Fallen arches, also known as flat feet or pes planus, may be present at birth or develop later in life. The midfoot normally exhibits a slight arch, keeping this region raised during walking. Absence of the normal arch causes flattening of the sole. Many people with fallen arches have no associated symptoms, while others experience foot pain or fatigue. Treatment for fallen arches depends on the severity of the condition and associated symptoms.
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Doctors commonly prescribe shoe inserts, or orthotics, to support the arch. These devices make walking and standing more comfortable for a person with fallen arches, reports the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Orthotics are typically worn with closed shoes. They are available over-the-counter or can be custom-made.
People with flexible feet who develop fallen arches may benefit from foot strengthening exercises, notes the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma. Standing on a towel in bare feet and grasping the material with the toes is an easy foot-strengthening exercise that can be done at home. Standing on one leg while arching and releasing the foot may also prove useful. Doctors may prescribe gentle stretching exercises for the foot and ankle tendons.
Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin can provide short-term relief from foot pain associated with fallen arches, notes the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Doctors sometimes inject the foot with a corticosteroid medication, which acts as an anti-inflammatory, to relieve acute pain. Although medications can provide symptom relief, they do not correct the underlying foot abnormality.
Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction is a common cause of fallen arches in adults. The tendon runs along the bottom of the foot and up the back of the ankle, connecting to the tibialis posterior muscle in the calf. The posterior tibial tendon is an important support for the foot arch. Overuse, inflammation and tears of the tendon may cause progressive foot and ankle pain and the development of flat feet. The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons states that an ankle brace, leg cast or removable boot may be used to temporarily immobilize the posterior tibial tendon, facilitating healing. Physical therapy typically follows immobilization to strengthen the foot and restore normal foot structure and function.
Fallen arches may occur with deformities of the foot bones. Tarsal coalition is a congenital condition in which the bones of the foot do not separate from one another during development in the womb. A child with tarsal coalition exhibits a rigid flat foot, which can be painful, notes the patient information website eOrthopod. Surgery may prove necessary to separate the bones. Other foot and ankle conditions that cause fallen arches may also require surgery if noninvasive treatments fail to alleviate pain and restore normal function.