'Flat feet', or 'fallen arches', describing a condition in which the arch of the foot has collapsed so that the entire sole of the foot lies flat against the ground.
Self-diagnosis of this is straightforward. You should be able to tell by looking at your feet if your arches have fallen. If you are still unsure, dampen your feet by standing on a wet towel and then step onto a piece of paper. If you can not see a visible arch in the footprint on the piece of paper, then you likely have flat feet.
They are more difficult to diagnose in children as they are very common, and normal, for the first few years of life. If your child has not developed visible arches by the time they are 4 or 5, ask your pediatrician if you should seek treatment.
What problems are associated with fallen arches?
Flat feet can be painful for the patent, though the flat feet themselves are not the cause of discomfort. Rather, fall arches and often cause other dysfunctions in the legs and feet, including:
- Knee pain
- Shin splints
- Achilles tendonitis
- Plantar fasciitis
Some flat feet are completely asymptomatic, meaning that the patient does not feel pain or discomfort from the condition. This occurs in cases of 'flexible feet', in which the foot has a visible arch when relaxed (for instance, when the patient is sitting). In cases of flexible flat feet, when the patient does not suffer any foot and leg pain, treatment is not necessary.
What treatments are available for flat feet?
Patients with certain conditions, such as overuse, obesity or pregnancy are at increased risk. In these cases, treatment of the condition (eg weight loss for an obese patient) will alleviate this.
For very mild cases, it is possible to treat flat feet with exercises and stretching. Some extreme cases will require surgery, but the most common treatment is the use of supportive orthotics.
Orthotics & Insoles
Orhotics are medical inserts that are slipped into your shoes, resting between the bottom of your foot and the sole of the shoe. These inserts are shaped in such a way as to correct for a biomechanical dysfunction and external factors in order to prevent and treat injury.
A major problem for patients with is over-pronation, where the foot rolls inwards with the step. An orthotic will fix this by placing a wedge where the arch should be, suggesting the foot fall in a way so that the body's weight is dispensed evenly. This arch support will relieve many of the painful symptoms.
Orthotics are often favored by patients as an effective, non-invasive treatment. The effects of the orthotics may be felt within weeks of wearing them, but it is important to remember that this is a long-term treatment and orthotics may need to be worn permanently. See your doctor to find out if orthotics are right for you.