"Flat foot," or pes planus, is 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 age 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. 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 a person 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 PTTD include obesity, diabetes, surgery, injury, rheumatoid arthritis, or the 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.
Treatment for Flat Feet in Children. Doctors usually can't diagnose flat feet until a child is 6 years old. Children with flat feet typically don't have symptoms, and often outgrow the condition. Children who are experiencing symptoms might need to change shoes or wear arch supports. In rare cases, minimally invasive joint insert surgery may be an option.
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 that typically lengthen the Achilles tendon and adjust tendons in the foot. One procedure uses an implant to support the arch. These procedures have potential complications. Conservative methods should be tried first.
Review Date: 01/30/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.