Flat feet occur when the arches of the feet fall and the entire foot becomes flattened. Often the condition is painless, but for some people with flat feet pain develops in the heel or arch area. There are many treatments for flat feet, ranging from orthotics to surgery. In this injury guide, we tell you all you need to know about recognizing and treating flat feet.
Flat feet cause the entire foot to make full contact with the ground. The medical term for flat feet is pes planus, but the condition is also known as fallen arches or pronated feet.
Interestingly, all babies are born with flat feet. From the age of three onward, the arch of the foot begins to develop. Sometimes, this development fails to occur and the person is left with flat feet. Other times, flat feet can occur during adulthood.
People with flat feet may experience other problems due to misalignment of the body, such as ankle pain and knee pain.
Rigid Flat Feet vs. Flexible Flat Feet
There are two types of flat feet:
Flexible flat feet. In cases of flexible flatfoot, the foot appears flat when you are standing up, but the arch is visible when sitting down, as there is no weight on the foot. Painless, flexible flat feet typically don’t cause problems.
Rigid flat feet. There is no visible arch when sitting or standing. Rigid flat feet are more likely to cause pain and other issues than flexible flat feet.
What Causes Flat Feet?
Flat feet are normal in infants and toddlers, but should not occur in adults. In older children and adults, the most common flat feet causes include:
Weak ligaments in the foot, which can be a natural effect of aging
Abnormal foot development due to genetics or a condition such as cerebral palsy
Injury to the foot, such as a fracture or torn tendon
Anyone is at risk of flat feet, but some people are more likely to develop the condition than others. The factors that increase your risk of flat feet include:
Having a family member with flat feet
Having Down Syndrome
Injury to your foot or ankle
Conditions such as arthritis and diabetes
Flat Feet Symptoms
The most obvious sign of flat feet is the absence of an arch, either when sitting, standing, or both. Aside from this, most people experience no other symptoms.
Occasionally, people may have:
Foot pain, especially in the heel or ankle
Pain that gets worse during activities or when standing for long periods
Swelling on the inside of the ankle
In severe or long-term cases of flat feet, knee pain may occur.
Flat Feet Diagnosis
See your doctor if you are worried that you have flat feet. It is especially important to make an appointment if you have:
Feet that get fatigued easily
Pain in the feet after standing
Difficulty moving your heel
Difficulty standing on your toes
Arthritis, diabetes, or another medical condition
To diagnose flat feet, your doctor may look at your feet and check the arch. They may ask you to stand on your toes. It can be helpful to bring a pair of well-worn shoes with you so they can check the wear pattern for signs of misalignment.
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may order an imaging test of your feet, such as an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI scan.
Do I Have Flat Feet?
Although it’s always important to seek a professional diagnosis, you can perform an at-home test to check for flat feet. To do this:
Wet your feet.
Step onto a flat surface that will show your footprint. Good options are a dry concrete surface or a large, brown paper bag.
Step off the surface and examine the prints. If you can see an imprint of your entire foot—including the area where the arch should be—then you probably have flat feet.
Flat Feet Treatment
If you have painless, flexible flat feet, then you don’t require any treatment. However, you may wish to try some of the treatment options below to prevent the condition from getting worse. People with pain or rigid fallen arches will certainly benefit from the following flat feet remedies and treatments:
Rest and Ice
People with flat feet that experience pain or swelling should avoid activities that worsen their symptoms. Rest your feet when possible, especially after high-impact activities or long periods of standing. When symptoms flare up, apply a gel ice pack for up to fifteen minutes at a time, as often as necessary.
Try a gel ice pack for flexible treatment you can use any time. ( See Product )
If you’re carrying around extra pounds, it’s going to put added stress on your feet. People who are overweight or obese are at increased risk of flat feet as the arches can’t support this excess body weight.
Aim for a healthy weight by exercising regularly and eating a balanced, calorie-controlled diet. Monitor your progress with a digital bathroom scale.
Compact and accurate, this scale is the perfect addition to your bathroom or home gym. ( See Product )
Shoes for Flat Feet
The best shoes for flat feet are structurally sound and made of flexible material with an arch support. Sandals, high heels, or ballet flats often lack the necessary supports for those with fallen arches. When choosing shoes:
Go shopping in the evening, as feet swell throughout the day
Ask the store assistant to measure your feet each time you buy shoes
Some people’s feet are two different sizes. If this is the case for you, buy shoes in the size of the larger foot
Ensure the shoes feature good arch support and have at least a half-inch of space between the big toe and the tip of the shoe
If you have a severe case of flat feet, you may require medical shoes. Ask your doctor or podiatrist for their advice.
Insoles for Flat Feet
Easy to slip in and out, insoles are the ideal way to keep feet healthy and strong. ( See Product )
Increase the comfort and support of your shoes using orthotic shoe inserts. The best insoles for flat feet stabilize the arch to relieve symptoms and to prevent the condition from getting worse. If you must wear high heels, be sure to use appropriate high heel insoles.
These specialized orthotics are non-slip and provide extra padding to the forefoot. ( See Product )
Change your Activities
Flat feet symptoms often get worse after high-impact activities. Switch up your routine by engaging in low-impact exercises, at least some days of the week. The following activities won’t exacerbate fallen arches, yet they still allow you to enjoy the benefits of regular exercise:
Step 1: Place both hands at shoulder level on a wall. Step one leg forward.
Step 2: Keep the back leg straight and the heel firmly on the floor.
Step 3: Lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in the calf muscles of the back leg. Hold for a count of ten.
Step 4: Repeat ten times on each foot.
Step 1: While sitting on a chair, place a hand towel flat on the floor under your foot.
Step 2: With bare feet, grab the towel with the toes of one foot. Scrunch it toward you.
Step 3: Continue this action until you have scrunched up the entire towel.
Step 4: Repeat with the other foot.
Step 1: In a seated position, loop a large towel around the ball of one foot. Hold on to each end of the towel.
Step 2: Pull the towel toward your body until you feel a stretch in your calf muscles. Hold briefly, before releasing.
Step 3: Repeat ten to twenty times on each foot.
Some people with flat feet may benefit from seeing a physical therapist. This is especially important for runners, as flat feet can cause overuse injuries in athletes. Your therapist may help you to improve your running form and technique to avoid such injuries. They can also recommend specific exercises for your needs, as well as orthotics and supports for flat feet.
Arch Support for Flat Feet
Arch supports can relieve the pain of flat feet. These flat feet supports provide gentle compression and an upward lift to maintain proper foot alignment. We recommend this comfortable and nonslip arch support for all-day use.
These arch supports elevate the heel, while staying slim enough to be worn with your favorite footwear. ( See Product )
For fast flat feet pain relief, try an over-the-counter medication. These drugs can also bring down swelling. Examples of pain relief medicines include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium.
You should avoid taking painkillers long-term, as they can cause side effects such as gastrointestinal problems. If your pain is severe, speak to your doctor about ongoing pain relief options.
Flat Feet Surgery
Surgery is usually a last resort for flat feet. It is only carried out when a person has another foot issue that is contributing to the fallen arches. Some surgical procedures to treat flat feet include:
Repairing damaged tendons
Cutting a bone to fix a misalignment
Fusing bones together
Lengthening or replacing a tendon
Recovery after surgery may take several weeks. During this time, you will most likely require crutches to help you get around.
Be sure to have a handy pair of crutches on hand, to stay mobile while recovering. ( See Product )
Most people with flat feet do not experience problems. Many do not require treatment. But if you have rigid flat feet, or you regularly experience pain, then you may be at higher risk of flat feet problems.
The most common problem is that flat feet exacerbate the symptoms of other conditions in the feet, ankles, or legs. These include:
Also, flat feet throw off the alignment of the rest of the body. This can be especially problematic when running or engaging in other high-impact activities. It places you at higher risk of pain in the hips, back, and knees.
How to Prevent Flat Feet
It’s not always possible to prevent flat feet, particularly when flat feet result from developmental issues during childhood. However, most cases of flat feet during adulthood can be avoided. To prevent flat feet:
Wear supportive shoes
Avoid high heels
Use arch supports and inserts
Maintain a healthy body weight
Alternate between high-impact and low-impact activities to avoid excess stress on the feet and arches
Healing Painful Flat Feet for Good
If you have painful flat feet, the first port of call should be your doctor, who can make a diagnosis and help you formulate an effective treatment plan. Luckily, conservative treatments often resolve the pain and swelling associated with the condition.
The most effective home remedies involve using orthotics for flat feet. Some of the best options include special arch supports and shoe inserts for flat feet. You can also try stretching exercises, physical therapy, rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain relieving medications.
Finally, choose your footwear wisely. High-quality shoes with good arch support can prevent and alleviate the symptoms of flat feet, as well as many other painful foot conditions.
Jessica Hegg is the content manager and at ViveHealth.com. With vast product knowledge and understanding of individual needs, she aims to share valuable information on making smart buying choices, overcoming obstacles and overall improving the quality of life for others. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle.
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