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 most common cause of arch pain is plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is the name that describes inflammation of the fibrous band of tissue that connects the heel to the toes. Symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain early in the morning and pain with long walks or prolonged standing. Arch pain early in the morning is due to the plantar fascia becoming contracted and tight as you sleep through the night. When awakening and walking in the morning, the fascia is still tight and prone to irritation when stretched. When walking or standing for long periods, the plantar fascia becomes inflamed and painful. Treatment of plantar fasciitis is best accomplished with some simple stretching exercises, anti-inflammatory medications, and inserts for your shoes.
The majority of children and adults with flexible flatfeet never have symptoms. However, their toes may tend to point outward as they walk, a condition called out-toeing. A person who develops symptoms usually complains of tired, aching feet, especially after prolonged standing or walking. Symptoms of rigid flatfoot vary depending on the cause of the foot problem.
The adult acquired flatfoot, secondary to posterior tibial tendon dysfunction, is diagnosed in a number of ways with no single test proven to be totally reliable. The most accurate diagnosis is made by a skilled clinician utilizing observation and hands on evaluation of the foot and ankle. Observation of the foot in a walking examination is most reliable. The affected foot appears more pronated and deformed compared to the unaffected foot. Muscle testing will show a strength deficit. An easy test to perform in the office is the single foot raise.
Non Surgical Treatment
Once the severity and cause of arch and foot pain is determined, a course of corrective and rehabilitative actions can be started. Therapists may use machines and manual therapies to reduce pain and increase circulation to the area to promote healing. Maintenance of fitness levels via modification of activity may be prescribed. Substitute activities that may aggravate the pain and soreness with other activities; for instance, running causes the body to have multiple impacts with the ground, but the use of bicycling, elliptical trainers, step machines, swimming, or ski machines eliminates impact and allows you to continue to maintain and improve your fitness levels. Take medications to help reduce pain and inflammation. Follow up with your doctor until you are better.
Surgical advances have dramatically improved the ability to alleviate the pain and decreased function that millions of Americans experience due to flat feet. Nevertheless, many patients and even some physicians remain unaware of the new procedures, which are best performed by a foot and ankle specialist who has the applicable training and experience.
Foot and ankle injuries are common in sports, especially running, tennis and soccer. But sports enthusiasts can decrease the risk of injury by taking some precautions. Lightly stretch or better yet, do a slow jog for two to three minutes to warm up the muscles. Don't force the stretch with a "bouncing motion." The amount of time spent on the activity should be increased gradually over a period of weeks to build both muscle strength and mobility. Cross training by participating in different activities can help build the muscles. People whose feet pronate or who have low arches should choose shoes that provide support in both the front of the shoe and under the arch. The heel and heel counter (back of the shoe) should be very stable. Those with a stiffer foot or high arches should choose shoes with more cushion and a softer platform. Use sport-specific shoes. Cross training shoes are an overall good choice; however, it is best to use shoes designed for the sport.