What’s to know about flat feet?

People with flat feet have either no arch in their feet or one that is very thin, also known as dropped arches.

When an individual stands, there is generally a distance under the inner part of the foot, as the arch rises slightly from the ground.

Flat feet require care only if they cause irritation, display an underlying condition or contribute to pain elsewhere in the body. Some people seem to have a very low arch or no arch, without having problems.

When flat feet cause symptoms, it may help to alleviate the pain with simple devices and exercises.

Read on for more detail on the causes , symptoms, and flat-foot care.

Causes of flat feet
Flat feet occur when a person has a very low or non-existent arch in the foot.

People with flat feet have a very low arch or no arch, which means they could be flat on the ground with one or both of their feet. 

A human foot has 33 joints which hold together 26 different bones. It has more than 100 muscles, tendons , and ligaments as well. 

The arches provide the step with a spring and assist in the redistribution of body weight through the feet and legs. How an individual walks determines the form of the arches. To adapt to stress and a variety of surfaces, the arches need to be both sturdy and flexible. 

When people have flat feet, when they are standing and walking, their feet can roll towards the inner side. This is referred to as overpronation, and can cause the feet to point outward as well. 

Many people with flat feet may not have symptoms, but some may experience a number of symptoms that depend on the severity of the disorder in general. 

Symptoms 

Pain in the feet is the most common symptom of flat feet. As a consequence of stressed muscles and binding ligaments, this may happen. 

In these joints, abnormal stresses on the knee and hip can result in pain. If the ankles turn inwards, certain stresses are probable. 

The following areas of the body most often suffer from pain:

  • arch of the foot
  • calf
  • knee
  • hip
  • lower back
  • lower legs

One or both feet may also feel stiff.

An irregular distribution of body weight may also be caused by flat feet. This can lead to shoes wearing off unevenly or faster than normal, especially on one side, which can lead to more injuries.

Causes

Common causes of flat feet include:

  • genetic factors, as flat feet can pass from parents to children in the genes
  • weak arches, meaning that the arch is visible when a person sits but the foot flattens onto the ground when they stand
  • foot or ankle injury
  • arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
  • damage, dysfunction, or rupture of the posterior tibial tendon
  • nervous system or muscle diseases, such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or spina bifida

Tarsal alliance is another disorder which could trigger flat feet. This disorder causes the foot bones to unusually fuse together, leading to stiff and flat feet.

Pediatrists normally diagnose this disorder during infancy.

People are more likely, whether they have obesity or diabetes, to develop flat feet. During pregnancy, flat feet are also more common.

Flat feet may also change with age. Regular use of the feet may cause a weakening of the posterior tibial tendon. This tendon is the principal support mechanism for the arch of the foot.

After overuse the tendon may become inflamed, called tendonitis, or break. Tendon damage can cause the arch of the foot to flatten.

Flat feet can also occur as a result of a developmental deficiency that occurs during infancy, or occurs with age or after pregnancy.

Flat feet in children

Flat feet in children
Children may sometimes appear to have flat feet when the arch is still forming.

It may also appear that children and babies have flat feet. 

In fact, the arch is usually present but still forming. The arch should grow naturally in time. The extra fat on the foot of an infant can conceal the arch. 

During early childhood, having feet that appear flat does not indicate that a person will always have flat feet. 

However, if a child has flat feet due to inappropriate bone growth or another disorder, such as spina bifida, the underlying cause will also be treated by a doctor. 

Diagnosis 

People with flat feet that have no discomfort or other signs typically don’t need to see a doctor. 

Anyone with the following symptoms should however seek medical advice:

  • flat feet that have only developed recently.
  • pain in the feet, ankles, or lower limbs.
  • symptoms that do not improve with supportive, well-fitted shoes.
  • one or both feet becoming more flat
  • the feet feeling rigid, stiff, heavy, and unwieldy

Through examining the feet and watching the person as they stand and walk, most experienced healthcare professionals may diagnose dropped arches. 

The doctor will check the front and back feet. To allow the doctor to examine the shape and function of each foot, the person may need to stand on the tips of their toes. 

A doctor will analyze the medical history of the individual, too. They can order an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI scan in some cases. 

Exercises 

A podiatrist or physiotherapist may prescribe specific exercises to treat or prevent the symptoms of flat feet. 

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) suggests the following exercises to improve feet and ankle strength and stability which may help alleviate symptoms. 

Heel cord stretching 

The foot would be motivated by a strong Achilles tendon to roll inward. The object of stretching of the heel cord is to stretch the tendon of Achilles and the muscles of the posterior calf.

  • Stand facing a wall and place one hand on the wall at eye level.
  • Place the leg that needs stretching approximately one step behind the other leg, and plant the heel firmly on the ground.
  • Bend the knee of the front leg until you feel a stretch in the back leg.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat nine more times.
  • It is essential to avoid arching the back and to keep it straight.

Perform this exercise twice a day.

The golf ball roll

This exercise requires a chair and a golf ball.

Sit on the chair with your feet firmly on the ground. Place the golf ball under the foot, and roll it forward and back under the arch of the foot for 2 minutes to stretch the plantar fascia ligament.

Treatment 

Some individuals with flat feet can align their limbs automatically in a way that prevents symptoms. People who don’t have symptoms usually don’t need medication. 

If pain is caused by flat feet, then comfortable, well-fitted shoes can help. Extra-wide flexible shoes can offer relief. 

If the feet roll too far inward, fitted insoles and orthotics or custom-designed arch supports can relieve pressure on the arch and reduce pain. These products, however, only relieve the symptoms and do not offer long-lasting benefits. 

People with posterior tibial tendonitis may also benefit by putting a wedge around the inside edge of the orthotic in their footwear. This should alleviate some of the load the body puts on the tissue of the tendon. 

It may also be helpful to wear an ankle brace before the inflammation decreases. 

Some people may be advised by physicians to rest until their symptoms improve and to avoid behaviors that may make their feet or feet worse. 

An individual with arthritis or a ruptured tendon could find that their symptoms can be reduced by a combination of an insole and pain relievers. If these do not function, then surgery may be needed. 

Some bones do not grow properly in infancy, which may lead to a continuity of flat feet from birth into adulthood. Surgical intervention may be required to break the fused bones in these rare cases. 

Losing weight might improve the symptoms if obesity is the cause of flat feet. 

Complications

Flat feet can lead to bunions.
Flat feet can lead to bunions.

People with other problems with the foot , ankle, or lower leg can find that flat feet may lead to or exacerbate their symptoms.

Examples include:

  • Achilles tendonitis
  • arthritis in the ankle or ankles
  • arthritis in the foot or feet
  • bunions
  • hammertoes
  • plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the ligaments in the soles of the feet
  • posterior tibial tendonitis
  • shin splints

Flat feet, while a person is standing, walking, or running, may influence the alignment of the body. As a consequence, the risk of pain occurring in the hips, knees , and ankles may be increased.

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