The arches of our feet provide support for our body weight, helping to properly distribute forces over the feet and legs. When someone has flat feet, the arch is either low or non-existent.
Flat feet can be seen at any age, but is not always a cause for concern. Only cases in which a lack of arch is causing pain, discomfort, or other problems necessarily need any intervention.
Most often, people come to a podiatrist for foot or heel pain, only to learn the cause is flat feet. They seldom come for flat feet without other symptoms.
What Causes Flat Feet?
Flat feet are very commonly seen in young children and can be a normal part of growing up.
When we are born, our arches are not developed. This is fine since we don’t really stand on our feet around that time, anyway.
As we grow, however, the arches usually begin to form around age 5 or later. You might find that your child’s arches may be visible when they are sitting or on their toes, but vanish when they are firmly standing. This is known as flexible flatfoot and, again, this can be a perfectly normal part of development.
While most children will outgrow flexible flatfoot, sometimes one might still have flat feet as they mature.
In other cases, an adult who had perfectly normal arches may find they have flattened over time. As we go through life, the tendons and other structures that support our arches may weaken due to various factors. Factors that may increase the likelihood of adult flatfoot include:
- Excessive weight
- An injury to the foot or ankle
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- A genetic disposition toward flat feet
- A nervous system condition
When Should I See a Podiatrist About Flat Feet?
While most children who show signs of flexible flatfoot will eventually outgrow it, it is still wise to at least notify us of what you see. This way, we can monitor the development of your child’s arches over time and, if we see any causes for concern, they can be acted upon before they have a chance to become something worse.
Regardless of age, you should always contact us whenever you have foot or heel pain that persists for more than a few days. Whether the cause is flat feet or another condition, addressing it sooner than later is always the best option.
The complications of flat feet might not always be felt directly in the feet, as well. Because of the way our structures are connected, the imbalance of forces that can be caused by fallen arches may be felt more in the inner ankle, calf, knee, back, or hip instead.
Of course, it’s perfectly reasonable that you wouldn’t think of going to a podiatrist first if you have pain in your back. We’re just warning you not to be too surprised if your general physician refers you to one upon an exam.
How are Flat Feet Treated?
In cases where flat feet are causing pain, conservative treatments can most often manage the symptoms and effectively provide relief. These may include:
- Orthotics. While an over-the-counter arch support might sometimes be enough, most often a prescribed pair of custom-made orthotics will provide much more effective and longer lasting relief. Such supports can provide cushioning and alignment correction exactly where it’s needed.
- Supportive shoes. A change in footwear can often do wonders. Shoes designed to be more supportive of flat feet and keep the foot in alignment while walking may be recommended. Sandals and flimsier shoes may cause problems.
- Stretching. The effects of flat feet can be magnified by a tight Achilles tendon. In these cases, a schedule of exercises to stretch that tendon can help.
- Physical therapy. Walking/running form and technique may be evaluated, and physical therapy may be recommended to help improve these factors for more efficiency and less pain. This may be especially recommended for runners or other athletes who are heavily engaged in movement.
Surgery is extremely rare in cases of flat feet. It is usually considered only when the condition is associated with additional problems, such as a ruptured or torn tendon.
As noted, the sooner pain and other complications from flat feet can be addressed, the easier and more effective treatments can be. The longer one goes without treatment, the more rigid and painful flat feet can become.
For help with foot pain, contact El Paso podiatrist Bruce Scudday at (915) 533-5151. You can also fill out our online contact form and a member of staff will reach out to you for an appointment.