Common Symptoms Of Fallen Arches And Why You Don't Want To Ignore Them

About 20% of adults have fallen arches, otherwise known as flatfoot. It can stem from childhood or start in adulthood, and it causes a variety of problems. Here are the best ways to tell if you have fallen arches, the common treatments, and what can happen if you choose to ignore the symptoms.

Do You Have Fallen Arches?

Home testing

In some adults, it will be visible that your foot has lost its arch, or you may notice your ankle rotating inwards. It's also possible you've just begun to experience pain but don't notice any visual changes to the shape of your foot.

There are a few easy ways you can check at home to see if you're flatfooted. First, get the bottom of your foot wet, then stand on a surface that will clearly show your footprint, like a piece of black construction paper or a concrete sidewalk. If the imprint shows the entire bottom of your foot with no dry spot where your arch should be, you might have fallen arches.

If you have a partner, you can also do the "too many toes" test. Stand in a normal position and have the other person squat behind you and look at your feet. If they can see your big toe peeking around your ankle, it might be time to see a podiatrist.

Common symptoms

Most adults with fallen arches will have symptoms. If the above home tests leave you feeling unsure, ask yourself the following questions

  1. Do your feet get tired easily?
  2. Does it hurt to stand on your toes?
  3. Do you suffer from back and leg pain?
  4. Do you tend to have pain in the arches or heels?
  5. Have you noticed swelling along the inside bottom of your feet?

If you answered yes to most or all of the questions, you should consult with a podiatrist right away and get a diagnosis. Keep in mind that if you have a history of broken bones or torn tendons in the foot, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or damage to the tendon that extends from your lower leg to the bottom of your foot (PTT tendon), you're at a greater risk for fallen arches.

What Is The Treatment?

If you've been fortunate and haven't experienced any pain, the treatment for fallen arches is likely to be minimal. Your podiatrist might recommend that you rest your foot and apply ice if there is any swelling, tell you to avoid certain activities (like running, racquetball, tennis, etc.), teach you simple stretching exercises, recommend physical therapy, prescribe corticosteroids, or custom make an orthotic device for your foot.

Orthotics are made to perfectly match up with the contour, shape, and movement of your foot in the hopes that it will improve the arch over time or, at a minimum, provide the correction your arch needs to support the rest of your body.

In other cases in which orthotics don't help, or if you are experiencing a great deal of pain, surgery may be indicated. But it won't be a viable option in all patients. For example, if you have diabetes, take steroids, or are a heavy smoker, your doctor might want get your health a bit more stable before hand. The main objective of surgery is to correct any bone deformities as well as repair the ligaments and tendons.

What Happens if You Ignore Fallen Arches?

Whether you've been diagnosed by a podiatrist or you've discovered on your own that you have fallen arches, you really shouldn't ignore it. If you do, you may end up having pain in your feet and ankles as well as other joints in your body. In addition, you could wind up with the following complications

Bunions—a condition in which your big toe pushes inward toward the second toe, ultimately causing redness, pain, and swelling.

Hammer toe—with this condition, one of the joints in your toe bends and essentially gets stuck. Over time, your shoes may rub up against the protrusion and lead to irritation and swelling.

Tendinitis—any or all of the tendons in your foot can become inflamed and lead to this condition, causing pain and swelling in the foot. 

Knee, pelvis, and back problems—when your foot is flat, it turns outward more than it should. This causes the knee to rotate inward, which forces the pelvis and shoulders to shift in order to compensate for your entire balance being thrown off kilter.

Don't put off consulting with a food and ankle doctor if you experience any symptoms of fallen arches.