Flat feet are characterized by no arch in the inner foot. It can be a genetic condition or the result of improper body mechanics. Often the whole of the foot will contact the ground. A healthy foot structure supports the body's weight from the bone structure arch; a flat foot is unable to properly support this weight, causing pressure in the ankle, knee and hip joints.
The normal arch is made up of bones and joints, which are held tightly together, in a precise relationship. When this relationship is subjected to repeated abnormal weight, or the normal weight of a lifetime, the force breaks up this normal relationship, causing bones to shift and joints to buckle. This allows the arch to collapse, and produces pain. The ability of the arch to absorb the shock of each step is reduced, so that continued walking will eventually produce pain in the knee, hip, and lower back. All four of the above categories will eventually cause this to happen. Arch pain can also be a manifestation of heel spur or nerve injury in the heel area. There are also certain types of benign growths that can cause arch pain i.e. Plantar fibromatosis.
Repetitive exertive activity arch pain is usually sharp, and localized to a specific area, rather than the entire arch. Usually the pain occurs in the area just in front of the heel. It is present when first standing on the foot in the morning, but may decrease once you start walking around, but will, gradually becomes worse with continued walking or running. Swelling may be present. The pain subsides with rest, but stretching the arch while resting may cause the pain to return. Injury pain is constantly present, but worse when standing on the foot. This pain is localized to a specific area, but may radiate out from this area to the entire foot. The pain is sharp, and usually accompanied by swelling and occasionally "black and blue" discolorations. The pain due to the natural aging process is usually dull and aching, or stiff, and can be felt throughout the entire arch area, rather then in just one spot. This pain is present whenever weight bearing, and usually becomes worse with continued walking. The pain gradually subsides when resting, and usually does not return with stretching. Biomechanical defect pain is usually localized to a section of the arch, such as the inner, middle, outer, front, or back of the arch. This pain may be sharp or dull, but is always worse with continued walking.
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
When you first begin to notice discomfort or pain in the area, you can treat yourself with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). Over-the-counter medications may also be used to reduce discomfort and pain. Rest will allow the tissues to heal themselves by preventing any further stress to the affected area. Ice should be applied no longer than 20 minutes. The ice may be put in a plastic bag or wrapped in a towel. Commercial ice packs are not recommended because they are usually too cold. Compression and elevation will help prevent any swelling of the affected tissues. There are two types of over-the-counter medication that may help with the pain and swelling of arch pain. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) will help with the pain, and a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen will help with the pain and battle the inflammatory response. Caution should be taken when using these drugs, and dosage should not exceed the labeled directions. Special care should be taken and a physician consulted if you have a history of stomach ulcers. Those who have chronic medical conditions or who are taking other medications should consult with their doctor regarding the most appropriate type of pain and/or anti-inflammatory medications. Commercial over-the-counter arch supports or orthotics may also help to ease arch pain.
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).
Stretch and strengthen important muscles in your feet, ankles and legs in order to guard against future strain. Make sure to acquire suitable arch supports and inserts if necessary, and that your shoes are shock absorbent and in good condition. Wearing tattered shoes provides no protection, and runners should replace their footwear before exceeding 500 miles of usage. Athletes new to arch supports should gradually build their training routine, allowing their feet to become accustomed to a new stance.
Flexibility is important in preventing injuries. With a simple stretching exercise, you can rehabilitate the muscles of your foot to relieve arch pain and prevent future injuries. This simple exercise by Tammy White and Phyllis Clapis for Relay Health is a good way to strengthen your foot muscles and stretch your plantar fascia. Sit in a chair and cross one foot over your other knee. Grab the base of your toes and pull them back toward your leg until you feel a comfortable stretch. Hold 15 seconds and repeat three times. When you can stand comfortably on your injured foot, you can begin standing to stretch the plantar fascia at the bottom of your foot.