Contrary to popular thought, having flat feet is not merely a physical characteristic like whether a person has blond hair or brown eyes. • Winfield podiatrist surgeon Dr. Ahmad El-Samad says it is a physical deformity that can potentially lead to significant problems later in life. Parents as well as family practitioners and pediatricians need to hear this message, he says, as the feet are too often a neglected part of well-child visits.
While babies are born with flat feet, the foot’s final shape and an arch usually develop by age five or six, says El-Samad, a fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. With or without symptoms, a child with a flat foot could be in for a host of problems in later years.
El-Samad explains that excessive pronation of the subtalar joint, the cause of a flat foot, throws off body mechanics, changes a person’s gait, and creates a chain reaction of changes from the foot on up.
“If one joint pronates, your knee will have to compensate. If your knee can’t compensate, your hip will. If your hip cannot compensate, your back will, so it’s a lot bigger problem than just having a flat foot,” he says.
All this compensating results in 40-, 50- and 60-year-olds with back, knee and hip issues, he says, problems which might have been prevented or easily corrected if addressed in childhood.
Without symptoms, El-Samad often suggests custom orthotics for a child with flat feet. For those who are experiencing discomfort and whose pronation is flexible rather than rigid, as is true in the majority of cases, El-Samad says, a minimally invasive procedure is an option, in which an implant is placed in the subtalar joint. The implant is a permanent, internal orthotic that guides the development of a proper arch as the child grows. This can be done in children between about age 10 and 18, El-Samad says.
El-Samad says parents should ask their pediatrician to examine their child’s feet at routine physicals and refer the child to a podiatrist if necessary for further evaluation.
Erika Rose is a freelance journalist who primarily covers health news in Northwest Indiana. Erika and her husband Kevin live in Highland with their two girls (Morgan, 9, and Alexandra, 6).