Over time, the physical stress of our everyday lives can begin to take a toll on our feet. When you begin to notice a change in the shape of your foot, your shoes not fitting properly or striking the ground on the sole, or your arch in getting increasingly closer to the ground when standing, you might be on your way to developing flat feet. This condition, referred to as adult acquired flat feet, is a condition that can cause pain in your feet, pain and swelling of the ankles and/or knees, and generally make normal mobility a painful activity. In addition, standing on your ‘tippy-toes’ can become difficult or nearly impossible and you may develop signs of arthritis.
What’s Happening in There?
When developing flat feet, you can certainly notice the outward signs of a lowered arch, shoe issues, and the physical pain. What is actually happening inside your body is that your tendons are beginning to stretch out, leading to strain and collapse. After this occurs, your ligaments become overworked and can follow in the same downward progression, furthering the condition and weakening the structure of the entire foot.
There is no specific set of circumstances that will absolutely lead you to developing flat feet in your adult life, however, there are a few conditions that may increase your risk:
- Decreased or low activity level
- Previous injury
- Genetic pre-disposition
In my practice, I am noticing a higher ratio of women to men presenting with this condition and typically seeing patients in their 40’s through 60’s.
Diagnosis and Treatment:
When a patient presents with the signs and symptoms of adult acquired flat feet, the first step is diagnosis and identifying how severe the condition is. This can be done with a thorough physical exam, which then may be followed by an x-ray, MRI, and/or CAT scan. If the condition is identified early, treatment may include physical therapy, orthotic inserts or shoes. They may also advise you to wear a brace which can range from soft to ridged or hard depending on the level of support needed.
If the condition has progressed, more aggressive treatment may be necessary, including surgery. Surgery can also vary in severity and may include cleaning up tendons, transferring a tendon, and/or breaking and fusing bones to return your foot to it’s proper structural state.
If the condition is identified early or the damage is not severe, with the proper orthotics and dedication to physical therapy, you may see improvement within a few weeks. Once surgery is involved, the recovery time becomes much more drawn out including up to eight weeks in a cast or a boot followed by months of physical therapy.
Adult acquired flat feet can threaten the ease and comfort of staying active. Mobility and physical activity are key components to a healthy lifestyle, and we want to help you stay active. If you notice any of the symptoms or you aren’t feeling as comfortable on your feet as you once were, don’t hesitate to call us, and together we’ll get that spring back in your step!
Dr. Beth Dollinger, orthopedic surgeon for Arnot Health, writes a blog series to help answer frequently-asked questions, offer perspective on newsworthy events, and essentially give patients a hand in their own healthcare. If you’d like more information, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Beth Dollinger, click here to find her contact information listed in our provider directory.