Do you have flat feet? Do you know if you have flat feet? If you do, how does it affect you? Does it put you in an evolutionary disadvantage over people with “normal” feet? Can you actually rebuild a fallen arch without extreme measures? This article will serve to answer those questions.
What does it mean to have “Flat Feet”?
Being flat footed or having fallen arches means your feet have little to no arches and press flat against the ground. The arch, sometimes referred to as the instep, is the middle part of the foot usually raised off the ground when we’re standing, while the rest of the foot remains firmly flat on the ground.
In children, this arch isn’t always seen due to the baby fat and soft tissue found in their feet. The arches usually develop and appears as they get older and approach adulthood. Sometimes people never really develop this arch and most of the time it’s because they inherited flat feet from their parents.
Is having flat feet bad for you?
Having flat feet doesn’t mean you put your life at risk. There are some who didn’t know they were flat footed until they were in their 60s or 70s and they would go on to live longer bearing that information in mind. Most of the time, we don’t even need to treat flat feet. In fact, one study even says having flat feet may not always lead to lower extremity injury.
This study shows that in an athletic population that is representative of collegiate athletics, the existence of flat footedness does not predispose to subsequent lower extremity injury.
That doesn’t mean flat footers won’t have anything to worry about. More often than not, the older we get, the higher are our risk of acquiring gait-related injuries. One study .
In summary, we have shown an association of planus foot morphology with frequent knee pain and medial tibiofemoral cartilage damage in older adults.
There’s a good chance people with flat feet might be at risk for injury right now. Some of those injuries include:
- Pain in the feet, ankles, lower legs, knees, hips or lower back
- A foot or both feet rolling inwards too much (overpronation) this can cause shoes to wear out quickly and lead to injuries
- An underlying problem with the bones, muscles or connective tissues in and around the feet.
When you have these signs and symptoms, a trip to the foot doctor (orthopedic or podiatrist) couldn’t hurt.
How does it happen?
Genetics play a major role in whether a person will grow up to have flat feet but so do environmental factors.
Having flat feet can be a result of the bones of the feet not forming properly in the womb, loose connective tissue throughout the body, an underlying illness or condition affecting muscles and nerves, or when the connective tissue in one or both feet become stretched or inflamed – usually as a result of injury, obesity, improper footwear, and rheumatoid arthritis.
When the arch collapses during adulthood, specially those who previously had arches in their feet, the condition is known as acquired flat foot. Experts say acquired flat foot is a progression from an already present, but mild, flat foot deformity. The aging process and degeneration of supporting tissue around the foot and ankle are also contributing factors.
Can we fix flat feet?
Being flat footed isn’t a permanent condition. Much like posture, people with flat feet only need to apply certain measures to reverse the condition. Non-surgical treatments are recommended first and surgery is only considered if the non-surgical treatments didn’t work.
Some of the usual treatments involve wearing, using insoled or orthotics, taking painkillers, losing weight if you’re overweight, and actually stretching the muscles and connective tissue of your lower legs to prevent the foot from rolling over.
There are also exercises you can do to fix flat feet. Here are four of them:
1. Short Foot
The Short Foot exercise strengthens the arch support muscles on the underside of the foot. As the name implies, the goal is to “shorten” the distance between the heel and the base of the little and big toes by sliding the forefoot along the ground towards the heel.
It’s important to make sure the heel is in a neutral or grounded position and to not let the toes curl or lift off the ground. When done correctly, the ball of the foot and the heel stay in contact with the ground while the medial arch lifts. The short foot can be performed standing or even while you’re seated. We recommend beginners to start practicing while seated.
The flexed position should be held for 5-10 seconds.
2. Calf Stretches
The Standing Wall Calf Stretch and the Downward Dog Stretch are two of the basic calf stretching exercises you can do to help improve pronation and arch. These exercises can help stretch the back of the lower leg and Achilles.
Hold the stretched position for 20 seconds and repeat several times.
3. Heel Raises
This exercise strengthens the muscles in the lower leg supporting the arch. The focus of the exercise is on putting the bulk of your weight on the base of your big toe as you raise the heels off the ground as high as possible.
Do 2 sets of 15 repetitions.
4. Toe Yoga
It might sound weird but yes, there is an actual yoga exercise for your toes. This is done by alternating between pressing the big toe down while lifting the other toes up then reverse.
Hold each lift for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times on each foot.
Having flat feet may not bother you but it’s at least important to know if you’re at risk of future injuries associated with flat feet. There are plenty of ways to fix your arch but before you do anything drastic such as surgey, we urge you to consult with a foot doctor first and seek healthful advice. You may also perform the exercises we mentioned in this article for a few weeks and see if it improves your gait.