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Flatfoot

Alternative names: Flat Feet, Flexible Flatfoot, Rigid Flatfoot, Fallen Arches, Pes Planus

What is flatfoot?

A person can be diagnosed with flatfoot when there seems to be no arch underneath the foot when they are standing up. A painful case of flatfoot is usually more serious than the non-painful kind.

In small children, flatfoot is often called flexible flatfoot, and, in most cases, there is no cause for concern because children usually grow out of the condition when their arches naturally become stronger. Some children, however, have rigid flatfoot, which is more serious, so it is important to find out which one your child has.

Adult flatfoot can happen when the tendons (connecting tissue) that attach the muscles to the bones of the foot are not strong enough to keep the arched shape under the foot. This can be due to injury or illness and it is often called fallen arches. Flatfoot can cause pain in the foot and/or lower back.

What are the signs of flatfoot?

  • No arch can be seen when standing
  • Pain in the foot
  • Pain in the lower back
  • Your heel tilts away from your body more than usual

What causes flatfoot?

  • Hereditary: It can run in families
  • An injury can cause flatfoot
  • Rheumatoid arthritis can cause flatfoot in about half of the people who suffer from it

How does a doctor tell if a patient has flatfoot?

The doctor will take some of the following steps to see if a patient has flatfoot:

  • Look at the foot when the patient is standing to see if the arch is present or not
  • Ask the patient to stand on their toes to see if an arch is forming
  • Order an X-ray to get a better view of the bones and to see if there is any other damage

How is flatfoot normally treated?

For flexible flatfoot, no treatment is normally recommended. There is usually no pain associated with flexible flatfoot and it will not affect a person's lifestyle or activities.

For other types of flatfoot, some of the following treatments may be recommended:

  • Modifying your shoes
  • Using devices such as arch supports and custom-made supports (orthoses) that fit into your shoes
  • Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen to relieve pain
  • Rest and ice
  • Physical therapy

In some cases, surgery may be needed to correct the problem. Types of surgery your doctor may discuss with you include:

  • Arthrodesis, or welding (fusing) one or more of the bones in the foot and/or ankle together
  • Osteotomy, or cutting and reshaping a bone to correct alignment
  • Excision, or removing a bone or bone spur
  • Synovectomy, or cleaning the sheath covering a tendon
  • Tendon transfer, or using a piece of one tendon to lengthen or replace another
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