Leontine Cragar

The Feet Dilemmas Data Base

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Overview

Adult Acquired Flat Foot

Fallen arches, or flatfoot, is a condition in which the arch on the inside of the foot is flat and the entire sole of the foot rests on the ground. It affects about 40% of the general population. Although flat feet in themselves are not usually problematic, they can create problems in the feet, hips, ankles and knees. Pain may be experienced in the lower back if there are alignment problems and if the individual is engaged in a lot of heavy, high impact activities that put stress on the bones and muscles in the lower legs. The arches of most individuals are fully developed by the age of 12 to 13. While some people are born with flat arches, for others the arches fall over time. The tibial tendon, which runs along the inside of the ankle from above the ankle to the arch, can weaken with age and with heavy activity. The posterior tendon, main support structure for the arch, can become inflamed (tendonitis) or even tear if overloaded. For women, wearing high heels can affect the Achilles tendon and alter the structure and function of the ankle. The posterior tibial tendon may compensate for this stress and break down, causing the arches to fall. Obesity is another contributing factor, as well as a serious injury to the ankle or foot, arthritis and bad circulation such as occurs with diabetes.

Causes

There are a number of different causes that can lead to flat feet or fallen arches. These include, birth defects, while technically not a defect as such, flat feet can be a normal finding in patients from birth. However, a condition called tarsal coalition may occur where some of the bones in the foot are fused together resulting in a flatfoot. Inflammation or damage of the posterior tibial tendon. This tendon forms the end of a muscle that connects the lower leg to the foot, winding around the ankle and attaching to the inner aspect where the arch is normally present. The main role of the posterior tibial tendon is to invert the foot and maintain the arch height throughout the gait cycle. Torn muscles of the leg and foot can cause flat feet. Problems with the nerve supply to the muscles can result in reduction in tone and fallen arches. Fracture dislocation of the bones in the foot. Severe arthritis. While these are the common causes that can result in fallen arches and flat feet, it is important to recognise that there are certain risk factors that can also lead to this condition. These include advancing age, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, obesity and pregnancy.

Symptoms

Having flat feet can be painless and is actually normal in some people. But others with flat feet experience pain in the heel or arch area, difficulty standing on tiptoe, or have swelling along the inside of the ankle. They may also experience pain after standing for long periods of time or playing sports. Some back problems can also be attributed to flat feet.

Diagnosis

Runners are often advised to get a gait analysis to determine what type of foot they have and so what kind of running shoe they require. This shouldn?t stop at runners. Anyone that plays sports could benefit from this assessment. Sports shoes such as football boots, astro trainers and squash trainers often have very poor arch support and so for the 60-80% of us who do overpronate or have flat feet they are left unsupported. A change of footwear or the insertion of arch support insoles or orthotics can make a massive difference to your risk of injury, to general aches and pains and even to your performance.

fallen arches support

Non Surgical Treatment

There are different modalities of treatment that are available to manage flat feet and fallen arches. The type of treatment that is chosen depends upon how severe the condition is and what symptoms the patients are experiencing. Below is a brief description of the available treatment modalities. In the event that the patient is experiencing swelling of the feet, rest and ice application is usually the initial treatment step. Oral anti-inflammatories may be offered which can help reduce inflammation as well as associated pain. Physical therapy has good outcomes and can include different exercises such as stretches and strengthening of the surrounding muscles. Changes in footwear and activity modification are also important when dealing with a painful flat (pronated) foot. These days, orthotic insoles are easily available either over the counter or through your Podiatrist which can effectively help maintain the arch of the foot and reduce the amount of stress placed on the foot. Podiatrists are able to prescribe a variety of different devices from prefabricated to customized and are trained to determine the most appropriate device for each individual. In order to offer the right kind of orthotic insole, podiatrists may perform a test called gait analysis. This involves asking the patient to walk and videoing the different movements that the foot of forms during the walking. Features such as over pronation can be easily seen on this and orthotic insoles can be prescribed to correct the specific abnormalities that are picked up on this analysis. Overall, orthotic treatment can result in a significant improvement in foot movement and reduction in foot discomfort.

Surgical Treatment

Adult Acquired Flat Foot

Surgical correction is dependent on the severity of symptoms and the stage of deformity. The goals of surgery are to create a more functional and stable foot. There are multiple procedures available to the surgeon and it may take several to correct a flatfoot deformity. Stage one deformities usually respond to conservative or non-surgical therapy such as anti-inflammatory medication, casting, functional orthotics or a foot ankle orthosis called a Richie Brace. If these modalities are unsuccessful surgery is warranted. Usually surgical treatment begins with removal of inflammatory tissue and repair of the posterior tibial tendon. A tendon transfer is performed if the posterior tibial muscle is weak or the tendon is badly damaged. The most commonly used tendon is the flexor digitorum longus tendon. This tendon flexes or moves the lesser toes downward. The flexor digitorum longus tendon is utilized due to its close proximity to the posterior tibial tendon and because there are minimal side effects with its loss. The remainder of the tendon is sutured to the flexor hallucis longus tendon that flexes the big toe so that little function is loss. Stage two deformities are less responsive to conservative therapies that can be effective in mild deformities. Bone procedures are necessary at this stage in order to recreate the arch and stabilize the foot. These procedures include isolated fusion procedures, bone grafts, and/or the repositioning of bones through cuts called osteotomies. The realigned bones are generally held in place with screws, pins, plates, or staples while the bone heals. A tendon transfer may or may not be utilized depending on the condition of the posterior tibial tendon. Stage three deformities are better treated with surgical correction, in healthy patients. Patients that are unable to tolerate surgery or the prolonged healing period are better served with either arch supports known as orthotics or bracing such as the Richie Brace. Surgical correction at this stage usually requires fusion procedures such as a triple or double arthrodesis. This involves fusing the two or three major bones in the back of the foot together with screws or pins. The most common joints fused together are the subtalar joint, talonavicular joint, and the calcaneocuboid joint. By fusing the bones together the surgeon is able to correct structural deformity and alleviate arthritic pain. Tendon transfer procedures are usually not beneficial at this stage. Stage four deformities are treated similarly but with the addition of fusing the ankle joint.

After Care

Patients may go home the day of surgery or they may require an overnight hospital stay. The leg will be placed in a splint or cast and should be kept elevated for the first two weeks. At that point, sutures are removed. A new cast or a removable boot is then placed. It is important that patients do not put any weight on the corrected foot for six to eight weeks following the operation. Patients may begin bearing weight at eight weeks and usually progress to full weightbearing by 10 to 12 weeks. For some patients, weightbearing requires additional time. After 12 weeks, patients commonly can transition to wearing a shoe. Inserts and ankle braces are often used. Physical therapy may be recommended. There are complications that relate to surgery in general. These include the risks associated with anesthesia, infection, damage to nerves and blood vessels, and bleeding or blood clots. Complications following flatfoot surgery may include wound breakdown or nonunion (incomplete healing of the bones). These complications often can be prevented with proper wound care and rehabilitation. Occasionally, patients may notice some discomfort due to prominent hardware. Removal of hardware can be done at a later time if this is an issue. The overall complication rates for flatfoot surgery are low.
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