Of the many body parts we benignly neglect, our feet may be the most taken for granted. They get us where we need to go, supporting a lot of weight given their size relative to the rest of our bodies. They are structurally complex, comprising 26 bones, 33 joints, and 100+ muscles, tendons, and ligaments apiece. Indeed, over a quarter of the bones in the body are located in the feet. Most human feet have arches much like the ones in some bridges and other architectural structures. And much like these man-made structures, our bipedal arch turns out to be a useful engineering phenomenon. ?The arches distribute weight evenly across the feet and up the legs, and can affect walking. A well-developed arch is balanced between rigidity (for stability and flexibility (for adapting to surfaces). What, then, are the implications of fallen arches, otherwise known as flat feet, where no or little foot arch exists and the instep of the foot touches the ground? There are two types of flat feet. A person with flexible flat feet has some arch, especially when standing on the toes. A person with rigid flat feet has no arch whatsoever. Infants usually have flat feet, with the arch developing in childhood.
Just as there are many different causes of flat feet, there are also many different treatment options. The most important aspect of treatment is determining the exact type or underlying cause of flat feet that you have. Foot and ankle specialists can determine this through thorough clinical examination and special imaging studies (e.g., x-rays, computed tomography, and/or magnetic resonance imaging). Conservative treatment is effective in the vast majority of flat foot cases, and consists of things such as insoles, splints, manipulation, or casting. Surgery is required much less frequently, and is reserved only for some of the severe types of flat foot that do not respond to conservative therapy. You may have noticed that one common element in the conservative treatment of all types of flat feet is orthoses. Many companies now manufacture semi-custom orthotic devices that not only improve comfort, but also seek to control abnormal motion of the foot. These over-the-counter inserts, in the $25 to $50 range, are an economical treatment that may help a majority of people. Unfortunately, these semi-custom devices will not fit everyone perfectly, and those of us who differ too much from the average may respond better to custom orthotic devices. Custom inserts are prescribed by your foot and ankle specialist and are made individually from either a physical or computerized impression of your feet. The only drawback of custom orthoses is their cost, ranging anywhere from $300 to $500. Many physicians recommend trying over-the-counter inserts first (and even keep them in stock) as they may save their patients large sums of money.
Arches can be seen as ?rolling downward? or collapsing when walking. Pain may present in lower back, hips or knees. Pain may be present on the bottom of the heels, within the arch, within the ankles or even the forefoot. Swelling can occur. Pain may occur in the anterior leg muscles.
You can test yourself to see if you have flat feet or fallen arches by using a simple home experiment. First, dip your feet in water. Then step on a hard flat surface, like a dry floor or a piece of paper on the floor, where your footprints will show. Step away and examine your foot prints. If you see complete/full imprints of your feet on the floor, you may have fallen arches. However, it?s important to seek a second option from a podiatrist if you suspect you have fallen arches so they can properly diagnose and treat you.
Non Surgical Treatment
The simplest form of treatment is the use of custom fitted orthotics. For this, it is best to see a podiatrist, who is a trained medical professional that assesses feet and gives you a prescription for the orthotic. If the orthotics do not work - or if the deformity is very severe - then surgical management may be needed. There is a very wide range of procedures available, with varying downtimes and complexity. The simplest procedure of all is a simple calf release. This can be done at the back of the knee or the calf, and has a very quick recovery. It is a day-surgery procedure, and the patient can walk immediately after the surgery without the need for a cast. Recovery back to jogging can be as early as three weeks. The calf release stops the deforming force but obviously does not correct the arch itself. It is usually done in combination with some of the other procedures mentioned below. Done by itself, the patient will probably still require orthotics but by releasing the calf, it allows the orthotics to be much more effective. The other end of the spectrum is a complete reconstruction of the arch with bone work and screws to fuse joints.
Generally one of the following procedures is used to surgically repair a flat foot or fallen arch. Arthrodesis. One or more of your bones in the foot or ankle are fused together. Osteotomy. Correcting alignment by cutting and reshaping a bone. Excision. Removing a bone or a bone spur. Synovectomy. Cleaning the sheath that covers the tendon. Tendon transfer. Using a piece of one tendon to lengthen or replace another. Arthroereisis. placing a small device in the subtalar joint to limit motion. For most people, treatment is successful, regardless of the cause, although the cause does does play a major role in determining your prognosis. Some causes do not need treatment, while others require a surgical fix.
Donning a first-rate pair of arch supports, therapeutic socks and proper footwear before heading out to enjoy hours of holiday fun is one option to consider. Your podiatrist can help you find just the right ones. Once you have them on, they?ll help ease the amount of pressure being put on your body and keep the blood flowing in the right direction. While you?re standing in line, consider doing a bit of exercise as well. We?re not talking about channeling your inner Jack LaLanne here. Otherwise, you might attract the attention of the mall security guards. Simple ankle rotations and walking in place may help to reduce edema and give your flat feet a bit of a break. If you happen to be in a shopping mall or center where foot massages are available, take advantage of them periodically. They are likely to make you feel better and it?s a great excuse to carve out a few quiet moments for yourself. If you can?t visit a professional, tuck a personal foot massager into your purse. That way, you can lightly massage your own feet during the car ride home. Lastly, there are certain foods and nutritional supplements available that may reduce edema caused by standing on flat feet for hours at a time. The list includes potassium rich foods like raisins, bananas, baby carrots, nuts and yogurt. So, you may want to pack a snack for those trips to the mall or hit the food court before you hit the stores.