What is flat foot?
Flat foot is partial or total collapse of the arch in your foot. It is a complex disorder, with diverse symptoms and varying degrees of deformity. Characteristics may include "toe drift," in which the toes and front part of the foot point outward, the heel tilts toward the outside and the ankle appears to turn in. Other symptoms may include a tight Achilles tendon, which causes the heel to lift off the ground too early when walking, and bunions or hammertoes.
There are two types of flat feet. Flexible flatfoot, in which the arch flattens only when weight is applied, typically begins in childhood and continues into adulthood. It usually occurs in both feet and progresses in severity. As the deformity worsens, the tendons and ligaments of the arch may tear and become inflamed. In rigid flat foot, the arch is stuck in the flat position all the time.
How does flat foot occur?
Common causes of flat food include:
- Congenital abnormalities (present at birth)
- Stretched or torn tendons
- Damaged or inflamed posterior tibial tendon (the tendon that supports the arch)
- Broken or dislocated bones
Obesity, diabetes and pregnancy can increase your risk of flat foot.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of flat foot may include:
- Pain in the heel, arch, ankle or along the outside of the foot
- Over-pronation of the ankle
- Shin splints (pain along the shin bone)
- Aching or fatigue in the foot or leg
- Low back, hip or leg pain
How is flat foot diagnosed?
In addition to a physical exam and health history, your doctor may take an X-ray or MRI of your foot to determine the severity of the disorder.
What is the treatment?
For many people, non-surgical treatment options may relieve symptoms. Conservative measures include:
- Activity modification to give your arches a rest
- Custom orthotics or shoe modifications to support your arches
- Weight loss to ease pressure on your arches
- Physical therapy
- Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve pain and inflammation
- Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
If these conservative measures fail to alleviate your symptoms and you have pain that interferes with daily activities, surgery may be necessary. The goal of surgery is to relieve symptoms and improve foot alignment and function.
A variety of surgical techniques is available to correct flat foot. It's important to consult a qualified foot and ankle surgeon to determine the treatment that is most appropriate for you. Surgical options include arthrodesis (fusing the foot or ankle bones together), removing bone spurs, osteotomy (cutting or shaving the bone), synovectomy (cleaning the tendon coverings), tendon transfer, or a bone graft to help your arch rise more naturally. Recovery time varies, depending on the procedure performed.