Flat feet, also known as ?fallen arches? are often viewed as problematic simply because they look abnormal, the main arch of the foot, the medial longitudinal arch, has collapsed. Though flat feet are by no means normal, they are often the result of some other underlying condition or weakness rather than a problem with the actual arch itself that has collapsed. Conventional treatment involving foot support either via supportive footwear, orthotics, or some other bracing system is usually more disadvantageous than beneficial and surgery is rarely the answer.
There are many different causes of flat feet, which can be separated into two main categories. The first category, congenital flat foot, is a condition that one is born with or is predisposed to at birth. This type includes the completely asymptomatic, pediatric flexible flat foot-by far the most common form of congenital flat foot. Flexible means that an arch is present until weight is put on the foot, at which time the arch disappears. This foot type is a result of the fact that all people are born with different physical features. Some people have bigger noses than others, just as some people have flatter feet (of course, there is no known correlation between the two). Any alteration in the many building blocks of the foot can influence its shape.
Pain in arch of foot is really the only symptom of this condition. It is unlikely to see any swelling or bruising and instead there will be a deep tender spot near the heel. Occasionally the pain may radiate further down the foot. With this condition, pain will usually be felt first thing in the morning or after periods of sitting. This is because the plantar fascia tightens and shortens slightly when there is no weight on it and by standing on it it suddenly stretches and becomes painful. After a few steps it starts to loosen off and the pain may subside. If this is the same pattern of pain you experience it is quite likely you have plantar fasciits. Pain may also be felt when walking up stairs or standing on tip-toes (anything that stretches the fascia).
The doctor will take a brief history to determine how the injury occurred. If necessary, a thorough physical exam may be conducted to evaluate for any other injuries. Taking your workout shoes to the exam may also provide valuable information to the medical practitioner. Both feet will be physically and visually examined by the medical practitioner. The foot and arch will be touched and manipulated possibly with a lot of pressure and inspected to identify obvious deformities, tender spots, or any differences in the bones of the foot and arch.
Non Surgical Treatment
There is considerable debate about the best treatment option for plantar fasciitis. Some authors suggest all of the 'mainstream' methods of treatment don't actually help at all and can actually make the symptoms worse. However, on the whole, there are several of the most commonly cited treatment options for plantar fasciitis and these are generally accepted throughout the medical community. I would recommend giving these options a try if you haven't already. Rest. This is mainly applicable to the sports people as rest is possible treatment. (For those who cannot rest e.g. people who work on their feet - skip to the other treatment options below). Rest until it is not painful. This is made more difficult as people need to use their feet to perform daily activities but certainly stop sporting activities that are likely to be putting the fascia under excessive stress. Perform Self Micro-Massage (you can watch this video by clicking the link or scrolling further down the page as it's embedded on this lens!) This massage technique is used to break down fibrous tissue and also to stimulate blood flow to the area, both of which encourage healing and reduce pain. There is also a potentially soothing effect on nerve endings which will contribute to pain relief. Ice/Cold Therapy. Particularly useful after spending periods on your feet to reduce the inflammation. Wrap some ice or a bag of frozen peas in a towel and hold against the foot for up to 10 minutes. Repeat until symptoms have resolved. Heat Therapy. Heat therapy can be used (not after activity) to improve blood flow to the area to encourage healing. A heat pack of hot water bottle can be used. 10 minutes is ideal. Careful not to burn yourself. A good taping technique. By taping the foot in a certain way you can limit the movement in the foot and prevent the fascia from over-stretching and gives it a chance to rest and heal. Click on the link for more information on taping techniques. Weight Management. If you are over-weight, any weight you can loose will help to ease the burden on your sore feet and plantar fascia. Orthotic devices (often mis-spelled orthodic) are special insoles that can be used to limit over-pronation (discussed earlier) and control foot function. By preventing the arches flattening excessively, the plantar fascia is not over-stretched to the same extent and this should help with the symptoms and encourage healing. Stretching the calf muscles (again, click this link or scroll to the bottom of the page to watch the embedded video) can help to lengthen these muscles and the Achilles tendon - a risk factor for plantar fasciitis. Stretching of the plantar fascia itself is also encouraged, particularly before getting up the morning (night splints can be used for this effect) and after periods of rest. This can be achieved by placing a towel or band under the ball of the foot and gently pulling upwards until a stretch is felt. Hold for about 15-20 seconds then rest briefly. Repeat 2-3 times. As you can see there are many different treatment options available. Try incorporating some of these in to your daily routine and see what works for you. Regardless of the method the main aim is to prevent the fascia from over-stretching. Medical professionals such as a Podiatrist may decide to make custom orthotics or try ultra-sound therapy. It is likely that anti-inflammatory medications will also be recommended. If you have tried the treatment options and your symptoms persist I'd recommend going to see a medical professional for further advice.
The soft tissue surgeries usually would include a lengthening of the Achilles tendon, releasing of the plantar fascia as well as tendon transfers. These procedures are usually done in conjunction with bony procedures such as calcaneal osteotomies (to lower the heel bone and get it more under the leg itself), as well as metatarsal osteotomies. These procedures usually involve either cutting or fusion of the bones, and placement of fixation devices to allow the bones to heal. Healing time is usually at least 6-8 weeks and usually the patient must be non-weight bearing during the healing process. These types of surgical corrections are usually reserved for the more difficult, painful and deformed feet. They can require more surgeries down the line. These procedures are usually the last resort after all other modes of treatment have been exhausted (except in children where it is usually best to treat the deformity early). There are many different degrees of high arched feet and these procedures should be left for the more extreme cases. These cases usually require a very high degree of surgical skill and should only be done by those who frequently perform these types of cases.
The best method for preventing plantar fasciitis is stretching. The plantar fascia can be stretched by grabbing the toes, pulling the foot upward and holding for 15 seconds. To stretch the calf muscles, place hands on a wall and drop affected leg back into a lunge step while keeping the heel of the back leg down. Keep the back knee straight for one stretch and then bend the knee slightly to stretch a deeper muscle in the calf. Hold stretch for 15 seconds and repeat three times.
Strengthening exercises. Below are two simple strength exercises to help condition the muscles, tendons and joints around the foot and ankle. Plantar Rolling. Place a small tin can or tennis ball under the arch of the affected foot. Slowly move the foot back and forth allowing the tin can or tennis ball to roll around under the arch. This activity will help to stretch, strengthen and massage the affected area. Toe Walking. Stand upright in bare feet and rise up onto the toes and front of the foot. Balance in this position and walk forward in slow, small steps. Maintain an upright, balanced posture, staying as high as possible with each step. Complete three sets of the exercise, with a short break in between sets, for a total of 20 meters.