Flat feet occur when the arches of the feet do not hold their normal shape, resulting in the entire middle of the foot touching the floor. Often the condition is painless, but for some people with flat feet pain can develop in the heel or arch area. Fallen arches can lead to not only foot problems, but also issues in the lower body or spine. Keep scrolling to learn more about flat feet, the causes, risk factors, symptoms you may experience and how to go about diagnosing.
If you have flat feet, it means that your entire foot touches the ground when you are standing. The medical term for flat feet is pes planus, but the condition is also known as fallen arches, collapsed arches, or pronated feet.
Interestingly, all babies are born with flat feet. From the age of three onward, the arch of the foot begins to develop with weight bearing activity that tightens the tendons and other connective tissue in the feet. Sometimes, this development fails to occur and the person is left with flat feet. Other times, flat feet can occur during adulthood.
People with flat feet may experience other problems due to misalignment of the body, such as ankle pain, knee pain, hip pain, and even low back pain.
There are two types of flat feet:
In the case of a flexible flatfoot, the foot appears flat when you are standing up, but the arch is visible when sitting down, as there is no weight on the foot. Painless, flexible flat feet typically don’t cause problems.
There is no visible arch when sitting or standing. Rigid flat feet are more likely to cause pain and other issues than flexible flat feet. This is because the feet are not able to properly absorb shock with normal daily activities, putting excessive strain on the entire lower body.
There is technically a third type of flat foot. This condition occurs with muscle dysfunction. The posterior tibialis plays a key role in supporting the arch. Thus, if it becomes swollen or painful it can lead to a fallen arch.
Flat feet are normal in infants and toddlers, but should not occur in adults. Yet, as many as 8% of adults are reported to have flat feet. In older children and adults, the most common flat feet causes include:
Anyone can be at risk of flat feet, but some people are more likely to develop the condition than others. The factors that increase your risk of flat feet include:
The most obvious sign of flat feet is the absence of an arch, either when sitting, standing, or both. Aside from this, most people experience no other symptoms.
Occasionally, people may have:
In severe or long-term cases of flat feet, pain in the knee, hips, or low back may occur due to biomechanical changes.
See your doctor or podiatrist if you are concerned about how having flat feet might affect your quality of life. It is especially important to make an appointment if you have:
To diagnose flat feet, the podiatrist will examine and check your foot arch. They may ask you to stand on your toes. It can be helpful to bring a pair of well-worn shoes with you so they can check the wear pattern for signs of misalignment.
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may order an imaging test of your feet, such as an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI scan to rule out secondary complications such as tendon injury, sprains, or fracture. They may even prescribe orthopaedic insoles.
Although it can be helpful to seek a medical advice for proper diagnosis, you can perform an at-home test to check for flat feet, high or normal arches. To do this:
Most people with flat feet do not experience problems. Many do not require treatment. But if you have rigid flat feet, or you regularly experience pain, then you may be at higher risk of flat feet problems.
The most common problem is that flat feet exacerbate the symptoms of other conditions in the feet, ankles, or legs. These include:
Flat feet can also throw off the rest of your body alignment which can be problematic with any weight bearing activity, when running, or engaging in other high-impact activities. It places you at higher risk of pain in the hips, back, and knees.
It’s not always possible to prevent flat feet, particularly when flat feet result from developmental issues during childhood. However, most cases of flat feet during adulthood can be avoided. To prevent flat feet:
If you have painful flat feet, the first port of call should be your doctor, who can make a diagnosis and help you formulate an effective treatment plan. Luckily, conservative treatments often resolve the pain and swelling associated with the condition.
The most effective home remedies involve using orthotics for flat feet. Some of the best options include special arch supports and shoe inserts for flat feet. You can also try stretching exercises, physical therapy, rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain relieving medications.
Finally, choose your footwear wisely. High-quality shoes with good arch support can prevent and alleviate the symptoms of flat feet, as well as many other painful foot conditions.
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