Are your flat feet causing you pain and other problems?
If you have “flat feet," you have feet that don't have arches when you stand.
While it is common for babies to be born with naturally flat feet, the arches usually develop over time during childhood.
But if, for some reason, they do not form or they collapse later in life, they can affect your gait (how you walk) and also lead to chronic pain and posture problems.
However, stretching exercises, physical therapy and sometimes supportive foot orthotics can help.
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What Are Flat Feet?
When you have flat feet, we refer to the condition as "flatfoot."
It occurs when a single foot or both feet have a slight or no arch on the underside of the foot.
When these people without arches stand, the pads of their feet press downwards into the ground. Generally, the arch isn’t visible unless the foot is lifted.
As we mentioned, babies are naturally born with flat feet, the formation of their arches begins around six years of age. But if the issue persists into adulthood, it can become a problem.
Studies show that around two of every ten kids will continue to have flat feet into adulthood.
Plus, in children who develop arches, the arches can collapse later in life with a condition called "fallen arches."
Fallen arches occur in adulthood when the arch of the foot collapses.
It can lead to the foot turning outwards, which changes posture and gait and causes pain.
Primarily, fallen arches only affect one foot due to an inflamed tendon which can tear , leading to complete collapse of the arch.
Fallen arches are just one form of flat foot. The others are:
Flexible arches are a common form of flat feet. They're visible when you're not standing but disappear when you stand up.
This type of flat foot usually develops in childhood or early teens.
It affects both feet and can worsen as you get older when ligaments and tendons stretch and swell and even develop tears in the arches in some cases.
If you have rigid flat feet, you have no arches while sitting or standing.
This condition starts during the teenage years and can worsen as you age. This form of flat feet causes pain and makes it difficult to flex or move them. It can affect one or both feet.
Some infants are born with a congenital disability known as vertical talus, where the arch beneath the foot does not form.
In this condition, the talus bone (at the bottom of the ankle) is usually in the wrong place.
Since the bottom of the foot looks like a rocking chair with this condition, doctors sometimes refer to it as “rocker-bottom foot."
Flat feet do not pose a severe health issue in most cases.
But as the condition can affect your walking gait and posture, it can lead to problems that require treatment later.
That’s why physical therapy is advisable for everyone with flatfoot to prevent problems before they occur and keep your feet and ankles pain free.
What Causes Flat Feet?
There is a connection between the cause and risk factors of flat feet.
Some of these factors both increase your risk of the condition and can become an ongoing cause, such as:
Other less common causes of flatfoot are:
What Are The Symptoms Of Flat Feet?
Most people with flat feet do not experience any issues.
They may not even be aware that they have the condition. However, certain types of flatfoot can cause pain and other symptoms, such as:
How We Diagnose Flat Feet
When we diagnose flatfoot in the clinic, we examine your feet and legs and ask about your symptoms and medical history.
During the examination, we analyze your foot arches when walking, sitting, and standing.
Sometimes, we may also request X-rays to check for bone formation in your feet.
But we can usually pinpoint the condition and what’s causing your pain quickly by evaluating the arches of your feet and your walking gait.
If you’re curious, you can also check whether you have flat feet at home.
All you need to do to check your feet is stand upright on a flat surface and look to see whether your feet are flat on the ground or whether there is an arch.
You can use a mirror to help with this or ask a friend or relative to look for you.
However, it’s always best to get a proper diagnosis and preventative treatment from a physical therapist if this test does show that you have low or no arches.
How We Treat Flat Feet
Many people with “flatfoot” show no symptoms and don’t require any treatment.
For instance, many people with flat feet adjust the alignment of their legs in a way that does not lead to symptoms, whereas others do not.
Those who do present for treatment tend to have an issue(s) that occurs because of the condition, a consequence of walking gait or postural alignment. It's not usually a direct result of flat feet.
But the best strategy for preventing problems from occurring is early intervention with regular physical therapy.
If you have flat feet, physical therapy helps stretch and strengthen the muscles and tendons in the feet, legs, and ankles, improving mobility and increasing overall flexibility.
You can also consider well-fitted, wider shoes that offer better support for your feet and ankles.
Because of the connection with obesity, we generally recommend a healthy diet, lifestyle, and weight loss (if necessary) to all patients with flat feet to reduce pressure on their arches.
Also, foot orthotics (supportive devices that go inside your shoes) prescribed by a physical therapist can be helpful and provide support and comfort.
If you have flatfoot that is a result of tibial tendonitis, we can add a wedge inside your orthotic to provide additional relief.
This addition helps to decrease the pressure of your body weight on the tendon.
Sometimes, depending on the outcome of your physical evaluation and the root cause of your flat feet. You may need to wear an ankle brace for a while, avoid strenuous activity and exercise to reduce inflammation, and rest your feet until your symptoms decrease.
Don't try to use or fit an orthotic device yourself without the help of a professional physical therapist because misuse, without a proper diagnosis, can exacerbate the issue and cause further pain.
We usually treat flat feet and the associated symptoms with conservative treatment, stretching and strengthening exercises, and other preventative strategies.
However, if your flat feet result from a tendon rupture or arthritis, you may require surgery to fix the issue. But this is only in extreme cases.
If your child has flat feet, it's important to remember that kids do not usually need treatment for flat feet. Unless they have a congenital disability or other medical condition, their arches are generally still developing.
However, if they have pain, orthotics and insoles inside their shoes can offer customized support for their arches to help alleviate pressure and decrease pain.
In some children, the bones inside the feet do not develop as they grow. Some children may require surgery to separate the fused bones in these rare cases.
Talk To A Specialist Such As A Physical Therapist (For Free)
Would you like to talk to a physical therapist about getting treatment for flat feet?
We offer all new patients a complimentary 30-minute appointment called a FREE Screen.
The free screen is for you to learn everything you need about flatfoot and how we treat it before committing to treatment.
If interested, all you need to do is complete the short form, and we'll be in touch to arrange a time and date that suits you.