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Flat Feet

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What Are Flat Feet?

Flat feet — also called adult flat feet or flatfoot — are painful, progressive deformities that affect the arch of the foot.

Flat feet result from the tearing and breaking down of the soft tissues in the arch. This wear causes the arch to flatten and the toes to point outward, often making the foot look like it has extra toes.

What causes flat feet?

Flat feet, or a lack of an arch in the feet, are normal among children and toddlers because some arches develop over time. In fact, some people never develop an arch and may or may not have problems.

In other cases, the causes of flat feet range from pre-existing medical conditions — like arthritis and diabetic foot disease — to injuries, or even the wear and tear of age.

Risk factors of flat feet

Flat feet problems are more common in women than in men.

Other major factors that may increase your risk for adult flat feet include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Obesity
  • Traumatic injury
  • Arthritis
  • Age

Flat feet complications

Flat feet can cause a number of problems in the ankles and knees because of the altered positioning of the feet and pressure changes of walking and moving.

If you suspect flat feet, you should seek treatment. These conditions may worsen over time or lead to other problems.

Why choose UPMC Orthopaedic Care for flat feet treatment?

  • UPMC has one of the highest-funded orthopaedic research programs in the nation, with access to ongoing clinical trials, particularly useful for those with flat feet.
  • We offer expert orthopaedic surgery services and treatments to people of all ages to help them get back to enjoying their lives. 

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Flat Feet Symptoms and Diagnosis

Flat feet often occur over time.

They involve a progression of symptoms that may grow to combine individual symptoms or contribute to related conditions.

Flat feet symptoms

Some people with flat feet report no physical pain or changes.

Others may experience a wide variety of flat feet symptoms, including:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Trouble walking or bearing weight on the feet
  • Inability to lift the heels off the ground while attempting to rise onto the toes
  • Bumps on the side of the feet

Flat feet diagnosis

If you have pain or other symptoms in your feet, your doctor may order a test based on your description and ability to bear weight. These testing options aim to examine your bone and muscle structure for any damage.

Tests for diagnosing flat feet include:

  • X-rays help doctors monitor the position of your arch and see changes in bone structure and health over time.
  • CT scans offer the advantages of an x-ray but from many different angles at once.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasounds provide a look into your foot's soft tissues, especially those of your arch.

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Flat Feet Treatment and Surgery

Treatment goals for flat feet

Starting treatment as soon as possible is very helpful for adult flat feet. However, treatment only becomes necessary when you feel pain or have reduced mobility.

At UPMC Orthopaedic Care, our treatment goals for flat feet aim to:

  • Manage foot pain
  • Preserve mobility
  • Increase function in your feet

Nonsurgical treatments for flat feet

Orthopaedic experts at UPMC offer the following nonsurgical treatment options for flat feet:

  • Rest to avoid bearing weight in the feet
  • Anti-inflammatory pain medications
  • Shoe adaptations (orthotics), braces, and arch supports for flat feet

These treatments can be very effective in managing pain and preserving both function and mobility in your feet.

Flat feet surgery

In some cases, doctors may recommend surgery to relieve the tension in your tissues and muscles that cause the arch to fall.

Flat feet surgery may be an attractive and effective treatment option when:

  • Nonsurgical treatment options have proven ineffective.
  • When flat feet occur along with other orthopaedic conditions of the foot or ankle.

Benefits and risks of flat feet treatment

Treatments for flat feet can be effective in preserving and even restoring function.

For this reason, be sure to tell your doctor about any acute or chronic pain you feel at the bottom of your feet and undergo proper testing.

Following any surgical treatments for flat feet, you will have to avoid all weight bearing activities for about three months.

Not following doctors' orders of this rest period can lead to further foot problems and complications. 

Learn more about flat feet

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From our Health Library: