Feet and ankles are intricate structures, which are necessary for their dual responsibilities of supporting our bodies and allowing us to move. In order to serve these essential functions, they are comprised of numerous bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Combine that with the fact there are more than 7 billion humans and it stands to reason there are bound to be some differences in everyone’s feet.
One area where we see variance in foot structure is the arch. There are basically three general different types of foot arches—low, moderate, and high—and each can affect gait patterns in different ways. Flatfeet is a fairly common condition, so let’s take a look at the condition and how we can treat it here at Eagle-Summit Foot & Ankle.
Identifying Your Arch Style
Perhaps the best starting point is to discuss how to identify your own arch style. This can be difficult when looking down from a “bird’s eye view,” but we have a couple of different ways to help you recognize low (and moderate or high) foot arches:
- The “wet test.” Fill a shallow pan with water, place it next to a thick piece of paper or dry pavement, and then step into it barefoot. Take a step onto the paper or pavement, and then examine the results. You can tell a low arch by a print that has roughly the same width all the way across the entire length. For comparison, moderate arches leave prints that have about half the foot’s width in the space between the heel and ball of foot. This width will be very thin or even non-existent in high arches.
- Examine your shoes. Another way to identify your arch style is to examine the bottoms of shoes you wear often. Take a look at the edges. If you see excessive wear on the inner edges, especially in the heel and ball of foot areas, you likely overpronate and have flatfoot.
Pronation and Flat Feet
Feet perform an inward rolling motion with every step they take. During this process, the arches will flatten out to help with properly distributing the forces placed upon feet. This biomechanical process extends from the strike of the heel all the way through the final push of the toes, essentially the entire “ground contact” portion of a step. When an individual has moderate foot arches, the roll tends to be about fifteen percent. If you have low arches, the roll is greater than that. We refer to this as overpronation.
Flatfoot Causes and Issues
The majority of flatfoot cases are simply caused by an inherited foot structure, but there are other factors which can result in this arch abnormality. Things like diabetes, pregnancy, aging, traumatic injury, and rheumatoid arthritis can all contribute. No matter the root cause, low arches can lead to foot, ankle, knee, hip, and back pain. These pains are the result of overpronation.
There is a fairly common condition known as tibialis posterior tendonitis for patients who have low foot arches. In this condition, the tibialis posterior tendon has become inflamed, torn, and/or excessively stretched. Any of those issues can result in severe disability and chronic pain.
Orthotic Devices and Other Treatment
Flatfoot really only needs to be treated if the condition is causing pain or difficulty. Otherwise, it is best to monitor the condition (to ensure it doesn’t worsen) and pay attention for symptoms. If treatment is needed, we may recommend or prescribe:
- Orthotic devices or arch supports. We can prescribe customized orthotics (medical devices created especially for your unique feet) to reduce painful symptoms and correct gait issues by providing extra arch support.
- Low-impact exercises. Put simply, high-impact activities can easily fatigue flat feet. Regular exercise is essential for your health and well-being, so we may recommend swapping out high-impact exercises for low-impact ones like swimming, cycling, and walking.
- In addition to low-impact activities, stretching exercises are also quite beneficial. Patients who have low arches will often also have shortened Achilles tendons, which can lead to an array of issues. Keeping the tendon limber, though, can help.
- Proper footwear. Choosing structurally-supportive shoes will make a difference in reducing overpronation issues. If you aren’t sure which shoes will work best for your particular arch and pronation style, recruit help from an employee at a shoe store catering to runners and athletes.
Treatment for Painful Flat Feet at Eagle-Summit Foot & Ankle
In most cases, your flat feet will not cause issues or need treatment, but we do provide effective care for when problems arise. Contact Eagle-Summit Foot & Ankle for additional information by calling our Avon office at (970) 949-0500, our Frisco Station office at (970) 668-4565, or request an appointment for either location online today.