According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the average person walks about 1,000 miles in a year, putting about 1.5 times his/her body weight on the feet. In a single hour of strenuous exercise, the feet withstand and cushion up to one million pounds of pressure. Since the feet endure so much stress every day, it's no wonder about 75 percent of Americans will have foot pain at some point in their lifetime.
One type of foot problem is flat feet. Although some children are born with flat feet, the condition can also occur later in life (called adult acquired flat feet). It's caused when the tendon running from the back of the knee to the arch is stretched. As a result, the tendon loses the ability to support the natural arch, causing the development of collapsed (or "falling") arches.
About five percent of people 40 and older have collapsed arches. A natural widening of the feet that occurs with aging may contribute to the development of the condition. Other risk factors include: being overweight, an inherited tendency toward development of flat foot, and foot fracture or trauma.
Some people have no problems with flat feet. Others may experience foot pain, knee pain, shin splints, and pain in the achilles tendon. Eventually, patients with adult acquired flat feet may develop severe arthritis in the foot and ankle.
Detecting and Treating
There are two ways consumers can evaluate their feet for potential arch problems. The footprint test can be done after a shower. Before drying the foot, step out of the shower onto the bare, uncarpeted floor. Lift your foot and examine the footprint. You should be able to see an outline of the toes, front of the foot, and the heel. The front and back of the foot should be joined by a narrow strip print (about half the width of the front of the foot). In a person with flat foot, the connecting area will be as wide as the rest of the foot.
A second at-home test is the shoe evaluation. Place your shoes on a table top or counter. Look at the back of the shoes from an eye level. The heels of the shoes should be worn evenly. In a person with flat feet, the inside of the heel will show more wear.
Adults who experience pain from falling arches should seek advice from a physician. Many patients can be treated with over-the-counter or custom arch supports, anti-inflammatory medications, exercises, and/or physical therapy. For patients with progressive problems or more serious symptoms, surgery may be recommended.
For general information on foot problems:
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, www.orthoinfo.aaos.org
American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, 515 Busse Highway, Park Ridge, IL 60068, www.acfas.org , (888) THE FEET
American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, 2517 Eastlake Ave., E., Seattle, WA 98102, www.aofas.org