Pes planus is the scientific term that describes low arch or "flat" feet. As podiatric physicians, we are very interested not only in structure but also in function of the feet. While very few people have 20-20 vision, it is also true that very few people have perfect arch structure. High and low arch feet are just the two ends of the spectrum of foot structure. The more deviation from what is considered perfect, the worse the function becomes. We describe deviation from "the ideal" as imbalance in structure. It is the imbalance in structure that leads to abnormal function. Abnormal function causes pain and/or deformity. Deformity can manifest itself in a variety of foot problems such as bunions or hammertoes. Likewise, pain can manifest itself in a variety of ways such as heel pain ( plantar fasciitis or heel spur), corns or calluses, metatarsalgia or pain in the ball of the foot ( neuromas, stress fractures, or tendonitis), or even in pediatric problems. Invariably, we can treat most foot imbalance or biomechanical insufficiencies with orthotic therapy.
The cause of this condition is too much pressure exerted on the arches, and although common in athletes, the condition can happen because you went hiking or climbing, you were lifting heavy objects, or you simply walked too far too vigorously. Pregnancy places extra strain on the arches because of both the additional body weight and the effect of hormones on muscles and ligaments.
Flat feet can exhibit a variety of symptoms, from mild to severe. The extent of the flat foto does not always correlate with the extent of symptoms. Patients may complain of arch pain and heel pain. Commonly there is pain on the outside of the foot, where the foot meets the ankle as the collapse foot abuts against the ankle. Muscle cramps within the foot, and onto the leg (shin splints) may occur. In general, patients have pain with activity, such as walking or running. The pain may be deep and focal to a generalized widespread achy feeling. Irritation from shoe gear can cause redness and swelling. Common reasons patients seek treatment are pain, interference with walking or activities, difficulty fitting shoes, swelling, and notice a change in appearance of the foot and/or unsightly appearance.
Your doctor may order imaging tests to help make sure your heel pain is caused by plantar fasciitis and not another problem. X-rays provide clear images of bones. They are useful in ruling out other causes of heel pain, such as fractures or arthritis. Heel spurs can be seen on an x-ray. Other imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound, are not routinely used to diagnose plantar fasciitis. They are rarely ordered. An MRI scan may be used if the heel pain is not relieved by initial treatment methods.
Non Surgical Treatment
Rest from any aggravating activities and apply cold therapy whilst in the acute phase when the foot or ankle is painful and inflamed. Your Doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help reduce pain and inflammation. Once the initial pain and inflammation has gone then a full rehabilitation program which includes stretching and strengthening exercises for the foot can begin. Consult a foot specialist, podiatrist or physiotherapist who can assess this and biomechanical problems of the foot. Nerve conduction studies may be done to confirm the diagnosis and indicate the location of the entrapment. An X-ray or MRI may also be useful to determine the presence of any other structures such as cysts, arthritis or a tarsal coalition.
If you have pain that has not been responsive to other treatments, there is a new non-surgical treatment that was recently approved by the FDA. ESWT (extracorporeal shockwave therapy) uses strong electrohydraulic acoustic (sound) energy that triggers the body?s natural repair mechanism. This treatment method is safe, effective and requires a very short recovery period compared to older surgical techniques.
Strap the arches into the anatomically correct positions with athletic tape and leave them like this for some time. If the fallen arches are an issue with the muscular structure, this may give the muscles an opportunity to strengthen. This is definitely not a fallen arches cure all the time but it can help prevent it more times than not. Ask a doctor or physical therapists to show you how to do this taping. Find shoes that fit. This may require that you get your foot measured and molded to ensure that the shoe will fit. Shoes that are too big, too tight or too short, may not directly cause the fallen arches, but they can assist with the damage to the area. These shoes should have thick cushioning inside and have plenty of room for your toes. Walk without shoes as much as possible. Shoes directly assist with weakening and distorting the arches of the feet so going without shoes can actually help strengthen your arches and prevent fallen arches. Walking on hard and bumpy surfaces barefooted makes the muscles in your feet strengthen in order to prevent injury. It is a coping mechanism by your body. Insert heel cups or insoles into the shoes that you wear the most. Many people wear uncomfortable shoes to work and these are the same shoes that cause their arches the most problems. Inserting the heel cups and insoles into these shoes can prevent fallen arches from occurring. Many people place these inserts into all their shoes to ensure support. Ask a medical professional, either your doctor or a physical therapist, about daily foot exercises that may keep the arches stronger than normal. Many times, you can find exercises and stretches on the Internet on various websites. Curling your toes tightly and rotating your feet will help strengthen your longitudinal arches. Relax your feet and shake them for a minute or so before you do any arch exercises. This will loosen the muscles in your feet that stay tight due to normal daily activities. Wear rigid soled sandals whenever possible to provide a strong support for your arches. Wooden soled sandals are the best ones if available. Walk or jog on concrete as much as you can. This will create a sturdy support for your arches. Running or walking in sandy areas or even on a treadmill, does not give rigid support. Instead, these surfaces absorb the step, offering no support for arches.
Achilles stretch. Stand with the ball of one foot on a stair. Reach for the step below with your heel until you feel a stretch in the arch of your foot. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds and then relax. Repeat 3 times. Balance and reach exercises. Stand next to a chair with your injured leg farther from the chair. The chair will provide support if you need it. Stand on the foot of your injured leg and bend your knee slightly. Try to raise the arch of this foot while keeping your big toe on the floor. Keep your foot in this position. With the hand that is farther away from the chair, reach forward in front of you by bending at the waist. Avoid bending your knee any more as you do this. Repeat this 15 times. To make the exercise more challenging, reach farther in front of you. Do 2 sets of 15. While keeping your arch raised, reach the hand that is farther away from the chair across your body toward the chair. The farther you reach, the more challenging the exercise. Do 2 sets of 15. Towel pickup. With your heel on the ground, pick up a towel with your toes. Release. Repeat 10 to 20 times. When this gets easy, add more resistance by placing a book or small weight on the towel. Resisted ankle plantar flexion. Sit with your injured leg stretched out in front of you. Loop the tubing around the ball of your foot. Hold the ends of the tubing with both hands. Gently press the ball of your foot down and point your toes, stretching the tubing. Return to the starting position. Do 2 sets of 15. Resisted ankle dorsiflexion. Tie a knot in one end of the elastic tubing and shut the knot in a door. Tie a loop in the other end of the tubing and put the foot on your injured side through the loop so that the tubing goes around the top of the foot. Sit facing the door with your injured leg straight out in front of you. Move away from the door until there is tension in the tubing. Keeping your leg straight, pull the top of your foot toward your body, stretching the tubing. Slowly return to the starting position. Do 2 sets of 15. Heel raise. Stand behind a chair or counter with both feet flat on the floor. Using the chair or counter as a support, rise up onto your toes and hold for 5 seconds. Then slowly lower yourself down without holding onto the support. (It's OK to keep holding onto the support if you need to.) When this exercise becomes less painful, try doing this exercise while you are standing on the injured leg only. Repeat 15 times. Do 2 sets of 15. Rest 30 seconds between sets.