Most flat feet are not painful, particularly those flat feet seen in children. In the adult acquired flatfoot, pain occurs because soft tissues (tendons and ligaments) have been torn. The deformity progresses or worsens because once the vital ligaments and posterior tibial tendon are lost, nothing can take their place to hold up the arch of the foot. The painful, progressive adult acquired flatfoot affects women four times as frequently as men. It occurs in middle to older age people with a mean age of 60 years. Most people who develop the condition already have flat feet. A change occurs in one foot where the arch begins to flatten more than before, with pain and swelling developing on the inside of the ankle. Why this event occurs in some people (female more than male) and only in one foot remains poorly understood. Contributing factors increasing the risk of adult acquired flatfoot are diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
At the other end of the spectrum, yet within the same category of congenital flat foot, exist several rare, more severe forms of flat foot. These severe conditions include Vertical Talus, Congenital Calcaneal Valgus, and Tarsal Coalitions - all of which are more rigid (no arch with or without weight on the foot) and definitely symptomatic. Luckily, these are much less common, but can usually be identified by specialists at the time of presentation and treated appropriately. The second category, acquired flat foot, develops over time, rather than at birth. Many different factors can contribute to the development of flat feet. These include the types of shoes a child wears, a child's sitting or sleeping positions, compensation for other abnormalities further up the leg, or more severe factors such as rupture of ligaments or tendons in the foot. Very commonly, the reason for flat feet is that the foot is compensating for a tight Achilles tendon. If the Achilles tendon is tight, then it causes the foot to point down, or to plantarflex (as occurs when stepping on the accelerator of your car). Even minimal amounts of plantarflexion can simulate a longer leg on that particular side, assuming that the other foot is in the normal position. The body therefore tries to compensate by pronating, or flattening out the arch, thereby making up for the perceived extra length on the affected side.
Arch pain symptoms could include any of the following, a dull, constant ache if the ligaments have been stretched, swelling or tenderness in the foot, redness or bruising in the event of a more serious injury, difficulty putting weight on the foot, sharp pain when the foot is turned or manipulated, tenderness when pressure is applied. Because the arch of the foot is such a complex structure, arch pain could be an indicator of several different types of injuries. Chronic illnesses such as arthritis could also cause arch pain, and depending on the cause or source of your pain, you may experience discomfort in a variety of different areas. Ask a doctor if you believe you may have injured your foot arch.
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
Tight arches, overpronation and flat feet as well as tight calves all lead to inflammation of the connective tissue that forms this arch of your foot. This condition, plantar fasciitis, can be very painful, from your first step in the morning. Fortunately, treatment is easier than most. No operations, no fancy pulsed waves, no night splints necessary. Good arch supports? full length flexible (not hard) orthotics are key. Stretches of the calf relieve arch tightness as the heel bone acts like a fulcrum pulling back the arch tissues if too tight. Regularly perform the gastroc and soleus stretches that you learned at the gym. If lazy, buy "Pro-Stretch" on line which helps you stretch your calves easily. Use it often. You can't stretch too often, only too little. Finally, the magic cure is to roll a golf ball under the arch for half-hour once a day. (I know; a half-hour is a long time to perform one exercise, but that's what it takes. Once you master this exercise, it is easy to do while you work at your desk or are watching a half hour TV program.) This may hurt the first week. Keep going because by week two, after you go over the pain hump, the pain will be gone.
If pain or foot damage is severe, your doctor may recommend surgery. Procedures may include the following. Fusing foot or ankle bones together (arthrodesis). Removing bones or bony growths also called spurs (excision). Cutting or changing the shape of the bone (osteotomy). Cleaning the tendons' protective coverings (synovectomy). Adding tendon from other parts of your body to tendons in your foot to help balance the "pull" of the tendons and form an arch (tendon transfer). Grafting bone to your foot to make the arch rise more naturally (lateral column lengthening).
Foot and ankle injuries are common in sports, especially running, tennis and soccer. But sports enthusiasts can decrease the risk of injury by taking some precautions. Lightly stretch or better yet, do a slow jog for two to three minutes to warm up the muscles. Don't force the stretch with a "bouncing motion." The amount of time spent on the activity should be increased gradually over a period of weeks to build both muscle strength and mobility. Cross training by participating in different activities can help build the muscles. People whose feet pronate or who have low arches should choose shoes that provide support in both the front of the shoe and under the arch. The heel and heel counter (back of the shoe) should be very stable. Those with a stiffer foot or high arches should choose shoes with more cushion and a softer platform. Use sport-specific shoes. Cross training shoes are an overall good choice; however, it is best to use shoes designed for the sport.
Plantar Fasciitis stretches can be incorporated into a comprehensive treatment regime which may involve: ice, heel wedge support, taping, massage, muscle strengthening, orthotic inserts for shoes, topical anti inflammatory gel or oral medication and/or corticosteroid injections. If you suspect you may have Plantar Fasciitis seek accurate diagnosis and treatment from a health professional to ensure a correct diagnosis and reduce the likelihood of developing chronic foot pain. Treatment interventions may be provided by your Physical Therapist, Podiatrist and/or doctor.