Coping With Fallen Arches

Overview

Adult Acquired Flat Feet

Feet are very variable in shape within and between ethnic groups as well as in populations generally. There is not a normal profile but a wide variation with people with foot profiles at the extremes being very high arched or very low arched, with most people somewhere nearer the middle. What will dictate the general profile of a foot is the bony shape and the soft tissue support. The first thing to say about flat feet and fallen arches is that they are not medical terms and therefore have different meaning to different people. Therefore this question is not as easy as it first might seem. Pes Planus is the medical term for flat feet.


Causes

When flat feet develop at a later age, they are known as fallen arches. The arches may fall because the muscles supporting them are no longer able to do so. In addition the spring ligament within the foot may have lost some of its tension allowing the arch of the foot to flatten. Other conditions causing fallen arches include sudden weight gain, a nervous system injury, or a loss of sensation caused by a disease such as diabetes. Most people with fallen arches are flat on both feet.


Symptoms

The primary symptom of fallen arches is painful or achy feet in the area in which the foot arches or on the heel. This area may become swollen and painful to stand still on. This causes the patient to improperly balance on their feet which in turn will cause other biomechanical injuries such as back, leg and knee pain.


Diagnosis

People who have flat feet without signs or symptoms that bother them do not generally have to see a doctor or podiatrist about them. However, if any of the following occur, you should see your GP or a podiatrist. The fallen arches (flat feet) have developed recently. You experience pain in your feet, ankles or lower limbs. Your unpleasant symptoms do not improve with supportive, well-fitted shoes. Either or both feet are becoming flatter. Your feet feel rigid (stiff). Your feet feel heavy and unwieldy. Most qualified health care professionals can diagnose flat feet just by watching the patient stand, walk and examining his/her feet. A doctor will also look at the patient’s medical history. The feet will be observed from the front and back. The patient may be asked to stand on tip-toe while the doctor examines the shape and functioning of each foot. In some cases the physician may order an X-ray, CT (computed tomography) scan, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan.


Non Surgical Treatment

Some of the aspects of the pain with a ?fallen arch? are related to the crushing of the joints of the outside of the foot and from the stretching of ligaments and tendons of the inside of the foot. Unfortunately, some parts of the damage from the fallen arch, the weakness in the tendons and the new shape of the foot, are not correctable without surgical reconstruction. The first goal is to stabilize the collapsed arch. This can be done through braces. If the deformity is mild, an over-the-counter arch support may be sufficient. In more severe deformities an hinged or solid ankle brace may be necessary. Rehabilitative exercises under the supervision of a physical therapist will help increase the strength of the remaining muscles. Stiffness of certain tendons including the Achilles and hamstring is also very helpful as tightness in these structures is very common in people with ?fallen arches?. Postural training is necessary. A short period of casting or walking in a cast boot will improve swelling of a recent partial tear of the tendons and ligaments on the inside of the ankle. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, and naprosyn can help to relieve the pain, but do not heal the injuries associated with this or decrease the swelling significantly. Surgical reconstruction is available if the pain cannot be controlled reasonably with these measures.


Surgical Treatment

Acquired Flat Feet

Surgical correction is dependent on the severity of symptoms and the stage of deformity. The goals of surgery are to create a more functional and stable foot. There are multiple procedures available to the surgeon and it may take several to correct a flatfoot deformity. Stage one deformities usually respond to conservative or non-surgical therapy such as anti-inflammatory medication, casting, functional orthotics or a foot ankle orthosis called a Richie Brace. If these modalities are unsuccessful surgery is warranted. Usually surgical treatment begins with removal of inflammatory tissue and repair of the posterior tibial tendon. A tendon transfer is performed if the posterior tibial muscle is weak or the tendon is badly damaged. The most commonly used tendon is the flexor digitorum longus tendon. This tendon flexes or moves the lesser toes downward. The flexor digitorum longus tendon is utilized due to its close proximity to the posterior tibial tendon and because there are minimal side effects with its loss. The remainder of the tendon is sutured to the flexor hallucis longus tendon that flexes the big toe so that little function is loss. Stage two deformities are less responsive to conservative therapies that can be effective in mild deformities. Bone procedures are necessary at this stage in order to recreate the arch and stabilize the foot. These procedures include isolated fusion procedures, bone grafts, and/or the repositioning of bones through cuts called osteotomies. The realigned bones are generally held in place with screws, pins, plates, or staples while the bone heals. A tendon transfer may or may not be utilized depending on the condition of the posterior tibial tendon. Stage three deformities are better treated with surgical correction, in healthy patients. Patients that are unable to tolerate surgery or the prolonged healing period are better served with either arch supports known as orthotics or bracing such as the Richie Brace. Surgical correction at this stage usually requires fusion procedures such as a triple or double arthrodesis. This involves fusing the two or three major bones in the back of the foot together with screws or pins. The most common joints fused together are the subtalar joint, talonavicular joint, and the calcaneocuboid joint. By fusing the bones together the surgeon is able to correct structural deformity and alleviate arthritic pain. Tendon transfer procedures are usually not beneficial at this stage. Stage four deformities are treated similarly but with the addition of fusing the ankle joint.

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