Most babies are born with flat feet, that is to say their little soles do not possess a natural arch. This arch, which helps in proper distribution of weight on the feet and normal gait, will usually form by the time a child is about four or five years old.
What is ‘flat foot’?
‘Flatfoot’ is a condition where the normal arch of the foot has flattened out, causing the foot to rotate outwards at the front and roll inwards at the back, or heel.
This causes the normal foot mechanics to change, resulting in overuse of some of the calf muscles and an altered gait pattern. Occasionally there is pain when walking or running.
There are many cases of low foot arches, true ‘flatfoot’ is relatively uncommon.
‘Flat feet’ are quite common and present in about 25 per cent of kids. Usually, an arch will develop by toddler-hood.
What causes the condition?
There are various causes for flat feet, but common causes include:
- Genetic factors and ligamentous laxity – ‘flat feet’ can pass from parent to children
- Excess weight causes stress on the arches,
- Foot or ankle injuries,
- Weakness in the muscles, and
- Cerebral palsy.
Flexible: Flexible flat feet are the most common. You can see the arches in the feet when you aren’t standing. The arches disappear when you put weight on the feet. Flexible flatfoot comes on during childhood or the teen years. It affects both feet and gradually gets worse with age. Tendons and ligaments in the arches of the feet can stretch, tear and swell.
Rigid: A person with rigid flat feet has no arches when standing (putting weight on the feet) or sitting (no weight on the feet). This condition often develops during the teen years and gets worse with age. Your feet may feel painful. It can be difficult to flex the feet up or down or move them side-to-side. Flatfoot may affect one foot or both.
Adult-acquired (fallen arch): With an adult-acquired flat foot (fallen arch), the foot’s arch unexpectedly drops or collapses. The fallen arch causes the foot to turn outward and can be painful. The problem may affect only one foot. The most common cause is inflammation or a tear in the leg tendon (posterior tibial tendon) that supports the arch.
Vertical talus: Some babies have a birth defect called vertical talus that prevents arches from forming. The talus bone in the ankle is in the wrong position. The bottom of the foot resembles the bottom of a rocking chair. Vertical talus is also called rocker-bottom foot.
Signs to watch out for
Parents should have their child assessed by a Podiatrist at Step + Stride if they see their child experiencing pain while walking. Symptoms also include:
- Calf pain,
- Tiredness after exercise,
- Frequent tripping,
- Walking with great difficulty, and
- Adapting wrong posture.
What’s the treatment for a child with ‘flatfoot’?
For a true ‘flatfoot’, use of an arch support could helpful. This could be either built-in to the shoe or sandal or be used as an insert (orthotic) to help support the arch.
As the child grows and gets heavier, true flatfoot deformities often worsen and the arch support may no longer be enough. In rare cases, surgery may be required to correct or prevent worsening, he warns.
Can exercises help?
Exercises can be beneficial to those with ‘flat feet’, stretching of the Achilles tendon and strengthening other muscles that support the arch.
Are there any health complications caused by ‘flatfeet’?
The most common health problem is fatigue of the feet and legs with prolonged walking, and abnormal gait patterns while walking and running.
‘Flat feet’ can result in medical complications such as:
- Arthritis in the ankle and foot joints,
- Inflammation of the ligaments and tendons in the feet, and
- Toe deformities.
If the flatfoot deformity is worsening, or any pain is increasing, parents should seek Podiatry input.
If you are concerned about your child’s feet, call us today.
(09) 212 9612