What are flat feet?
Flat feet are feet that do not have the normal curved shape of the foot arch. Flat feet are not uncommon, occurring in 20 percent to 30 percent of the population, and most commonly developing initially during the childhood years when the arch does not develop properly. One study estimates as many as 40% of children under the age of 5 years suffers from flat feet. Flat feet in children occur when the connective tissues that help bind and support the bones and joints in the mid-foot region are loose and fail to provide adequate support during development. Flat feet often affects both feet, but in some cases, it may only occur in one foot.
There are three main types of flat foot:
- Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction – Also known as rigid flat foot, this is a painful condition that can develop in both feet. The condition is caused by an injury, tear or swelling of the posterior tibial tendon, which attaches the calf muscle to the inner foot bones.
- Flexible flat foot – Also known as pediatric flat foot, this is a common type of flat foot where the foot arches only appear when lifting the foot. The condition is typically painless and develops during childhood, usually in one foot.
- Tight Achilles tendon – When the Achilles tendon, which attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone, is too tight, the heel can lift too soon during movement, causing pain.
For more information about flat feet, get in touch with Global Podiatry to book an appointment with a specialist podiatrist in Chicago & Wheeling, IL.
What causes flat feet?
As well as being a fairly normal condition in young children as the tendons in their feet tighten, there are a large number of other causes of flat feet, including:
- Weak arches
- Posterior tibial tendon damage
- Ligament Laxity
- Muscle diseases
- Nervous system diseases
- Tarsal coalition
The risk of developing flat feet is higher during pregnancy and can increase with age. People who are obese or who have diabetes also have a greater risk of suffering from flat feet.
What problems can flat feet cause?
Flat feet can cause considerable pain when walking and participating in sports, and they can also make it difficult to find shoes that fit comfortably. People with flat feet (especially children) may also be more likely to develop certain gait patterns (ways of walking) that can result in other painful symptoms.
The pain caused by flat feet can affect the lower back, calf, knee, foot arch, lower legs, hip and ankle, as well as cause other problems such as foot fatigue and difficulties keeping up with others. If you have another foot or ankle condition, flat feet could cause existing symptoms to worsen. This can be the case with conditions like:
- Hammer Toes
- Achilles Tendonitis
- Posterior Tibial Tendonitis
- Plantar Fasciitis
How are flat feet diagnosed?
Diagnosing flat feet is often a very straightforward process. A podiatrist will check for an arch and examine your feet as you stand and walk around the room. They’ll assess the shape of your foot and discuss your symptoms and medical history to determine whether you’re suffering from flat feet or another condition. In some cases, additional tests may be required to get a clearer picture of the type and severity of flat foot. The podiatrist may order an x-ray or a scan to properly assess the foot.
Due to the progressive nature of some types of flat foot, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis so treatment can begin to manage the symptoms. You should visit a podiatrist in Wheeling & Lincolnwood IL as soon as possible for diagnosis if you’ve recently developed flat feet, you’re experiencing lower limb, foot or ankle pain, or your feet feel rigid and stiff.
Podiatric Treatments for Flat Feet in Chicago & Wheeling IL
Flat feet can often be treated with custom orthotics that are designed to support the arch and the entire mid-foot region so painful symptoms can be relieved. Often, the use of custom orthotics is accompanied by special stretching and strengthening exercises to relieve symptoms while helping to “build up” support in the midfoot region.
Common exercises to strengthen and improve the arches, include:
- Calf Raises
- Heel Cord Stretching
- Arch Lifts
- Golf Ball Rolls
- Toe Raises
- Towel Curls
Custom Orthotics for Flat Feet at Global Podiatry in Chicago
As well as exercises and custom orthotics to treat flat feet, a podiatrist may advise rest and lifestyle changes or the use of ankle braces/casts and anti-inflammatory medication to treat flat feet. You can speak to a foot & ankle specialist at Global Podiatry about exercise routines, proper footwear, custom orthotics, pain medication and other treatments to reduce the discomfort of flat feet and manage symptoms like pain and stiffness.
Arthrodesis – Correct Flat Feet Surgically
In some cases, a procedure called arthrodesis may be performed to correct flat feet surgically. In children, treating flat feet as soon as possible is the key to achieving the best results. Parents who notice gait abnormalities in their children, including walking with the feet turned in or out or walking on the sides of the feet and those whose children complain about foot pain should schedule an evaluation right away to determine if their child has flat feet.