Understanding and Treating Fallen Arches

Flat feet graphic

Millions of adults annually suffer from various aches and pains in their soles, and one of the top offenders is the prevalence of flat feet. While this concept is one that you've no doubt heard before, it is important to understand what fallen arches actually are and, more importantly, how it may be affecting your orthotic health and peace and mind!

When looking at the foot of an adult, from the inside, there is an upward, middle curve, known as an arch. A number of tendons, tight bands attached to the heel and foot bones as well as the lower leg, work to form foot arches.

If all associated tendons "pull together" by the right amount, the foot will have a normal, moderately curved arch. When tendons do not work together in the correct manner, the result is a low arch or no arch at all. This condition is referred to as "flat" feet or "fallen" arches.

Flat Feet and/or Fallen Arch Causes

The most common causes include:

  • A congenital abnormality.
  • Tendons that are stretched or torn.
  • Inflammation or damage to the posterior tibial tendon (i.e. runs from the lower leg, along the ankle, to the center of the arch).
  • Dislocated or broken bones.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Nerve conditions.

Certain factors can increase the risk of developing fallen arches:

  • Diabetes.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Obesity.
  • Aging.

Flat Feet and Fallen Arch Symptoms

Many people who have flat feet experience symptoms that negatively impact their mobility, such as:

  • Feet get tired easily.
  • Aching, painful feet, particularly in the arch or heel areas.
  • Bottom, inside area of the feet becomes swollen.
  • Certain movements are difficult to perform (i.e. standing on the toes).
  • Pain in the legs and/or back.

Flat Feet and Fallen Arch Diagnosis

A foot specialist may perform the following tests:

  • Examination of the soles of the shoes to check for unusual/uneven wear patterns.
  • Observation of the feet and legs while patient is standing, walking or performing specific movements (i.e. standing on toes, etc.).
  • Tests to determine muscle and/or tendon strength in the feet.
  • X-rays or MRI of the feet.

Flat Feet and Fallen Arch Treatments

The recommended treatments are dependent on the severity of the condition as well as the cause. If there are no symptoms present and no other foot issues, treatment may not be required. However, a doctor may suggest at least one of the following:

  • Find proper footwear that provides necessary arch support, like Vionic with Orthaheel Technology. This brand even provides slippers with arch support so you can provide beneficial structure to your feet even as you settle in for the night.
  • Application of ice for reduction of swelling and/or relief of pain.
  • Exercises to stretch the feet.
  • Rest.
  • Analgesic medications or over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (i.e. Ibuprofen).
  • Physical therapy.
  • Various devices including orthotics (i.e. arch support inserts), modifications to shoes, braces or casts.
  • Cortisone injections to reduce inflammation.
  • Addressing risk factors leading to the development of fallen arches or flat feet (i.e. diabetes and/or obesity).
  • Avoidance of specific activities that put excessive stress/strain on the feet such as running on harder surfaces like roads, sidewalks, etc.
  • Avoid participating in high-impact sports, (i.e. basketball, hockey, soccer and tennis, etc.).

If foot damage or pain is particularly severe, a foot specialist may suggest specific surgical procedures including the following:

  • Addition of tendon tissue, from other areas of the body, to tendons in the feet to assist in balancing the "pull" of the tendons thus forming a normal arch (i.e. tendon transfer).
  • Application of bone grafts to the feet causing a more moderate, natural arch (i.e. lateral column lengthening).

If you are experiencing some of the noted symptoms or suspect that you have fallen arches, meet with your doctor or podiatric medical expert so that you can come up with a treatment plan. Additionally, don't forget to check out our variety of foot health products that are designed to fit your specific needs.

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