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Foot Pain: High Arches and Flat Feet

Description

An in-depth report on the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of foot pain.

Alternative Names

Bunions; Corns; Hammertoe; Plantar Fasciitis

Arch Pain

Tarsal tunnel syndrome results from compression of a nerve that runs through a narrow passage behind the inner ankle bone down to the heel. It can cause pain anywhere along the bottom of the foot. It is often associated with diabetes, back pain, or arthritis. It may also be caused by injury to the ankle or by a growth, abnormal blood vessels, or scar tissue that press against the nerve. Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging and the dorsiflexion-eversion test are being used to diagnose this syndrome.

Treatment for Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome. Pain from tarsal tunnel syndrome may be relieved by treatment with orthotics, specially designed shoe inserts, to help redistribute weight and take pressure off the nerve. Corticosteroid injections may also help. Surgery is sometimes performed, particularly if symptoms persist for more than a year, although its benefits are under some debate. Tarsal tunnel syndrome caused by known conditions, such as tumors or cysts, may respond better to surgery than when the cause is not known. Recovery from this surgery can take months before a person can resume normal activity. It should only be performed by experienced surgeons.

Flat Feet

Flat feet, or pes planus, are a defect of the foot that eliminates the arch. The condition is most often inherited. Arches, however, can also fall in adulthood, in which case the condition is sometimes referred to as posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD). This occurs most often in women over 50 but it can occur in anyone. The following are risk factors for PTTD:

  • Wearing high heels for long periods of time is a particular risk for flat feet. In such cases, over the years, the Achilles tendon in the back of the calf shortens and tightens, so the ankle does not bend properly. The tendons and ligaments running through the arch then try to compensate. Sometimes they break down and the arch falls.
  • Some studies have indicated that the earlier one starts wearing shoes, particularly for long periods of the day, the higher the risk for flat feet later on.
  • Other conditions that can lead to flat feet or PTTD include obesity, diabetes, surgery, injury, rheumatoid arthritis, or use of corticosteroids.

Some research suggests that flat feet in adults can, over time, actually exert abnormal pressure on the ankle joint that can cause damage. One indirect complication of flat arches may be urinary incontinence or leakage during exercise. The less flexible the arch, the more force reaches the pelvic floor, jarring the muscles that affect urinary continence. Nevertheless, whether flat feet pose any significant problems in adults is unknown. For example, a 2002 study on athletes with flat feet indicated that they had no higher risk for leg or foot injuries than athletes with normal arches.

Treatment for Flat Feet in Children. Children with flat feet often outgrow them, particularly tall, slender children with flexible joints. One expert suggests that if an arch forms when the child stands on tip-toes, then the child will probably outgrow the condition.

Treatment for Flat Feet in Adults. In general, conservative treatment for flat feet acquired in adulthood (posterior tibial tendon dysfunction) involves pain relief and insoles or custom-made orthotics to support the foot and prevent progression.

In severe cases, surgery may be required to correct the foot posture, usually with procedures called osteotomies or arthrodesis, which typically lengthen the Achilles tendon and adjusting tendons in the foot. One procedure uses an implant to support the arch. These procedures have potential complications and conservative methods should be tried first.

Abnormally High Arches

An overly-high arch (hollow foot) can cause problems. Army studies have found that recruits with the highest arches have the most lower-limb injuries and that flat-footed recruits have the least. Contrary to the general impression, the hollow foot is much more common than the flat foot.

Clawfoot, or pes cavus, is a deformity of the foot marked by very high arches and very long toes. Clawfoot is a hereditary condition, but can also occur when muscles in the foot contract or become unbalanced due to nerve or muscle disorders.

Flat Feet and High Arches: Claw foot
Claw toe is a deformity of the foot in which the toes are pointed down and the arch is high, making the foot appear claw-like. Claw toe can be a condition from birth or develop as a consequence from other disorders.
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