Flat feet is the most common foot deformity known. In fact, sixty million Americans or 25% of the U.S. population have flat feet. Some of these people may experience problems that limit their activities, while others can run marathons or play in the NBA. If you've ever seen your footprints in the sand and they looked more like bricks than feet, then you probably have flat feet. Simply stated, a flat foot is a foot that does not have an arch when standing. In the medical world, flat feet are associated with "pronated" feet. Pronated is merely the term used to describe the position of the foot when it is flexed upward (dorsiflexed), turned away from the body (abducted), and the heel is rolled outward (everted), all at the same time. A certain amount of pronation is required for normal walking, but too much pronation is often considered a foot's "worst enemy." Over time, excessive pronation can lead to many unpleasant problems including heel pain, bunions, hammertoes, shin splints, and even knee, hip, or back pain. In fact, one orthopedic surgeon discovered that 95% of his total knee replacement patients and 90% of his total hip replacement patients had flat feet. An easy way to tell if you pronate too much is to take a look at your athletic shoes-excessive wearing of the inside heel (arch side of the shoe) as compared to the outside is a classic indication of excessive pronation.
Infants and young children naturally have flat feet. The arch should develop over time. Sometimes, the arch does not develop. It is not always clear why this happens. Flat feet may develop because of ruptured or damaged tendon that supports the arch, medical conditions that affect muscles or nerves in the foot, degenerative changes in certain foot joints, Ligament damage in the foot.
Depending on the cause of the flatfoot, a patient may experience one or more of the different symptoms below. Pain along the course of the posterior tibial tendon which lies on the inside of the foot and ankle. This can be associated with swelling on the inside of the ankle. Pain that is worse with activity. High intensity or impact activities, such as running, can be very difficult. Some patients can have difficulty walking or even standing for long periods of time. When the foot collapses, the heel bone may shift position and put pressure on the outside ankle bone (fibula). This can cause pain on the outside of the ankle. Arthritis in the heel also causes this same type of pain. Patients with an old injury or arthritis in the middle of the foot can have painful, bony bumps on the top and inside of the foot. These make shoewear very difficult. Occasionally, the bony spurs are so large that they pinch the nerves which can result in numbness and tingling on the top of the foot and into the toes. Diabetics may only notice swelling or a large bump on the bottom of the foot. Because their sensation is affected, people with diabetes may not have any pain. The large bump can cause skin problems and an ulcer (a sore that does not heal) may develop if proper diabetic shoewear is not used.
Many medical professionals can diagnose a flat foot by examining the patient standing or just looking at them. On going up onto tip toe the deformity will correct when this is a flexible flat foot in a child with lax joints. Such correction is not seen in the adult with a rigid flat foot. An easy and traditional home diagnosis is the "wet footprint" test, performed by wetting the feet in water and then standing on a smooth, level surface such as smooth concrete or thin cardboard or heavy paper. Usually, the more the sole of the foot that makes contact (leaves a footprint), the flatter the foot. In more extreme cases, known as a kinked flatfoot, the entire inner edge of the footprint may actually bulge outward, where in a normal to high arch this part of the sole of the foot does not make contact with the ground at all.
Non Surgical Treatment
Heel cord stretching is an important part of treatment, as a tight Achilles tendon tends to pronate the foot. Orthotics (inserts or insoles, often custom-made) may be used. These usually contain a heel wedge to correct calcaneovalgus deformity, and an arch support. This is the usual treatment for flexible Pes Planus (if treatment is needed). A suitable insole can help to correct the deformity while it is worn. Possibly it may prevent progression of flat feet, or may reduce symptoms. However, the effectiveness of arch support insoles is uncertain. Arch supports used without correcting heel cord contracture can make symptoms worse. In patients with fixed Pes planus or arthropathy, customised insoles may relieve symptoms. Reduce contributing factors, wear shoes with low heels and wide toes. Lose weight if appropriate. Do exercises to strengthen foot muscles - walking barefoot (if appropriate), toe curls (flexing toes) and heel raises (standing on tiptoe).
Rarely does the physician use surgery to correct a foot that is congenitally flat, which typically does not cause pain. If the patient has a fallen arch that is painful, though, the foot and ankle physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush may perform surgery to reconstruct the tendon and "lift up" the fallen arch. This requires a combination of tendon re-routing procedures, ligament repairs, and bone cutting or fusion procedures.