Flat Feet

What are flat feet?

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A flat foot is a type of deformity that causes the arch of the foot to collapse. This condition causes most of the sole of the foot to come into contact with the ground. Flat feet are very common in children, but most develop foot arches as they age. According to the 2012 National Foot Health Assessment, around 8 percent of adults in the United States have flat feet. Another 4 percent have fallen arches, which is a similar condition.

Flat feet are relatively common, and they do not often hurt while at rest. In fact, some people with flat feet feel no pain at all. Rather, flat feet can cause pain to those who engage in physical activity. In some cases, flat feet can cause problems with walking, standing for a long time, and running. If you have flat feet and they are causing mobility problems, make an appointment with a podiatrist. A diagnosis will require several tests, but your doctor will be able to provide exercises to strengthen your foot arch.

What do flat feet look like?

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Flat feet are very recognizable if you know what to look for. A person with flat feet will have most of the sole of their foot in complete contact, or near-complete contact, with the ground. This is most recognizable when the person is standing.

Flat feet can cause pain in a person’s lower legs and ankles, as well as in the feet themselves. People with flat feet might also experience numbness and/or stiffness.

What causes flat feet?

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Flat feet occur when the foot’s tendons are loose and weakened. These tendons typically tighten, resulting in an arch, as people grow older. This is why children are more likely to have flat feet than adults.

Flat feet are often genetic. If the condition runs in the family, you are likely to experience it yourself. Specific hereditary conditions, like Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, are also known to cause flat feet. Additionally, those who are very athletic or physically active are at high risk of developing flat feet because of an ankle or foot injury. In very rare cases, flat feet may be caused by a condition called tarsal coalition. This occurs when two or more of the bones in the foot grow or fuse together.

Flat feet are most common in infants and young children. Humans typically develop a foot arch within the first two years of life, but it can take longer for some children. In some cases, most often in female bodies, a person does not develop a foot arch.

Other factors can increase a person’s likelihood of developing flat feet. This includes having hypertension, some forms of diabetes, and obesity.

What are flat feet symptoms?

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Most often, there are no symptoms of flat feet. Children may experience foot, ankle, and/or lower leg pain, but this often goes away with age. However, if you notice that your child still has flat feet when they are five years old, make an appointment with a podiatrist.

In adults, flat foot symptoms often include experiencing tired and aching feet after physical activity or standing for long periods of time. Pain is also common on the outside of the ankle.

Are there different types of flat feet?

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There are several types of flat feet, some more common than others. These flat foot types are characterized by how severe the fallen arch appears and what is causing the deformity.

  • Tight Achilles Tendon: This type of flat foot occurs when the Achilles tendon is too tight. This causes pain while walking and running. When walking or running, a tight Achilles tendon causes the heel to lift prematurely.
  • Flexible Flat Foot: This is the most common type of flat foot. It occurs when the foot’s arch appears only when the foot is lifted off the ground. In other words, there is no arch when the person is standing. Flexible flat foot often starts in childhood, and it typically does not cause much, if any, pain.
  • Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction: This type of flat foot appears in adulthood. It forms when the tendon connecting the ankle to the calf muscle is injured, torn, or swollen.

Some people will have just one type of flat foot, while others can have multiple.

How are flat feet diagnosed?

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A flat foot diagnosis typically involves a visit to the podiatrist. At the appointment, your doctor will ask for a full health history. Then, they will perform a variety of physical and observational tests to check the foot’s arch. In many cases, this involves asking the patient to stand on their toes. If an arch forms, the flat foot is flexible, and no treatment is necessary.

However, if the toe-standing test does not yield a foot arch, additional testing may be necessary, especially if the patient is experiencing pain. Imaging tests, including MRI scans, CT scans, and X-rays, are the most common.

Are there any flat foot treatments?

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Children with flat feet do not often need any treatment. Kids’ feet grow and develop over time. Parents can rest assured that normal activities, such as walking barefoot, jumping, and running, will not exacerbate a child’s flat feet. If, however, the child’s foot shape is causing pain, and they are over 5 years old, consider visiting a podiatrist.

Adults with flat feet have a variety of treatment options. Most doctors will recommend an arch-supporting orthotic, which should be placed inside the shoe. Your doctor will also likely recommend lifestyle changes. For some, this may include a diet and exercise program. Managing weight can help to reduce the pressure placed on the feet.

Most commonly, your doctor is likely to prescribe a range of foot exercise to help rebuild the arch. There are several directions for these exercises available online, but it is important to ask your doctor on which exercise you should focus. Sometimes, this may involve a couple of physical therapy appointments.

Depending on your condition’s cause and severity, a doctor may also prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication to relieve any pain and swelling.

In the most severe flat foot cases, where the tendons are extremely inflamed or severed, a podiatrist may recommend surgery. These surgeries can help restore the foot’s arch, clean and/or repair the tendon, and fuse foot joins into a corrected position. While surgery has its own risks, this may be a useful option for those whose flat feet cause extreme pain.

When to see a doctor for flat feet?

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Podiatry problems do not often require the immediate help of a physician. However, seeing a doctor soon after the onset of symptoms can speed recovery and widen treatment options. If you have foot pain, or if your feet are causing problems with walking and running, make an appointment with your doctor or podiatrist.

Remember that flat feet are most common in children. If your child’s flat feet persist into early adolescence, make them an appointment with a doctor. Children with flat feet are at a higher risk of developing hip, back, and knee pain later in life.

Remember that feet are not often preventable. However, people can prevent the condition from worsening. With a combination of treatments – either special shoes, shoe supports, or surgery – folks can rebuild foot arches over time.