibial muscle is weak or the tendon is badly damaged. The most commonly used tendon is the flexor digitorum longus tendon. This tendon flexes or moves the lesser toes downward. The flexor digitorum longus tendon is utilized due to its close proximity to the posterior tibial tendon and because there are minimal side effects with its loss. The remainder of the tendon is sutured to the flexor hallucis longus tendon that flexes the big toe so that little function is loss. Stage two deformities are less responsive to conservative therapies that can be effective in mild deformities. Bone procedures are necessary at this stage in order to recreate the arch and stabilize the foot. These procedures include isolated fusion procedures, bone grafts, and/or the repositioning of bones through cuts called osteotomies. The realigned bones are generally held in place with screws, pins, plates, or staples while the bone heals. A tendon transfer may or may not be utilized depending on the condition of the posterior tibial tendon. Stage three deformities are better treated with surgical correction, in healthy patients. Patients that are unable to tolerate surgery or the prolonged healing period are better served with either arch supports known as orthotics or bracing such as the Richie Brace. Surgical correction at this stage usually requires fusion procedures such as a triple or double arthrodesis. This involves fusing the two or three major bones in the back of the foot together with screws or pins. The most common joints fused together are the subtalar joint, talonavicular joint, and the calcaneocuboid joint. By fusing the bones together the surgeon is able to correct structural deformity and alleviate arthritic pain. Tendon transfer procedures are usually not beneficial at this stage. Stage four deformities are treated similarly but with the addition of fusing the ankle joint.
Going barefoot, particularly over terrain such as a beach where muscles are given a good workout, is good for all but the most extremely flatfooted, or those with certain related conditions such as plantar fasciitis. Ligament laxity is also among the factors known to be associated with flat feet. One medical study in India with a large sample size of children who had grown up wearing shoes and others going barefoot found that the longitudinal arches of the bare footers were generally strongest and highest as a group, and that flat feet were less common in children who had grown up wearing sandals or slippers than among those who had worn closed-toe shoes. Focusing on the influence of footwear on the prevalence of pes planus, the cross-sectional study performed on children noted that wearing shoes throughout early childhood can be detrimental to the development of a normal or a high medial longitudinal arch. The vulnerability for flat foot among shoe-wearing children increases if the child has an associated ligament laxity condition. The results of the study suggest that children be encouraged to play barefooted on various surfaces of terrain and that slippers and sandals are less harmful compared to closed-toe shoes. It appeared that closed-toe shoes greatly inhibited the development of the arch of the foot more so than slippers or sandals. This conclusion may be a result of the notion that intrinsic muscle activity of the arch is required to prevent slippers and sandals from falling off the child?s foot.