Fallen arches, or flatfoot, is a condition in which the feet do not have the typical arched shape. Fallen arches in children are rarely a cause for concern. In fact, 80 to 90 percent of babies born in North America are flatfooted at birth, according to Seattle Children's Hospital. Most of the time, a child will develop normal arches in the first years of life.
Flexible flatfeet, which appear to have a normal arch until the child stands and the feet flatten out, are considered normal in children. A child may be between 7 and 10 years old before a proper arch forms, according to Aetna InteliHealth. If a child has rigid flatfeet, the bones of the foot may not be properly aligned. This rare condition, called congenital vertical talus, is present at birth and can even cause the foot to curve like the bottom of a rocking chair. Another rare condition, called tarsal coalition or peroneal spastic flatfoot, is inherited and occurs when bones in the feet are fused together. Rarely, a short Achilles tendon can cause flexible flatfoot in children. A severe foot injury can sometimes result in a fallen arch.
Fallen arches usually do not cause any symptoms. In some cases, foot pain might develop when flexible flatfoot persists into the teen years, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Congenital vertical talus may cause balance problems and calluses on the bottom of the feet if not treated, according to Aetna InteliHealth, and tarsal coalition can cause pain on the outside of the foot, ankle and lower leg.
Most of the time, fallen arches do not require treatment. If your child has flexible flatfoot and experiences pain, his doctor might recommend an arch support to relieve the discomfort. When a short Achilles tendon causes flatfoot, stretching exercises may be needed, according to Seattle Children's Hospital. Rarely, a child may need surgery to lengthen the tendon. A child with rigid flatfoot that causes pain may require shoe inserts, foot wrapping or surgery.
Unless your child has symptoms and her doctor has recommended that she avoid certain activities, there is no need to limit your child's physical activity because of fallen arches. Physical activity will not worsen flatfoot, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, and neither will walking barefoot or wearing a particular kind of shoe.
Most children outgrow fallen arches during childhood, but about 20 percent may be permanently flatfooted, according to Seattle Children's Hospital. Even if your child is flatfooted as an adult, there is a good chance he will not have any bothersome symptoms. Surgery can help reduce symptoms in some children with rare forms of rigid flatfoot.