With the rise of sedentary jobs, developing muscle or bone issues became more common. However, there is no need to panic about it, since we can prevent and treat almost every single problem. When it comes to flat feet, we can safely say that there is no single cause, and a lot of people take a different approach to this issue.
The podiatrists from all around the globe will tell you that flat feet treatment is not that urgent if you are not experiencing pain or acute discomfort. However, they will almost always advise addressing the issue sooner rather than later, because – once the issues start, it can take a while to fix them. Being that foot health is important not only for immediate reasons, we decided to tackle this subject and battle this situation with knowledge at hand.
Foot Arch as a Crucial Part of the Foot Anatomy
You might have already heard about the foot arches. Although people always think about the inner part of the foot when they think about the foot arch, we have three arches separated into two groups:
- Longitudinal arches (spreading from the front to the back of your foot):
- Lateral arch – the outer side of the foot
- Medial arch – the inner side of the foot (often referred to as “the arch”)
- Transversal arch (spreading across the foot – from the big toe to the pinky toe)
Now, the reason why arches, and by extension feet, get all the attention is mainly body stability. Think of it like this – you cannot build a stable and sturdy house without a solid foundation. Similarly, you need healthy and stable tires on your car for it to run. The same goes for our feet. If your feet suffer from some kind of destabilization, you risk a lot of potential injuries, ranging from your spine, down to your ankles and toes. The arches allow your foot to spread out the body weight while you walk or run, making the whole experience more balanced. This is the reason why every arch is supported by muscles and tendons.
Don’t panic, a lot of these issues can be solved easily, and a wide majority of cases doesn’t even require medical interventions.
What is Considered Flat Feet?
The flat feet condition also referred to as pes planus or collapsed arch is a collapse of the lateral foot arch, or sometimes the total collapse of both longitudinal arches. In layman’s terms, we are talking about a piece of the foot (both tendons and bones included) that is positioned closer to the ground. By collapsing, the arch makes your whole foot touch the ground, thus making a flat surface across the entire foot. Another name you can find for this condition is fallen arches, as opposed to the high-arch condition.
Now, it is important to bear in mind that children up to 12 years old can have flat feet, naturally. This occurs because kids are still developing their tendons, bones, and muscles, so sometimes foot arches do not rise until puberty. This, of course, has its pretty rare exceptions, and usually get caught easily by pediatricians.
Are Flat Feet Bad?
Before we continue with the analysis of this common condition, we would like to address this frequently asked question. The short answer is – flat feet aren’t bad if you are not experiencing any pain. People can live their whole lives with flat feet without even knowing it.
However, flat feet can cause a lot of issues, and in some case damage, to your ankles, knees, hips, lower, or even upper back and spine as a whole. Feet stability is crucial for good posture, and flat feet are less stable than feet with normal arches.
Types of Flat Feet
While it does seem like an “either it is or it isn’t” type of situation, flat feet come in different intensities, or degrees. Now, because we are all built differently, the degree of flatness could be described in many ways and countless increments. However, for simplicity’s sake, medical workers agreed upon a 3-degree scale to describe fallen arches. Do not be confused if you find your feet somewhere in between these degrees, because the scale serves a more descriptive purpose.
- There is a so-called 0-degree that describes a normal foot with developed arches.
- 1st degree fallen arch – You can see a significant thickening on the lateral arch. The space between the thumb toe and the foot does not touch the ground while you are standing.
- 2nd degree fallen arch – The lateral arch is fully thickened and now the root of your toe thumb touches the floor as well. The 2nd degree fallen arch is among the most common conditions when it comes to flat feet. This degree of fallen arches is usually followed something called flexible flat foot (we’ll get there in a second).
- 3rd degree fallen arch – Also known as the collapsed arch, this condition is the extreme side of flat feet. The lower part of the ankle is closer to the floor than usual, and the feet collapse inwards.
2. Flexible Flat Foot
As mentioned above, flexible flat feet are quite common. But what is a flexible flat foot? Essentially, people with flexible flat feet have normal, lifted arches once their feet are not on the ground. If you have flat feet while you are standing, but you can see the arches once you lift your foot – you have flexible flat feet.
Flexible flat feet appear in early childhood, and most-commonly they are not followed by any physical pain or any sensation whatsoever.
How to Tell If You Have Flat Feet?
Let’s be real for a moment here – people usually start having concerns about flat feet only once they start having problems, which are usually manifesting as pain or discomfort. So, if you are not sure whether you have flat feet or not, let’s see what kind of checkups are most-commonly practiced out there. Getting to know our own anatomy is a key part of better health, both mental and physical. We cannot stress enough how important foot health is for your posture, and overall leg and spine wellbeing.
Keep in mind that you can, if needed, consult a physician. Your designated doctor will then tell you whether you need to visit a podiatrist or some other specialist that deals with bones, muscles, and tendons. However, situations like these are rare, and you can examine your feet by yourself.
1. Physical Examination
If you decided to visit a doctor, he will examine your feet by simply looking at the arches, or the lack thereof, and try to determine the degree of flatness. Some old-school doctors will have a little podium that you can stand on. This podium is made of see-through glass, and it has an angled mirror underneath. This contraption helps your doctor see how your feet behave while you are standing. Depending on the degree of arch collapse, the doctor will probably examine your ankles, knees, and possible hips. Some serious cases require x-rays to diagnose how much damage the foot suffered.
On the other hand, you can determine whether you have flat feet by performing a simple footprint test at home:
- Take off your shoes and socks, and find a surface that can withstand a bit of moisture
- Get your feet wet. Make sure that the bottom side of each foot is completely wet
- Stand on the surface for a few seconds, enough to make a water footprint
- Step away and analyze the footprint
If you can see the whole footprint, including the inner side of your feet, your foot arches have collapsed, and you have flat feet. The bigger the print on the inner side of the foot, the more the arches have collapsed.
2. Long-term issues
A lot of people tend to overlook that they have flat feet until the problems kick in. Some of the most common anatomy issues are caused by flat feet, especially in individuals that participate in sports. So, if you are unsure about the source of that old, annoying pain in your knees, there’s a fair chance that you feel it due to collapsed arches. These long-term issues may include problems with ankles, knees, hips, lumbar spine, and even your upper back.
What Causes Flat Feet?
A lot of anatomical conditions originate not from one, but several different directions and sources. The same applies to flat feet. Interestingly enough, modern medicine has discovered that flat feet can be a thing of genetics, among other, more physical causes. Other causes include weak muscles, acute and chronic injuries, arthritis, obesity, and a lot of others.
Science has determined that collapsed arches can be inherited through the genome, directly from parents. If either one or both of your parents have problems with collapsed arches, your chances to have these issues significantly increase. However, as it’s with every genetic characteristic, this can also skip a generation. The genes as a cause for flat feet are often taken into consideration with more severe cases.
For example, if a parent has a problem with bones, muscles, or tendons in the foot, you can inherit that characteristic, which can later develop into flat feet. All in all, because you cannot do anything to stop genetics, you can only be aware of it and react adequately. Genetic predispositions for flat feet also include collapsed ankles, which is an extremely rare occurrence.
2. Weak Arches
Weak arches are a symptom of flexible flat feet. As we already mentioned, people with flexible flat feet have normal arches when they lift the feet off the ground, and flat foot once they put it down. Sometimes, this happens due to weak arch tendons and small muscles. This type of flat foot is often harmless, and, if it does come to issues, proper footwear and exercises are the way to go. A majority of people that have weak arches do not realize that until it is time to start participating in a sport or start a gym regimen.
Because all injuries are different, there is no single injury that can cause an arch to fall, unless it is acute severe trauma. Instead, when it comes to injury-caused flat feet, we are talking about untreated long-term injuries. Arches collapse over time, often unnoticed, because they are rarely a primary concern. Here are a few examples of the most common injury-caused flat feet:
- Ankle injuries with long recoveries. Often times when we seriously injure our ankle (brakes and tendon tears), due to immobility, the foot arches can heal in collapsed positions.
- Knee injury. Similar to ankle injuries, knee problems can cause you to change the way you stand or walk, thus promoting a pronated ankle position which leads to flat feet eventually.
- Hip or back injuries. This is the least common cause of flat feet. Hip problems, as well as lumbar problems, can also change the mechanics of your feet placement, thus causing your arches to collapse after a long period of adaptation.
Both arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can cause problems with fallen arches. Without going too deep into what arthritis is, we can talk about its consequences, which include lateral arch collapse. Arthritis tackles joints (ankles included), making them physically bigger. This causes us to change the way we walk, all to avoid pain and discomfort. So, for purely anatomical reasons, the arches can fall, causing you to get flat feet. Arthritis is a condition that people get in later stages of life, and it is mostly observed in adults over the age of 60. If you suffer from any type of arthritis, make sure to consult your physician about adequate footwear and exercises you should consider minimizing the effects of fallen arches.
Being overweight or obese has become a modern-day illness. As we already established, your feet are the foundation that physically connects you to the surface you are walking on. So, if you put extra weight on your foundation, there’s going to be some consequences. Because feet can only withstand a certain amount of pressure, obese people tend to develop flat feet over time. This is a common scenario with older people. As we get older, we tend to move less, our feet weaken, so naturally, every extra pound of weight puts a lot of strain on the bottom of our feet. This causes the arches to slowly fall and gradually get to a flat condition.
Similar to obesity-caused flat feet, pregnancy can also contribute to arch-falling. Pregnant women gain extra weight quickly, and often times the feet do not have enough time to adapt. This is a natural process observed in women ever since we started taking care of our feet as a species.
Another factor that contributes to the development of fallen arches in pregnant women is the weakness of the joints. Although it does not happen to every soon-to-be mom out there, the combination of extra weight and ankle weakness leads to some permanent feet transformation, with flat feet being one of them. Some women even experience a permanent change in shoe size. However, after the pregnancy period ends, this can easily be reversed with the right footwear and proper exercises.
7. Posterior Tibial Tendon Damage
Next to other big tendons that go through the ankle, the posterior tibial tendon is one of the key stability elements when it comes to the way our foot absorbs pressure. People that have impactful movements on the daily (like high-impact sports or long-hour physical work) have a greater risk of damaging this tendon. Once it loses its full stability, it cannot support the arch of the foot completely, and the risk of developing flat feet increases. This sensation can be painful, and you should always consult a doctor before you take any further recovery measures.
8. Stiff Achilles Tendon
Once again, we come to weak or stiff tendons as a cause of fallen arches. The Achilles tendon is the main connecting bridge between your calf muscles and your heel bones. As such, this tendon plays an important role in foot stabilization, and if it gets too stiff (due to over or underuse), the feet can adapt in such a way that causes the arches to fall and flatten. A stiff Achilles tendon is most commonly discovered once you start jogging or running as a part of your daily routine.
Why Are Flat Feet Bad?
Technically speaking, the effects of flat feet can go unnoticed, or they can make your life hard. The differences are, of course, pretty individual, and the effects depend on your lifestyle and overall fitness. If the issues appear, we can separate them into two groups, chronically: acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term).
1. Short term effect of flat feet
These usually appear as soon as you become more active – walking, jogging and exercising can activate the acute effect, even though you’ve had flat feet for some time.
1.1. Pain and Discomfort
This is the most common effect of fallen arches. You can experience pain in your ankle, heel, arches, or even your toes (mainly in the thumb toe). The pain is usually sharp and it persists once you take the pressure off the foot by sitting down or lifting the foot from the ground. The level of pain varies from person to person, and in severe cases, you might need to call an ambulance.
1.2. Tendon Tightness
This effect of fallen arches is experienced mostly by athletes (pro and amateur) or people that do a lot of manual labor. You can experience tightness in your foot tendons, tibial tendons, and most commonly in your Achilles tendon. If this problem is not addressed properly, flat feet can easily turn to the last stage – total ankle pronation or collapse.
2. Long term effects of flat feet
The long-term effects of fallen arches develop slowly, and people start noticing the results, which are more serious problems with the anatomy of the leg, hip, or even the spine. Usually, the long-term effects combine into multiple connected issues with biomechanical features like walking, running, or standing. The tricky part of these long-term effects is that some people experience it after a few months, and some people never do. However, as the feet get flatter, and the ankle more pronated, the probabilities of issues starting significantly rise.
2.1. Ankle Problems
The first part of your body that suffers from flat feet is, naturally, the ankle. Even if you do not have issues with collapsed or pronated ankles, you can develop them by not doing anything to alleviate the stress that your ankle endures by trying to adapt. When ankle problems occur, you experience discomfort while wearing shoes, or even when walking longer than 10 minutes. Being that all our leg joints share a connection as a part of the walking mechanism, you can start experiencing problems with the joints above, which leads us to our next point.
2.2. Knee Problems
People with normal feet arches have their leg joints (ankle, knee, hip) stacked – positioned one above the other without a lot of deviation. But, if your foot does not provide enough stability to the knees, which is common with flat feet, the knees might fall and rotate inward to adapt to the pronation that fallen arches cause. If not treated, this leads us to the next joint – the hip.
2.3. Hip Problems
Hips are one of the most important joints in our body. They are positioned somewhere around the middle, and hip stability dictates how stable our whole body is, both while sitting and while standing. If ankles and knees are not stacked in a line, there is a chance that you might start experiencing hip discomfort as well. Besides the physical pain, this can manifest in the way you walk.
2.4. Lower Back/Lumbar Problems
Finally, if the whole bio-mechanical leg chain is not stacked, you are bound to experience some lower back discomfort. A lot of office workers attribute lumbar issues to bad posture while sitting, and they disregard the fact that a lot of times the root of the issues can be flat feet. However, lower back problems are typically caused by more than one smaller problem, so if you experience lower back discomfort, pay a visit to your physician. He will start you on a path of exercises to correct the issues and alleviate the pain with the support of proper footwear.
How to Fix Flat Fleet?
The most important part of flat feet treatment is none other than – patience. Truth be told, some fallen arch types can be treated surgically, but that approach is only for the most severe of cases.
1. Change Your Lifestyle
Due to various lifestyle causes of flat feet, the longest-lasting thing you can do is changing your lifestyle. This includes losing weight, exercising, learning how to stretch, changing your diet, etc. Our anatomy, and the issues that come with it, is for the most part in our control. The way you sit, walk, and stand can affect your feet positively if you spend some time to learn how your own body functions. Because everybody is different, there is no single formula on how to do this.
A lot of people turn to exercise at a gym, due to its time-efficiency. Another effective way to address the issue of flat feet is to invest in a good office chair, especially if you spend a lot of time sitting. The less stress your feet have to endure, the faster they will recover. On the other hand, there are some immediate measures you can take as well.
2. Adequate Footwear
Besides investing in regular day-to-day shoes and sneakers, you can turn to orthotics. Orthotics are special shoes (or shoe insoles) that help with fallen arch support. The pain-alleviating effects can be noticed almost instantaneously, in the first couple of days. Additionally, because flat feet are a common problem for people all around the globe, you can find different styles and designs among these specialized shoes (more about this in the sections to follow).
Now, when choosing footwear for flat feet, you can try doing it yourself, or consult your podiatrist to help you get a more adequate pair. The style and color are up to you, as long as the inside of the shoe is comfortable and help with supporting the arches of your feet.
3. Medication and Surgery
Lastly, if the discomfort grows into chronic pain, you can turn to NSAIDs for help (with the approval of your doctor, of course). Over-the-counter painkillers will help you get through the day, but they WILL NOT fix the flat feet issue. If the pain becomes chronic, it is time to do something about it. Your doctor will prescribe you exercises, and in more severe cases – surgery.
Now, to come to a stage that needs surgical intervention is rare, and it often involves more than one factor. People that suffer from severe tendon inflammations sometimes need surgery so they don’t lose foot stability entirely. Another reason for surgery is, of course, acute injury, but if this is the scenario, it is important to remember that every case of foot injury is somewhat unique, and you need to let a medical professional lead the way to recovery.
Exercises to Help You Along the Way
There is a large number of exercises that can help you with arch improvement, both when it comes to stability and flexibility. The truth is, every flat foot exercise comes down to several movements with the same principle. And the best approach you can take when it comes to exercising your foot arches is the one of consistency. A few minutes every day will yield excellent results. Some of the most popular, and most efficient exercises for flat feet include:
- Towel Scrunches
- Ball Roll
- Achilles Tendon Stretch
- Walk Barefoot
Great Shoes for Flat Feet We Recommend
1. Best Work Boots for Flat Feet
People who spend a lot of time on their feet, being it on construction sites, outdoors, or any workplace that requires walking around, need to get the most out of their footwear. That is why modern technology gave us the best work boots for flat feet, to keep the foot arches supported even through long-lasting walking sessions. These boots look like your regular hitch-hiking boots, with the extra support for the fallen arches.
2. Best Dress Shoes for Flat Feet
Who says that dress shoes need to be stiff and uncomfortable? If you have a date, a meeting, or a fancy dinner, and your fallen arches are giving you a hard time, you should consider getting the best dress shoes for flat feet. These will help you endure as long as needed, no matter the occasion, and help you look good while you’re at it.
3. Best Tennis Shoes for Flat Feet
If you spend at least an hour a week playing sports, getting the best tennis shoes for flat feet can be a life-saving decision. Fallen arches often times cause your ankles and knees to suffer additional strain from jumping and running, and these shoes are built to negate that effect while giving your arches the even-necessary support.
4. Best Running Shoes for Flat Feet
Jogging and sprinting put a lot of physical stress on our feet. This goes out double if you have fallen arches. To avoid the unnecessary long recovery period after a jog, keep in mind that there is an easier way – investing in the best running shoes for flat feet. These shoes are made to support your fallen arches and absorb the larger amount of shock that comes from running.
5. Best Insoles For Flat Feet
Lastly, if you can’t decide what type of specialized footwear to get, or you simply want to adapt your own shoes to accommodate your fallen arches, there is a solution – best insoles for flat feet. They come in various shapes and sizes, but all of them play a crucial role in supporting the bottom of your feet. This option, however, is the least impactful, at the cost of being the most adaptable.
One Final Thought
Having flat feet is not the end of the world. People can live years, if not decades, without even knowing that they have this condition or some degree of it. Kids have flat feet naturally, but they grow out of it once their foot tendons develop, and the arches rise. However, if you started having difficulties walking, or started experiencing pain due to fallen arches, it is time to do something about it.
We hope we helped with the ton of data we presented, including the practical solutions in the form of specialized footwear and exercises. If you have any doubts, consult your physician first and start working towards the best foundation for your body – your own healthy feet!