Overview
Flat feet and fallen arches are terms used to describe lowering of the long inner arch of the foot. In the past, we thought that flat feet were a sign of a poorly developed or poorly structured foot. Now we know that people with flat feet function generally well and that flat feet don?t cause many foot problems. The most important factor in foot soreness and injury is not how flat or high your arches are, but the way you walk and move. If your feet move abnormally while you are walking or standing, this can make you more prone to injuries and foot soreness.
Arch Pain

Causes
The arches are the primary structures of the body that absorb and return force to and from the body to the outside world when we are on our feet. When something happens to these structures, pain and injury may result. There can be many causes of arch pain. Direct force trauma, ligament sprains, muscle strains, poor biomechanical alignment,stress fractures, overuse, inflammatory arthritis or the tightness or lack of tightness of the joints in the foot may all cause pain in the arch. Injury to the plantar fascia is a common cause of arch pain. The plantar fascia is the thick, connective tissue which supports the arch on the bottom of the foot. It runs from the calcaneus (heel) forwards to the heads of the metatarsals. When the plantar fascia is damaged, the resulting inflammatory response may become a source of arch pain.

Symptoms
The muscle imbalance around the foot and ankle gives rise to a typical pattern of deformity in addition to the high arch (known as cavus). The bone under the big toe (called the first metatarsal) can become very prominent and the toes can curl or clench like a fist (called claw toes). Excessive amount of weight may be placed on the ball and heel of the foot, which can lead to the ankle weakening and giving way (this is referred to as ankle instability) and soreness. Calluses and sometimes stress fractures may occur where the foot is exposed to extra friction or pressure, such as on the outer (or lateral) border of the foot.

Diagnosis
The doctor will take a brief history to determine how the injury occurred. If necessary, a thorough physical exam may be conducted to evaluate for any other injuries. Taking your workout shoes to the exam may also provide valuable information to the medical practitioner. Both feet will be physically and visually examined by the medical practitioner. The foot and arch will be touched and manipulated possibly with a lot of pressure and inspected to identify obvious deformities, tender spots, or any differences in the bones of the foot and arch.

Non Surgical Treatment
In addition to relieving the pain by providing better metatarsal support for your feet, many doctors advise stretching and strengthening the muscles that surround the damaged or weakened tendons. This advice can prove especially effective in preventing the possible side effects of fallen arches, including: inflammation and discomfort in the ligaments of the sole, Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, calluses, and bunions. Like plantar fasciitis, left untreated, fallen arches can cause a domino effect that impacts your legs, hips, and back.
Pain In Arch

Surgical Treatment
Surgery for flat feet is separated into three kinds: soft tissue procedures, bone cuts, and bone fusions. Depending on the severity of the flat foot, a person?s age, and whether or not the foot is stiff determines just how the foot can be fixed. In most cases a combination of procedures are performed. With flexible flat feet, surgery is geared at maintaining the motion of the foot and recreating the arch. Commonly this may involve tendon repairs along the inside of the foot to reinforce the main tendon that lifts the arch. When the bone collapse is significant, bone procedures are included to physically rebuild the arch, and realign the heel. The presence of bunions with flat feet is often contributing to the collapse and in most situations requires correction. With rigid flat feet, surgery is focused on restoring the shape of the foot through procedures that eliminate motion. In this case, motion does not exist pre-operatively, so realigning the foot is of utmost importance. The exception, are rigid flat feet due to tarsal coalition (fused segment of bone) in the back of the foot where freeing the blockage can restore function.


Prevention
It is possible to prevent arch pain by wearing well-fitting shoes while performing any physical activity. Many times doctors will suggest a therapeutic shoe with a higher heel to relieve the pressure on the achilles tendon and also the arch muscle (plantar fasciitis). People with arch pain suffer from regular flare-ups of pain. However there is no risk to others as this is not a contagious condition.

Stretching Exercises
Massage therapy is a great way to loosen muscles and help improve mobility in in your feet. As many people with foot pain have discovered, tight muscles in your legs or back can lead to tense foot muscles. All those muscles are connected, so tension in your back can cause tension in your legs which can pull the tendons in your feet and cause stiffness and pain. Getting acupuncture or a professional full body massage are probably the best ways to deal with this, but there are also some simple tricks you can do at home to help keep muscles limber. These are great for loosening up and improving circulation, both before and after exercise. Place a tennis ball under the arch of your bare foot and roll it around, stretching the muscles in your foot and promoting blood flow. You can also roll the ball under your calves and upper legs to work out stiffness and knots. If you feel the tennis ball is too easy, try a lacrosse ball for deeper massaging. This is also demonstrated in the exercise video above. Use a foam roller, those big overpriced rolls of foam that are now available in every department and sporting goods store are fantastic for self-massage (why a roll of foam costs $30 is beyond us, but they do work wonders-our advice is to not waste money on the more expensive fancy grooved ones because even the simplest rollers work great). The exercises you can do with foam rollers seem to be endless, and there are literally hundreds of free videos online showing how to use them to massage every part of your body. Here's one we picked out that specifically targets foot and leg muscles related to arches and plantar fasciitis.

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Cecil Stutsman

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