Most babies are born with flat feet, with arches typically forming early in childhood. But if those arches collapse during adulthood, it can be painful and cause mobility problems.
Adults who experience a breakdown of soft tissue in their feet and ankles may suffer symptoms of “fallen arches,” commonly known as adult-acquired flat foot. While as many as 2 in 10 children will keep their flat feet as they age, those with adult-acquired flat foot may require treatment.
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What Are Fallen Arches?
Fallen arches happen when tendons or ligaments in one or both feet tear or break down, causing the arch to flatten and the toes to point outward.
In most cases, this happens when the foot’s main arch-supporting tendon, called the posterior tibial tendon, is gradually stretched, torn, or damaged due to injury or wear and tear. Sometimes, the foot is more prone to this condition because of bone structure. Conditions related to fallen arches include tendonitis, arthritis, and plantar fasciitis.
Flat feet can cause problems in the ankles and knees – the altered position of the feet may change how you move. Those with fallen arches should seek treatment, as these conditions can worsen over time.
Do I Have Fallen Arches?
A health care provider, such as a podiatrist or foot and ankle surgeon at UPMC Orthopaedic Care, can diagnose fallen arches by assessing your symptoms, evaluating your posture and weight-bearing ability, and taking X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs.
Common symptoms of fallen arches include:
- Back and leg pain.
- Foot and ankle swelling.
- Limited foot movement.
- Trouble standing on your toes.
- Swollen, tired, or painful feet, especially in the arches, heels, or inside of the ankle.
- Leg cramps and muscle pain in the foot or leg.
- Pain when walking, or changes in how you walk.
- Unusual shoe wear pattern or shoes quickly wearing out.
What Are My Treatment Options?
There are a variety of nonsurgical and surgical treatment options for people with fallen arches. Doctors will usually prioritize pain management, mobility, and foot function when developing a treatment plan.
These treatments are often successful at preserving and even restoring arch function.
Possible nonsurgical options include:
- Rest to avoid bearing weight in the feet.
- Anti-inflammatory pain medications.
- Shoe adaptations, braces, and arch supports.
- Safe exercises to help support the arch, such as arch lifts and heel raises.
If nonsurgical treatments are ineffective, or you’re experiencing other orthopaedic conditions, doctors may suggest foot surgery to relieve tension in the tissue causing the fallen arches or address arthritis. After any surgical treatments for flat feet, you will have to avoid all weight-bearing activities for about three months.
How Can I Prevent Fallen Arches?
There are ways to reduce or treat risk factors associated with fallen arches, such as making healthy lifestyle choices to prevent obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, as well as doing regular stretching exercises.
Older adults and pregnant people also may be at a higher risk of developing adult flat foot. Make sure to choose proper footwear, limit activities that put excessive stress on your feet, and talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you’re experiencing prolonged foot pain or discomfort.
About UPMC Orthopaedic Care
When you are dealing with bone, muscle, or joint pain, it can affect your daily life. UPMC Orthopaedic Care can help. As a national leader in advanced orthopaedic care, we diagnose and treat a full range of musculoskeletal disorders, from the acute and chronic to the common and complex. We provide access to UPMC’s vast network of support services for both surgical and nonsurgical treatments and a full continuum of care. Our multidisciplinary team of experts will work with you to develop the treatment plan that works best for you. Our care team uses the most innovative tools and techniques to provide better outcomes. We also are leaders in research and clinical trials, striving to find better ways to provide our patients care. With locations throughout our communities, you can find a provider near you.