What Are Fallen Arches

Overview

Adult Acquired Flat Feet

Basically, fallen arches refers to a flattening of the feet that takes place in adulthood. Although there may be other causes, this flattening usually occurs when the tendon (posterior tibial tendon) and ligaments that hold the arch in place gradually stretch. As we get older and our cumulative use of these tendons and ligaments increases, they lose their ability to maintain that nice arch shape, and may even begin to tear. This stretching or tearing may also be the result of an injury, obesity, or a genetic predisposition for flat feet.


Causes

You can have a tendency towards fallen arches from birth. Up through the toddler stage, it is common to have flat feet. Throughout childhood, arches tend to normally develop. For reasons not well understood, however, in some cases the feet stay flat and the arch never forms. In many cases this abnormality does not cause symptoms or require any treatment. In other cases, it is due to a condition called tarsal coalition. This occurs when some of the foot bones fuse.


Symptoms

It?s possible to have fallen arches and experience no symptoms whatsoever. But many people do notice some problems with this condition. Their feet, back and legs ache. Standing on their toes is difficult, if not impossible, and they note swelling around the arch and heel.


Diagnosis

Diagnosis of flat feet or fallen arches can be made by your health practitioner and is based on the following. Clinical assessment involving visual gait assessment, as well as biomechanical assessment. A detailed family and medical history. A pain history assessment determining the location of painful symptoms. Physical palpation of the feet and painful areas. Imaging such as MRI or x-ray can be used by your practitioner to assist in the diagnosis.


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).


Surgical Treatment

Acquired Flat Foot

Common indications for surgery are cerebral palsy with an equinovalgus foot, to prevent progression and breakdown of the midfoot. Rigid and painful Pes Planus. To prevent progression, eg with a Charcot joint. Tibialis posterior dysfunction, where non-surgical treatment is unsuccessful. Possible surgical procedures include Achilles tendon lengthening. Calcaneal osteotomy, to re-align the hindfoot. Reconstruction of the tibialis posterior tendon. For severe midfoot collapse of the arch, triple arthrodesis may be indicated.


Prevention

It?s time to take a long hard look at what?s in your closet. Now is the time to toss out shoes that are well worn. You also need to say good-bye to thin-soled shoes that offer zero arch support. If you?re overweight, fallen arches may be a sign the universe is trying to tell you something. You need to lose weight, and odds are, fallen arches are but one of many physical discomforts you are experiencing.

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