There are two types of flatfoot, one that people are born with that is usually seen as a toddler or adolescent years and the other is an aquired adult flatfoot that becomes noticable usually in the fourth or fifth decade of a persons life. We will address these separately since treatments are somewhat different in both types of cases.
THE INFANT FLATFOOT IS GENERALLY NORMAL!
Infants have a foot that usually appears to be flat, this is due to an increase in the amount of fat in the foot and its distribution. Also the foot has not yet dealt with the forces of gravity and has not aquired an arch to support the body weight. The foot of an infant does not indicate the future of the formation of an arch. There are some congenital deformities that may show up as a severe flatfoot in that age group but they are very very rare.
THE PEDIATRIC FLATFOOT-
This is probably the most common kind of flatfoot and most times it is a concern for the parents or guardians and not necessarily the child. The flatfoot can be divided into two kinds, the flexible flatfoot and the rigid flatfoot. The flexible flatfoot has an arch that may be present when the child is not putting any weight on the foot but disappears when weight is applied. The arch can reappear when a child stands on their tiptoes, this is due to a phenomenon called the windlass mechanism where the structures of a foot work together to recreate the arch.
A fallen arch generally will not lead to disability and problems in the future but the phrase "the child will grow out of it " is not exactly true in most cases. A severe flatfoot at an early age can cause joint pain and arthritis if not addressed, then again, maybee not. Noone can definatly say surgery or any treatment is absolutely necessary without a thorough examination and xray evaluation. ( xrays always need to be done with the patient stading with their weight on the feet.)
An examination will provide enough details to then be able to discuss further treatment. It is a well know fact that foot orthotics do help decrease pain by supporting the arch but do not reform an arch and must be worn consistantly to help at all.
A flexible flatfoot that is asymptomatic is generally treated with orthotics, ones that cause pain and a change in activities of daily living are occasionaly addressed with surgery.
There are a number of procedures, bone cuts ( osteotomy) , joint fusions ( removal of joints), and soft tissue procedures such as tendon transfers, tendon lenghtenings and ligament tightenings. These are chosen based on the 'plane of deformity' or the position of the flatfoot bone segments.
There is also a common procedure called the arthroeresis where a small titanium implant is placed just outside the subtalar joint in a child between the ages of 5 and 12 approximatly. This implant prevents the excessive motion of this joint in the back of the foot that allows the foot to pronate or fall into this flatfoot position. This implant allows the developing joint to reform itself into one with less range of motion and prevents the arch from flattening. The implant has also been successful in treating older patinets as well with flatfoot condition.
THE ADULT ACQUIRED FLATFOOT-
This condition is also commonly known as posterior tibial tendon dysfunction. This condition is most common in women over 40 years of age but can happen to anyone, The ligaments and muscles around the rear of the foot begin to weaken and this allows the arch to collapse over time. The posterior tibial tendon helps hold the arch up and may tear overtime leaving the arch to fall as well. This is usually first treated conservatively but in severe cases surgical treatment is warranted. depending on the condition of the joints and their level of arthritic changes.
There are those patients that present with arthritic changes in their foot joints from a long standing flatfoot deformity ( common in PTTD, adult aquired flatfoot). In these cases joint sparing bone cuts called osteotomy to realign the foot generally do not work and a more aggressive fusion surgery is necessary. This includess removing the arthritic painful joints completely and letting the bones heal together. The patient will experience some loss of motion in the small joints of the foot but this is rarely noticable since other joints in the foot and ankle compensate for this. Also the patient usualy already has very little motion in joints that are affected by degenerative arthritis.
There is one more form- one that needs to be addressed properly the :
THE PERONEAL SPASTIC FLATFOOT-
This is a condition where there is an irritant in one of the joints in the back of the foot. The body tries to limit motion of that irritated joint by putting muscles in spasm near those joints. Unfortunatly this causes a sometimes painful foot deformity where the foot starts to drift out to the outside. This occurs most often in teens ages 11-15, in both girls and boys, in both feet or in one foot.