VSU Student Shares Experience With Flat Feet
Feet are the foundation of everything. Pain in the feet is not normal and should not be disregarded.
As a college student, I have had to endure a flat foot reconstructive surgery that is typically experienced by older people. Flat foot is a deformity that means you have a fallen arch. Depending on the severity, it can result in a lot of pain. It can cause overpronation and cause the heel to go out of alignment. It can happen to one or both feet. According to the Institute for Preventive Foot Health, 18 million American adults aged 21 and older have flat feet.
While flat feet can affect anyone at any age, it is most often diagnosed in women between ages 30 and 50. Common symptoms include pain on the inside of the ankle, pain in the heel and pain across the midfoot. Typical causes of flat feet include genetics, a congenital deformity or aging. An individual will either have a flexible or a rigid flat foot, depending on the severity of the deformity.
As for me, both of my feet are flat from a congenital deformity caused from cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that affects muscle movement. The spasticity and rigidness of the muscles in my foot contributed to my feet moving out of alignment. This resulted in pain in both of my feet — as well as pain in my knee, hip and back that became too much to bear.
In 2019, I saw Dr. Andrew Woods, a foot and ankle specialist in Valdosta at Ankle and Foot Associates. He examined my feet, looked at my shoes, took x-rays, and explained that the only way to correct my problem was surgery.
A diagnosis when symptoms are mild will make more treatment options available to you before resorting to surgery. Conservative treatments like bracing or physical therapy can help, but once those options fail, surgery is required. Dr. Woods explained that this condition can remain undiagnosed because moderate to mild symptoms often go unnoticed until they become more severe.
“When I see an adult, often they may have had a congenital flat foot deformity that was untreated,” he said. “In those circumstances, oftentimes you’re having to look into surgical options earlier.”
I went home to St. Petersburg, Florida for my surgery and for my family’s support during what turned out to be a nearly year-long recovery. I got my right foot corrected first, since I had more pain on that side.
The surgery on February 10, 2020 took three hours in an outpatient facility. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. The surgeons used two screws to construct an arch, then plates and screws to straighten my big toe, fuse a joint and lengthen my calf muscle. The first 10 days after surgery, I had to keep my foot in a cast and elevated while lying on my back. No weight-bearing or getting up for anything except to eat or visit the restroom. I learned to hop on one foot with a stable walker and rely on my family to help me with everything.
After seven weeks, I was approved for and moved into a walking boot. Two weeks later, I moved into a regular shoe, still using a walker, and started physical therapy. I also got custom in-sole orthotics, formed to my new arch, to wear in my shoes.
Three times a week over the next six weeks, I went to physical therapy to learn how to walk again. I did numerous exercises to strengthen the mobility in my foot and ankle and worked on my gait. By May 15, I was able to start walking independently. In August, I returned to school, doing activities independently. However, one big adjustment was easing back into a more active lifestyle. My endurance level was not great at first, but the more I walk, the more I become comfortable.
My quality of life has improved drastically with increased balance and better gait movement. Most importantly, I am pain-free on the right side and that’s just with having one side corrected.
While this entire process may seem daunting, in hindsight, I wish I had gotten treated sooner — before my pain became severe. If I waited until I was in my 30s or 40s, my body would’ve been compensating for my feet, resulting in more pain.
“I always tell people … that when it starts to affect or keep you from the things that either you enjoy doing, want to do or have to do — if it’s keeping you from walking out your door — then we need to do something more,” Dr. Woods noted.
The older you get, the harder it is to endure the flat foot deformity. Remember, foot pain is not normal, and, more importantly, you have options to resolve it.
Written by: Isabella Schneider