"Could a pair of orthotics really relieve my discomfort?". This is one of the most common questions asked by people with flat feet. Unfortunately, a simple "yes" or "no" answer is often difficult to give in this situation. Many factors can determine if orthotics can relieve the symptoms associated with flat feet, such as arch and heel pain. It is first important to understand what "flat feet" are, and what is the root cause of the discomfort associated with them.
Flat feet are often referred to as "fallen arches", and is a common condition seen in both children and adults. The arch of the foot is formed by a group of tendons and ligaments attached to the heel and foot bones. Tendons in the lower leg and foot must work in conjunction, pulling at the correct times during standing and walking. This aids in forming the arch of the foot. If the tendons do not pull sufficiently enough, or the ligaments of the foot are lax, the foot may be left with a very low arch, or no arch at all. This condition is commonly referred to as flat feet. This lack of internal arch support can cause a variety of problematic complications. In people with flat feet, the standard pressure of gait (walking), or standing, must shift to other portions of the feet that are not designed to handle this type of strain. If left untreated this can cause pain, discomfort, and possibly joint and soft tissue injury.
Flat feet can be attributed to many causes. They may be present in newborns, develop during childhood, or slowly progress as an adult. Frequently, their is a hereditary component. Other possible causes of progressive flat feet include:
The treatments for flat feet range from conservative to surgical, and are often dependent on the severity of the symptoms and underlying cause. In many cases, the symptoms of flat feet can be controlled effectively with conservative, non surgical care. If your doctor confirms the diagnosis of flat feet, they may suggest some of the following:
• Purchasing appropriate shoes that stabilize the heel bone and support the arch of the foot. Be aware that your new shoes should be able to accomodate an orthotic device if one were eventually prescribed for you by your podiatrist. A quality running shoe with a removable insole/liner will often be adequate.
• Using custom-made or over the counter orthotics to control the flattening of the arch while standing, walking and running.
• Regular strengthening and stretching exercises under the supervision of a professional
• Physical therapy
• Ice and/or compression to reduce pain and swelling
• Anti-inflammatory or pain medications Walking in the correct shoes, and possibly using over the counter or custom orthotics, may be greatly beneficial in controlling and preventing pain and discomfort.
Your podiatrist or physical therapist can often suggest strengthening exercises, and suitable stretches, to prep your feet for increasingly strenuous activity. Please note that effectively treating other conditions that can cause flat feet to become symptomatic, such as diabetes or obesity, is crucial to the long term success of treatment. In some cases it may be beneficial to avoid strenuous activities and high-impact sports. If over the counter orthotics have been tried and are not effective in reducing the symptoms associated with flat feet, custom orthotic devices may be fabricated by a podiatrist or pedorthist.
Regardless of the orthotics you may ultimately choose, it is generally important to "break in" these types of devices over a prolonged period of time. The foot may not be accustomed to the level of support an orthotic provides, and it may take some time for the muscles and ligaments to acclimate. Check out our homepage for more information about over the counter orthotics for the relief of symptoms associated with flat feet