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 more common specific causes of arch pain (arch strain) tend to be Plantar fasciitis (strain of the plantar fascia - a strong ligament that supports the arch. Foot strain from a pronated / flat foot or high arched foot. Osteoarthritis of the joints in the mid-foot. Poor or improper footwear (high heels or athletic shotes). Tarsal tunnel syndrome (a pinched nerve at the ankle that refers to pain in the arch). There are two arches in each foot. The longitudinal arch runs the length of your foot, and the transverse arch runs across the width of your foot. The arches are made up of ligaments, which keep the bones of your foot in place. Arch pain can occur in one or both arches, but occurs most commonly in the longitudinal arch. If this arch pain (arch strain) condition is left untreated and strain on the longitudinal arch continues, a bony protrusion may develop, known as a heel spur. It is important to treat the condition and seek a proper consultation.
Plantar fasciitis is most often seen in middle-aged men and women, but can be found in all age groups. The condition is diagnosed with the classic symptoms of pain well focused deep in the heel area of the bottom of the foot. Often the pain from plantar fasciitis is most severe when you first stand on your feet in the morning. Pain often subsides quite quickly, but then returns after prolonged standing or walking. Plantar fasciitis is sometimes, but not always, associated with a rapid gain of weight. It is also sometimes seen in recreational athletes, especially runners. In these athletes, it is thought that the repetitive nature of the sports causes the damage to the fibrous tissue that forms the arch of the foot.
In a person of any age, the doctor will ask about occupational and recreational activities, previous foot trauma or foot surgery and the type of shoes worn. The doctor will examine your shoes to check for signs of excessive wear. Worn shoes often provide valuable clues to gait problems and poor bone alignment. The doctor will ask you to walk barefoot to evaluate the arches of the feet, to check for out-toeing and to look for other signs of poor foot mechanics.
Non Surgical Treatment
In mild cases patients would benefit from custom made semi rigid full length custom made foot orthoses fitted into appropriate supportive footwear, preferably with laces or a velcro straps. In more severe cases patients may require a custom made Arizona lace up ankle brace or a posterior shell Ankle Foot Orthosis. These offer significantly more control and support than the foot orthoses. In severe cases surgery may be required to repair the tibialis posterior tendon and realign the foot and ankle, or fuse the subtalar joint. It is important to note there are many risks involved in having surgery and these must be considered prior to going ahead.
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.
Arch pain occurs when the plantar fascia becomes worn down due to constant strain or excessive exercising. This may be caused by increasing your running or hiking mileage too fast, wearing inadequate footwear, lack of stretching, running on steep hills, standing on your feet for too long and abnormal anatomy such as flat foot. Stretching is an important exercise that should not be overlooked because the tightness or lack of tightness of the joints in the foot can also cause pain in the arch.
Easy Beginner Version. Start with your bare foot on a flat surface, toes spread out. Place a penny under the ball of your foot and the end of a pen under the middle of your arch (sticking out from the inside of your foot). Activate your arch by flexing your arch muscle. You should feel the muscles on the ball of your foot pushing down on the penny, but your arch shouldn’t be pushing down on the pen. These tools help you (1) avoid rolling your foot and (2) avoid pressing down with your toes (as an extra tip, you can slide a business card under your toes before doing the exercise-when you activate your arch, you should be able to slide the business card out easily with your fingers). Do your best to keep your toes relaxed. Advanced Version. Once you’re ready to move on, you can try this advanced version. It builds on the above exercise to incorporate full body twisting and balance, helping you to maintain proper arches while you move. Using the same ideas from above, stand on a flat surface in your bare feet with a penny under the ball of your foot and the end of a pen under your arch. This time, stand with your back a few inches away form a wall or a door. Lift your other leg (the one without the penny or pen) and stand on one foot. Use the wall for balance, if necessary. Lift one arm and stretch it across your body until you touch the wall or door on the opposite side, maintaining a straight back. Keep your foot straight and your arch on the penny but above the pen. Your arch will want to follow the movement and roll off, but you will need to activate it to stay stable during the movement. Lift your other arm and stretch it across the opposite side of your body, still keeping your arch in place.