Health & Fitness

July 17, 2013

Bee Healthy: Causes of, treatment for flat feet

Flat foot can happen before or after birth and is characterized by the loss of the longitudinal arch of one or both feet.

Q: What are flat feet?

A: Flat foot can happen before or after birth and is characterized by the loss of the longitudinal arch of one or both feet. Up to 25 percent of the adult population may be affected, often associated with a family history of flat feet.

Q: What causes flat feet?

A: Dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon is the most common cause of ankle pain and loss of the longitudinal arch.

Q: Are there different types?

A: There are two types: flexible, which is the most common, and rigid.

The typical patient is the overweight woman in her mid-50s. Initially, flat foot is flexible, evolving over time into a fixed, rigid deformity. Rigid flat foot is usually symptomatic and requires evaluation and treatment. This is typically done by podiatrists, physicians who specialize in the medical and surgical treatment of foot and ankle disorders.

Q: How do people know if they have flat feet?

A: People complain of pain on the inside part of their foot or ankle. As time passes, the shape of the foot deforms as the tissues supporting the arch loosen, becoming difficult to wear shoes. Often, people change the way they walk to help relieve some of the pain.

Q: How are flat feet diagnosed?

A: Diagnosis is usually by the patient’s history and physical exam, examining the feet from above, behind and with the patient standing to check the function of the muscles and soft tissues associated with flat feet.

X-rays may be recommended to further evaluate flat feet.

Q: What kinds of treatment options are available for flat feet?

A: Nonsurgical options are recommended, including rest, medicines called NSAIDs, orthotics, arch supports and or immobilization. You should discuss treatment options with your doctor, and this depends on the type of flat foot and expected outcome.

If conservative treatment fails, surgical procedures are options, depending on the age and functional capacity of the patient. These range from simply removing the inflamed tissue causing pain, to procedures realigning the soft tissues and bones of the flat foot by cutting bone and using surgical screws for correction.

The type of treatment is dependant in your exam, health, age and expectations. Not everyone is suited for every procedure and options should be discussed with your doctor.

Q: What can happen if the flat foot is not treated?

A: Usually foot pain and fatigue are typical complications. However, if left untreated over time, foot deformities can occur, including bunions, hammertoes and other biomechanical deformities.

Talk to your doctor if you have foot pain and see if a referral to a podiatrist is appropriate.

Magoon is a family practice physician at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation in Turlock.

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