Also referred to as pes planus, flatfoot is a condition that causes the sole of the foot to come into almost complete contact with the ground, giving the affected foot a flattened appearance. There are a number of factors which can lead to this condition.
- Genetic inheritance. About 20-30% of people affected by flatfoot acquire it genetically. It commonly occurs as a result of the arches of the foot not developing during childhood, resulting in the complete collapse of the arch of the foot.
- Tarsal coalition. In children, flatfoot can be caused by a condition known as tarsal coalition, a fusion of two of the tarsal bones in the foot. This brings about a condition known as “rigid flatfoot” and results in stiffness of the affected foot. This is a genetic condition which affects about 1-2% of the population.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. This can destroy tendons in the foot, causing flatfoot and eventually resulting in osteoarthritis of the tarsals.
- Pregnancy. During pregnancy, there is an increased amount of elastin in the body, which increases tissue elasticity. This can result in the lengthening of the tendon that holds the arch in place, extremely leading to flatfoot.
- Wear and tear. The condition can also occur due to aging or injury affecting the tendon responsible for shaping the arch. This is also known as “adult acquired flatfoot”.
Symptoms and diagnosis
Do not be alarmed if your baby appears to have flatfoot, as babies' feet often have a flat appearance due to the presence of baby fat. In most cases, a baby's foot arches will develop in a matter of time.
Individuals with flatfoot find it difficult to stand on tiptoe, and the condition can be easily diagnosed by examining the foot of the affected individual when they are standing barefoot.
Generally speaking, flatfoot is a painful condition with the exception of “rigid flatfoot,” which can result in overpronation. Overpronation is caused by the excessive inward roll of the ankle after landing while walking, disabling the natural alignment of the leg. Some complications which can occur as a result of overpronation include:
- Stress fractures
- Poor posture
- Back pain
- Inflammation of the plantar fascia
- Shin splints
- Achilles tendonitis
- Bunions and calluses
- Orhotics. Orhotics can provide arch support by stabilizing the foot and reducing the amount of stress exerted on the legs during activity.
- Foot gymnastics. These are activities designed to strengthen the muscles of the legs and feet. These activities can help strengthen and develop the tendons that support the foot arch.
- Weight loss. Sometimes, the weakening of the tendon in the foot is taken about by obesity. Losing weight will reduce the amount of pressure carried on the foot and reduce the effects of overpronation.
- Surgery. Tarsal coalition can be easily corrected by surgery in children and adolescents before their bones form permanently. Surgery may also be considered for other patients who have exhausted other treatment options.
Flatfoot is not necessarily an impediment, and studies have shown that individuals with flatfoot are less prone to foot injuries. However, if you experience any pain due to flatfoot, you should seek medical help in order to prevent the development of additional complications.