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Fallen Arches?

Overview

Flat Foot

he belly isn't the only part of your body subject to middle-age spread. As we get older, the years of walking and standing can cause feet to spread and flatten out as ligaments that support the arch lose their holding power. The result: the condition known as fallen arches, or flat feet. "Keep in mind that we're talking about 26 bones in the foot that are supported by a series of ligaments, muscle tendons and other connective tissue," says Glenn Gastwirth, D.P.M., deputy executive director of the American Podiatric Medicine Association in Bethesda, Maryland. "Over a period of time, the ligaments stretch out or 'give' under the pressure of your weight-especially if you're overweight. So what usually happens is you go shopping for new shoes one day and suddenly realize that you now need a size 8 when you've always worn a size 6. You may think your foot has grown, but what really happens is that the foot has spread out, both in width and length."

Causes

Some people develop fallen arches because they tend to pronate, or roll inwards on the ankles, says the Instep Foot Clinic. Other people may simply have under-developed muscles in their arches. Your arches help your feet bear weight and are supported in this job by muscles and tendons in your feet and ankles. So, while fallen arches aren?t usually serious, they can cause pain in your feet, ankles, knees and/or hips due to your reduced weight-bearing ability. In these cases, treatment may be required. Orthotics that sit in your shoes and support your arches are a common solution, as are exercises to strengthen and stretch your feet and leg muscles.

Symptoms

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).

Diagnosis

An examination of the foot is enough for the health care provider to diagnose flat foot. However, the cause must be determined. If an arch develops when the patient stands on his or her toes, the flat foot is called flexible and no treatment or further work-up is necessary. If there is pain associated with the foot or if the arch does not develop with toe-standing, x-rays are necessary. If a tarsal coalition is suspected, a CT scan is often ordered. If a posterior tibial tendon injury is suspected, your health care provider may recommend an MRI.

Can you fix a fallen arch?

Non Surgical Treatment

Ligaments hold up arches. Deformed ligaments will not return to their original shape, just as an overstretched rubber band remains elongated. Arch supports help restore more normal function. Not all orthotics are made alike. Sole Supports custom designed orthotics are unique in the way they are cast. Sole Supports compensate for the differences between each foot. They take into account your body weight and the degree of flexibility in your feet. Taking care of fallen arches can be key in dealing with unresolved or recurrent back pain.

Surgical Treatment

Acquired Flat Foot

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.

After Care

Time off work depends on the type of work as well as the surgical procedures performed. . A patient will be required to be non-weight bearing in a cast or splint and use crutches for four to twelve weeks. Usually a patient can return to work in one to two weeks if they are able to work while seated. If a person's job requires standing and walking, return to work may take several weeks. Complete recovery may take six months to a full year. Complications can occur as with all surgeries, but are minimized by strictly following your surgeon's post-operative instructions. The main complications include infection, bone that is slow to heal or does not heal, progression or reoccurrence of deformity, a stiff foot, and the need for further surgery. Many of the above complications can be avoided by only putting weight on the operative foot when allowed by your surgeon.
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