Most people with flat feet have a condition that is referred to as a flexible flat foot. This is caused by excessive flexibility within the joints and ligaments of their foot and is often hereditary. This results in an over pronated (rolled in) position and is exaggerated by mechanical misalignment of the foot. This can be a very destructive position for the foot to function in and can cause a wide variety of foot, leg and lower back conditions. The appearance of flat feet may vary from foot to foot. Generally there is a collapse of the medial (inside/middle) long arch of the foot. This may occur mildly where the arch height drops slightly or can be a large movement that results in the entire length of the arch resting on the ground. The twisting and misalignment of the foot that occurs with arch collapse can cause excessive wear and tear of the foot joints and eventually pain.
Having low or no arches is normal for some people. In these cases, flat feet are usually inherited and the feet are fairly flexible. Occasionally, flat feet can be caused by an abnormality that develops in the womb, such as a problem with a joint or where two or more bones are fused together. This is known as tarsal coalition and results in the feet being flat and stiff. Flat feet that develop in later life can be caused by a condition that affects the joints, such as arthritis, or an injury to a muscle, tendon or joint in the foot.
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). See your GP if you or your child has flat feet and your feet are painful, even when wearing supportive, well-fitting shoes, shoes wear out very quickly, feet appear to be getting flatter, feet are weak, numb or stiff, Your GP may refer you to a podiatrist (foot specialist).
The doctor will take a brief history to determine how the injury occurred. If necessary, a thorough physical exam may be conducted to evaluate for any other injuries. Taking your workout shoes to the exam may also provide valuable information to the medical practitioner. Both feet will be physically and visually examined by the medical practitioner. The foot and arch will be touched and manipulated possibly with a lot of pressure and inspected to identify obvious deformities, tender spots, or any differences in the bones of the foot and arch.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment for these injuries varies depending on the severity of the injury. Most strains and sprains can be treated with rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE). Moderate to severe cases, however, may require some form of immobilization such as a brace or a cast. Certain injuries that don't heal within the expected time frame may require surgery. It is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible for foot and ankle injuries, especially if it is causing you to limp or there is swelling. Prompt and appropriate treatment and rehabilitation ensures the best possible recovery.
As with most surgeries, patients and physicians should consider the surgery only after other, less invasive treatments have proven unproductive. Indications for surgery include Pain. Inability to function. Failure to improve after a six-month course of specific, directed physical therapy. Failure to improve after using arch supports, orthotics, or ankle and foot bracing. Once patients are at that point, the good news is that the procedure has considerably better outcomes than more traditional flat foot surgery. In the past, surgeons would realign and fuse the three hind joints, which would cause patients to lose motion, leaving them with a significantly stiff hind foot, With these newer procedures, if the foot is still flexible, surgeons can realign it and usually restore a close-to-normal or functional range of motion in the joints.
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.
Below are two simple plantar fasciitis stretching exercises to help improve the flexibility of the muscles and tendons around the foot and ankle. Plantar fasciitis stretch taken from The Stretching Handbook. Kneel on one foot and place your body weight over your knee. Keep your heel on the ground and lean forward. In the photo to the left, the athlete is stretching the arch of her left foot. Kneel on one foot with your hands on the ground. Place your body weight over your knee and slowly move your knee forward. Keep your toes on the ground and arch your foot. In the photo to the right, the athlete is stretching the arch of his right foot.