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Relieving Fallen Arches

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Overview

Acquired Flat Feet

Most people (approx. 60-70% of the population) suffer from excessive pronation due to flat feet when walking, running and standing. Though the foot may appear normal when sitting down, with a clear arch present under the foot, over-pronation becomes noticeable when we stand or walk as a result of weight bearing. The arches collapse with every step we take, and the ankles roll inwards. This is called overpronation, a biomechanical imbalance that can lead to many painful foot conditions such as heel pain, plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, tendonitis, and can even affect other parts of your body such as the knees and lower back.

Causes

There are a number of different causes that can lead to flat feet or fallen arches. These include, birth defects, while technically not a defect as such, flat feet can be a normal finding in patients from birth. However, a condition called tarsal coalition may occur where some of the bones in the foot are fused together resulting in a flatfoot. Inflammation or damage of the posterior tibial tendon. This tendon forms the end of a muscle that connects the lower leg to the foot, winding around the ankle and attaching to the inner aspect where the arch is normally present. The main role of the posterior tibial tendon is to invert the foot and maintain the arch height throughout the gait cycle. Torn muscles of the leg and foot can cause flat feet. Problems with the nerve supply to the muscles can result in reduction in tone and fallen arches. Fracture dislocation of the bones in the foot. Severe arthritis. While these are the common causes that can result in fallen arches and flat feet, it is important to recognise that there are certain risk factors that can also lead to this condition. These include advancing age, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, obesity and pregnancy.

Symptoms

Symptoms that should be checked by a pediatrician include foot pain, sores or pressure areas on the inner side of the foot, a stiff foot, limited side-to-side foot motion, or limited up-and-down ankle motion. For further treatment you should see a pediatric orthopedic surgeon or podiatrist experienced in childhood foot conditions.

Diagnosis

Most children and adults with flatfeet do not need to see a physician for diagnosis or treatment. However, it is a good idea to see a doctor if the feet tire easily or are painful after standing, it is difficult to move the foot around or stand on the toes, the foot aches, especially in the heel or arch, and there is swelling on the inner side of the foot, the pain interferes with activity or the person has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Most flatfeet are diagnosed during physical examination. During the exam, the foot may be wetted and the patient asked to stand on a piece of paper. An outline of the entire foot will indicate a flattened arch. Also, when looking at the feet from behind, the ankle and heel may appear to lean inward (pronation). The patient may be asked to walk so the doctor can see how much the arch flattens during walking. The doctor may also examine the patient's shoes for signs of uneven wear, ask questions about a family history of flatfeet, and inquire about known neurological or muscular diseases. Imaging tests may be used to help in the diagnosis. If there is pain or the arch does not appear when the foot is flexed, x-rays are taken to determine the cause. If tarsal coalition is suspected, computed tomography (CT scan) may be performed, and if an injury to the tendons is suspected, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan) may be performed.

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Non Surgical Treatment

Treatment of flat feet may be appropriate if there is associated foot or lower leg pain, or if the condition affects the knees or the lower back. Treatment may include using Orthoses such as an arch support, foot gymnastics or other exercises as recommended by a podiatrist/orthotist or physical therapist. In cases of severe flat feet, orthoses should be used through a gradual process to lessen discomfort. Over several weeks, slightly more material is added to the orthosis to raise the arch. These small changes allow the foot structure to adjust gradually, as well as giving the patient time to acclimatise to the sensation of wearing orthoses. Once prescribed, orthoses are generally worn for the rest of the patient's life. In some cases, surgery can provide lasting relief, and even create an arch where none existed before; it should be considered a last resort, as it is usually very time consuming and costly.

Surgical Treatment

Flat Feet

In cases of flat feet that have progressed substantially or have failed to improve with non-surgical treatment, surgery may be required and in some advanced cases, surgery may be the only option. Your foot and ankle surgeon will determine the best approach for you.

After Care

Time off work depends on the type of work as well as the surgical procedures performed. . A patient will be required to be non-weight bearing in a cast or splint and use crutches for four to twelve weeks. Usually a patient can return to work in one to two weeks if they are able to work while seated. If a person's job requires standing and walking, return to work may take several weeks. Complete recovery may take six months to a full year. Complications can occur as with all surgeries, but are minimized by strictly following your surgeon's post-operative instructions. The main complications include infection, bone that is slow to heal or does not heal, progression or reoccurrence of deformity, a stiff foot, and the need for further surgery. Many of the above complications can be avoided by only putting weight on the operative foot when allowed by your surgeon.

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