flat feet

Managing Flat Feet: Symptoms, Treatment, and Risks

This post was last updated September 22, 2016

Flat feet, sometimes referred to as adult flat feet or flatfoot, are painful and progressive deformities affecting the arch of the foot. According to William Saar, DO, the condition results from the tearing and deterioration of the soft tissues in the arch. Repeated wear causes the arch to flatten and the toes to point outward. Learn more about the risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

Risk Factors and Causes of Flat Feet

Flat feet, or a lack of an arch, are normal among children and toddlers because some arches take longer to develop. In fact, some people never develop an arch and may or may not experience difficulties as a result. These flat feet are known as congenital flat feet, and no treatment is typically needed.

In other cases, however, the causes of flat feet range from pre-existing medical conditions such as deterioration of tendons that support the arch, arthritis and diabetic foot disease, injuries, or even the wear and tear of aging.

According to Dr. Saar, any adult over the age of 50 who notices that one foot is getting flatter than the other should seek out care from an orthopaedic foot and ankle specialist. Earlier treatment can avoid more extensive surgery in the future.

Flat Feet Symptoms

Flat feet often develop over time, and involve symptoms that progress and that may contribute to related conditions. Some patients with flat feet report no physical pain or changes. Others may experience a wide variety of symptoms including:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty walking or bearing weight on the feet
  • Inability to lift the heels off the ground while attempting to rise onto the toes
  • Bumps on the side of the feet

Treatment for Flat Feet

The following treatment options are often recommended by Dr. Saar for flat feet:

  • Rest or avoidance of high impact, repetitive bearing weight in the feet such as running
  • Anti-inflammatory pain medications
  • Orthotics
  • Braces
  • Surgery

Nonsurgical treatment options like shoe modifications, rest, and medications can be very effective in managing pain and preserving both function and mobility in your feet.

Surgery for Flat Feet

In some cases, when conservative methods are not successful, surgery may be recommended. These surgical options include:

  • Osteotomy
  • Lateral Column Lengthening
  • Tendon Reconstruction
  • Arthrodesis

Following any sort of surgical treatment of flat feet, you will have to eliminate all weight bearing activities for a period of two to three months. This rest period can prevent further difficulties and potential complications.

Whether you have a new injury, or symptoms that include chronic foot, ankle, or heel pain, swelling, or limited movement, our UPMC Orthopaedic Care foot and ankle experts can offer comprehensive treatment options to help you find relief. Visit our foot and ankle services page for more information or call 1-866-987-ORTHO to schedule an appointment.