Pain or strain in your foot arches is a common sports injury and often linked to inflammation of the plantar fascia, the shock absorption ligament along the bottom of each foot. The pain can also highlight underlying issues to do with the structure of your arches. Arch pain or arch strain, refers to an inflammation and/or burning sensation at the arch of the foot. It is caused by an inflammation which can be brought about by excessive stretching of the plantar fascia, usually due to over-pronation. Left untreated, strain on the longitudinal arch continues and spurs may develop.
Recent research has found a link with changes to the tendon in the foot and an increase in a type of protein called proteolytic enzyme. These enzymes can break down some areas of the tendon, weakening it and causing the foot arch to fall. Similar changes are also seen in other conditions, such as Achilles tendonitis. This could have important implications for treating flat feet because medication that specifically targets these enzymes could provide an alternative to surgery. However, further research is needed and this type of treatment is thought to be about 10 to 15 years away.
Flat feet don't usually cause problems, but they can put a strain on your muscles and ligaments (ligaments link two bones together at a joint). This may cause pain in your legs when you walk. If you have flat feet, you may experience pain in any of the following areas, the inside of your ankle, the arch of your foot, the outer side of your foot, the calf, the knee, hip or back, Some people with flat feet find that their weight is distributed unevenly, particularly if their foot rolls inwards too much (overpronates). If your foot overpronates, your shoes are likely to wear out quickly. Overpronation can also damage your ankle joint and Achilles tendon (the large tendon at the back of your ankle). See your GP if you or your child has flat feet and your feet are painful, even when wearing supportive, well-fitting shoes, shoes wear out very quickly, feet appear to be getting flatter, feet are weak, numb or stiff, Your GP may refer you to a podiatrist (foot specialist).
The adult acquired flatfoot, secondary to posterior tibial tendon dysfunction, is diagnosed in a number of ways with no single test proven to be totally reliable. The most accurate diagnosis is made by a skilled clinician utilizing observation and hands on evaluation of the foot and ankle. Observation of the foot in a walking examination is most reliable. The affected foot appears more pronated and deformed compared to the unaffected foot. Muscle testing will show a strength deficit. An easy test to perform in the office is the single foot raise.
Non Surgical Treatment
One of the most successful, and practical treatments recommended by podiatrists are orthotic devices, sometimes referred to as arch supports. Orthotics take various forms and are constructed of various materials, usually best recommended by your doctor to address the severity of your problem. All orthotic devices serve to improve foot function and minimize stress forces that could ultimately arch pain.
There are two types of bone procedure for flat feet, those where bone cuts and bone grafts are used to alter the alignment by avoiding any joint structures, or joint invasive procedures (called fusions or arthrodeses) that remove a joint to reshape the foot. With joint fusion procedures, there are those procedures that involve non-essential joints of the foot versus those that involve essential joints. All bone procedures have their place in flat foot surgery, and Dr. Blitz carefully evaluates each foot to preserve as much motion and function while obtaining proper and adequate alignment. In many cases a flat foot reconstruction involves both soft tissue procedures and bone procedures to rebuild and restore the arch. There are several joints in the arch of the foot that can collapse - and these joints are non-essential joints of the foot. This does not mean that they do not have a purpose, but rather become inefficient is providing a stable platform for function. As such, locking these non-essential non-functioning joints into place is commonly recommended. These joints are fused together with screws and/or plates. A heel bone that is no longer in proper position and pushed outwards away from the foot can be corrected with a bone cut and realignment procedure, so long as the displacement is not too significant. A benefit of this surgery is that it keeps the back portion of the foot mobile, and helps the surrounding tendons work for efficiently in maintaining the arch. In certain flat feet, the foot is deviated outwards and away from the midline of the body. Sometimes, this is due to the outer portion of the foot being shorter than the inner portion. Here bone graft can be added to the outer edge of the foot to lengthen the foot to swing the foot over into a corrected position. This procedure is most commonly performed in children and young adults. A bone graft is inserted into the top part of the arch to realign a component of the flat foot, medically known as forefoot varus or medial column elevatus. The back part of the foot (called the rearfoot complex) can be the cause (or source) of the flat foot or the simply affected by the flat foot foot. In simple terms, the back part of the foot can be made to flatten out due to arch problems - and vica versa for that matter. Dr. Blitz specifically identifies the cause of the flat foot as this will determine the best treatment plan, as each flat foot needs to be evaluated individually. The rearfoot is made up of three joints, and depending on the extent and most importantly the rigidity of these joints, they may require fusion to restore alignment. When all three joints require fusion - this call is a triple arthrodesis. For completeness, isolated fusion of any of the three joints can be performed (such as subtalar joint arthrodesis, talonavicular arthrodesis, and calcaneaocuboid joint arthrodesis). The medical decision making for isolated fusions is beyond the scope this article, but Dr. Blitz tries to avoid any rearfoot fusion for flexible feet because these are joints are essential joints of the foot, especially in younger people. Those in severe cases, it may be advantageous to provide re-alignment.
Early in the treatment of arch pain, consideration needs to be given to the cause and strategies put in place to prevent it happening again. Advice should be sought on the adequacy of footwear. Stretching exercises should be continued long after the symptoms are gone. Foot orthoses should be used if structural imbalances are present. Activity levels and types of activities (occupational and sporting) need to be considered and modified accordingly.