We see lots of patients with flat foot pain in our Medford, OR podiatry practice. But what’s considered a flat foot? And why does it cause so much discomfort?
Well, we say you have flat feet if we can’t see an arch in your foot when you stand. Now, there are times in life when having flat feet is part of normal development. After all, we’re born with flat feet, and they slowly develop in early childhood. But sometimes, that development doesn’t happen. Other times, you develop an arch, only to have it collapse later in life. That’s when you may experience flat foot pain—and come to the office, looking for relief.
What is a flat foot?
If you have a flat foot (or flatfoot) one or both your feet have little to no arch. When your feet are on the ground, you can’t see an arch, and the pads of your feet get pushed into the ground. For some people with flat feet, a small arch appears when their foot leaves the ground. But for others, there simply is no arch in the foot.
As we mentioned earlier, it’s normal for children under the age of six to have flat feet. But most adults do develop arches—and keep them—from childhood on. Yet those who don’t? We say they have flat feet. And, depending on the reasons behind their condition, they may develop flat foot pain.
Are all flat feet the same?
There are different reasons why your foot stays or becomes flat. And there are different types of flat feet. If you have a flexible flat foot, that means your arches are visible when your feet leave the ground. But they disappear when you’re standing or bearing weight. Flexible flat feet typically develop when you’re a teenager. And this kind of flat foot pain usually results from overstretching, tearing, swelling and inflammation in the ligaments and tendons that run through your arches.
In contrast, some patients come in with rigid flat feet, meaning that even when their feet leave the ground, they don’t have an arch. As with flexible flat feet, this condition often develops when you’re a teenager. But it will continue to get worse as you age, leaving you with pain and limits on your range of motion, especially if you try to flex your affected foot or feet.
Rarely, babies are born with a condition called vertical talus, meaning that the ankle’s talus bone is in the wrong place. As such, their feet can never form arches, and they look a little bit like rocking chairs, which is why this congenital condition is sometimes referred to as rocker-bottom foot.
Now, if your flat foot develops in adulthood, we say you have fallen arches—that simply means that you once had an arch, but now it has dropped or collapsed, usually due to an injury or inflammation in the arch’s supporting tendon, the posterior tibial, located in the back of your calf muscle.
What causes flat foot pain and what are the other symptoms?
A lot of what determines your foot shape has to do with genetics. If your mom and grandpa had high arches, you’re more likely to as well. And the same is true of flat feet, or very low arches—there is clearly a genetic component that determines your foot structure.
But what causes fallen arches, or adult onset flat feet? Again, you may have a genetic predisposition for this condition. Still, certain factors also contribute to adult flat feet. These include:
- Achilles tendon injuries
- Broken bones
- RA, or rheumatoid arthritis
- High blood pressure
Now, many people walk around with flat feet, and never experience discomfort. Most, however, will experience some flat foot pain, as well as leg pain, fatigue or cramping; arch, heel or ankle pain; changes to the way you walk; and drifting toes.
When patients come in with these complaints, a visual exam will tell us that they have flat feet. Still, we may need to conduct a gait analysis, or order additional text such as x-rays, to get to the root cause of your flat foot pain.
Treating flat foot pain: What are my options?
Unless you have rigid flat feet, or your child has vertical talus, we can manage the effects of flat feet without surgery. If you are already in pain, we can recommend rest, icing and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen) to reduce discomfort. Stretching and strengthening the tightened muscles can also help improve your pain and restore your range of motion. But, unless we fit you for custom orthotics, your flat foot pain will likely return. So that is likely the most important part of your treatment plan.
Custom Orthotics for Flat Feet: A Long-Term Solution
Even if you don’t have flat foot pain now, failing to address this condition increases your risk for arthritis, heel spurs, corns, calluses and bunions. Also, flat feet can lead to hip, knee and back pain if left untreated.
Luckily, custom orthotics can get rid of your existing pain and prevent future complications from flat feet. In fact, research suggests that orthotics give flat feet added shock absorption to prevent pain. At the same time, they support your arch and heel, helping improve your gait and your balance.
Basically, because we mold these medical devices to fit your exact foot shape, they give your flat feet exactly the support they need to prevent flat foot pain. Then, because they also keep your body in alignment, these devices can keep your flat feet from leading to problems higher up in the body, with your knees, hips and back.
Of course, you can find shoe inserts at almost every pharmacy. In fact, you can even get your foot scanned at some supermarkets, getting a more customized insert from these machines. However, if you want a medical device that can actually treat flat foot pain, you will need to invest in an orthotic prescribed and designed for your exact needs. Then, once your device is ready, we will bring you into the office to make sure that the orthotic fits you perfectly, and to review correct usage to keep your flat feet happy.
Ready to walk comfortably, and stop worrying about your flat feet? Schedule an appointment with our podiatrists in Medford, OR. We’ll discuss treatment options for your flat feet, and offer you a custom orthotic consultation.