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Do Fallen Arches Call For Surgery?

Overview

Adult Acquired Flat Foot

Fallen arches, the medical term for flat feet, are simply feet that do not arch in the middle. Such feet lay flat with the whole of the sole on the ground. All children are born with flat feet, but as they grow the feet normally develop an arch so that by the age of ten almost all children have arched feet. Occasionally a child will not develop properly arched feet. This may be due to a bone malformation present at birth, or abnormalities in ligaments within the feet or legs that cause the child's weight to be unevenly distributed.

Causes

You can have a tendency towards fallen arches from birth. Up through the toddler stage, it is common to have flat feet. Throughout childhood, arches tend to normally develop. For reasons not well understood, however, in some cases the feet stay flat and the arch never forms. In many cases this abnormality does not cause symptoms or require any treatment. In other cases, it is due to a condition called tarsal coalition. This occurs when some of the foot bones fuse.

Symptoms

A symptom is something the patient feels and reports, while a sign is something other people, including the doctor may detect. An example of a symptom may be pain in the ankle, while a sign may be a swelling. Symptoms may vary and generally depend on the severity of the condition. Some have an uneven distribution of bodyweight and find that the heel of their shoes wears out more rapidly and more on one side than the other. The most common signs or symptoms of flat feet are pain in the ankle (inner side), there may also be swelling of the foot in general, swelling in the arch of the foot, the calf, knee, the hip, the back, the general lower leg area. People with flat feet may also experience stiffness in one or both feet. One or both feet may be flat on the ground (either no arch, or very slight arch). Shoes may wear unevenly.

Diagnosis

You can always give yourself the ?wet test? described above to see whether you have flat feet. Most people who do not notice their flat feet or have no pain associated with them do not think to see a foot doctor. Flat feet can lead to additional problems such as stiffness or pain, however, especially if the condition appears out of nowhere. If you think you may have flat feet, you should seek medical attention to ensure there are no additional issues to worry about. Your doctor will be able to diagnose you with a number of tests. For example, he or she may have you walk around, stand still, or stand on your tiptoes while you are being examined. Your doctor may also examine your foot?s shape and functionality. It?s important to let your foot doctor know about your medical and family history. In some cases, your doctor may order imaging tests such as x-rays or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to determine a cause of your flat foot. If tarsal coalition is suspected in children, a CT scan is often ordered.

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Non Surgical Treatment

Most cases of flatfeet do not require treatment. However, if there is pain, or if the condition is caused by something other than normal development, there are several treatment options. Self-care options include rest, choosing non-weight-bearing exercise (e.g., swimming, cycling), weight loss, and avoiding high heels. Flexible flatfeet with some pain can be relieved with the use of orthotics-shoe inserts that support the arch-and/or heel wedges (in some cases). If pronation is a factor, special shoes can be worn that lift the arch and correct the inward leaning. Physical therapy may also be prescribed to stretch or lengthen the heel cord and other tendons. For rigid or inflexible flatfeet, treatment varies depending on the cause. Tarsal coalition if often treated with rest and the wearing of a cast. If this is ineffective, surgery can be done to separate the bones or to reset the bones into a correct position. If the flatfoot is caused by an injury to the tendons in the foot or ankle, rest, anti-inflammatory medications (e.g., ibuprofen), and the use of shoe inserts and ankle braces often relieve symptoms. In severe cases, surgery is performed to repair the tendon or to fuse some joints in the foot into a corrected position to reduce stress on the tendon. The prognosis after surgery is generally good. Complications include pain and some loss of ankle motion, especially when trying to turn the foot in or out. This may be improved with physical therapy.

Surgical Treatment

Flat Feet

Surgical correction is dependent on the severity of symptoms and the stage of deformity. The goals of surgery are to create a more functional and stable foot. There are multiple procedures available to the surgeon and it may take several to correct a flatfoot deformity. Stage one deformities usually respond to conservative or non-surgical therapy such as anti-inflammatory medication, casting, functional orthotics or a foot ankle orthosis called a Richie Brace. If these modalities are unsuccessful surgery is warranted. Usually surgical treatment begins with removal of inflammatory tissue and repair of the posterior tibial tendon. A tendon transfer is performed if the posterior tibial muscle is weak or the tendon is badly damaged. The most commonly used tendon is the flexor digitorum longus tendon. This tendon flexes or moves the lesser toes downward. The flexor digitorum longus tendon is utilized due to its close proximity to the posterior tibial tendon and because there are minimal side effects with its loss. The remainder of the tendon is sutured to the flexor hallucis longus tendon that flexes the big toe so that little function is loss. Stage two deformities are less responsive to conservative therapies that can be effective in mild deformities. Bone procedures are necessary at this stage in order to recreate the arch and stabilize the foot. These procedures include isolated fusion procedures, bone grafts, and/or the repositioning of bones through cuts called osteotomies. The realigned bones are generally held in place with screws, pins, plates, or staples while the bone heals. A tendon transfer may or may not be utilized depending on the condition of the posterior tibial tendon. Stage three deformities are better treated with surgical correction, in healthy patients. Patients that are unable to tolerate surgery or the prolonged healing period are better served with either arch supports known as orthotics or bracing such as the Richie Brace. Surgical correction at this stage usually requires fusion procedures such as a triple or double arthrodesis. This involves fusing the two or three major bones in the back of the foot together with screws or pins. The most common joints fused together are the subtalar joint, talonavicular joint, and the calcaneocuboid joint. By fusing the bones together the surgeon is able to correct structural deformity and alleviate arthritic pain. Tendon transfer procedures are usually not beneficial at this stage. Stage four deformities are treated similarly but with the addition of fusing the ankle joint.

Prevention

Flatfeet in children are often an inherited family trait, but it may be possible to prevent the condition in some cases. Recent research has shown that there are several social or cultural factors that can cause flatfeet. These factors include the following, obesity, overweight, unnecessary orthopedic treatments, wearing rigid shoes at a young age, In 1992, a study in India of 2300 children aged 4-13 demonstrated a significant difference in the rate of flatfeet among those who wore shoes regularly and those who did not. In this study, wearing inflexible, closed-toe shoes in early childhood was shown to have a negative effect on the normal development of arches. Children who were allowed to go barefoot or who wore light sandals and slippers had a much lower rate of flatfeet. In 1999, a study in Spain of 1181 children aged 4-13 revealed that the use of orthopedic shoes for treatment of flatfeet in children not only failed to correct the problem, but actually worsened the condition by preventing the normal flexing and arch development of bare or lightly protected feet. Finally, in 2006, a study of 835 children aged 3-6 showed significant differences in the rate of flatfeet based on weight, with normal-weight children having lower rates of flatfeet than children who were overweight or obese. Among adults, flatfeet due to injury, disease, or normal aging are not preventable. However, when flatfeet are related to lifestyle factors, such as physical activities, shoe selection, and weight gain, careful attention to these factors may prevent the development of flatfeet.
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