Babies are often born with flat feet (also called flexible flat feet or fallen arches) because their bones and joints are flexible. Their feet will appear to flatten when they stand, but an arch may be visible when they’re helped to stand on their tiptoes.
Flexible flatfoot is actually common in children. Parents are often concerned that the lack of an arch will result in pain and interfere in proper walking development and participation in sports. (2)
In 98-99 percent of children with flat feet, the condition will resolve at about the age of five or older, and experience no lasting effects. Only 1 or 2 children out of every 10 will still have flat feet when they become adults. (1)
Types and Causes of Flat Feet
Flat feet can be inherited. Fallen arches can also be caused by:
• Conditions that affect the nervous system (e.g., cerebral palsy, spina bifida and muscular dystrophy) where, over time, the muscles gradually weaken and stiffen and become less flexible. (4)
• Tightness of the Achilles tendon that limits the motion of the foot. (1)
• Truly rigid flat feet where, due to a fused joint or bone, children have difficulty moving the foot up and down or side to side at the ankle. This condition can be painful and can lead to arthritis if not treated. However, it's rarely seen in an infant or very young child, but more often in teen years. (1)
Symptoms and Treatment of Flat Feet
You should consult your doctor or pediatrician if your child is experiencing symptoms like:
• Foot pain
• Pressure areas on the inner side of the foot
• Lessened or complete inability to move the foot in any or all directions at the ankle
Flat feet caused by a tightened Achilles heel can be treated with special stretching exercises to lengthen the tendon. (1)
For the one or two children who do not develop an arch around or after 5 years of age, treatment is not recommended unless the foot is stiff or painful. Shoe inserts do not help a child develop an arch, and may actually cause more problems. (1)
Surgery may be suggested for children experiencing pain or difficulty walking, although surgery may not resolve all symptoms. Where surgery is a viable treatment option, it may be delayed until the child is close to or has stopped growing. (5)
1. Flat Feet and Fallen Arches. American Academy of Pediatrics. Web. Accessed: Feb 17, 2014.
2. Flexible Flatfoot in Children. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Web. Accessed: Feb 17, 2014.
3. Pain Management Health Center: What are Fallen Arches? WebMD. Web. Accessed: Feb 17, 2014.
4. Flat feet. National Health Sciences. Web. Accessed: Feb 17, 2014.
5. Flat feet. Children’s Health Network. Web. Accessed: Feb 17, 2014.
Reviewed February 17, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
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