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Flat foot is a relatively common condition. According to the 2012 National Foot Health assessment, 8% the U.S. adults have this condition, which means approximately 18 million of us are living with it!(1) Since the affected foot touches the floor completely/almost completely, it looks abnormal, which is why many people think they are problematic. Although flat feet are not normal, they do not affect the capacity of the person in most cases. Walking, dancing, and running with flat feet is absolutely safe. According to Lloyd Smith, D.P.M., a Newton, Mass., sports podiatrist and past president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, a lot of people who run, and run very successfully, have flat feet. Yet we do know that people with flat feet have a greater chance of getting injured than people with normal-arched feet.”(2) Thankfully, this condition rarely requires any invasive surgery flat foot surgery. In most cases, flat feet pain can be treated naturally by raising the arches.
An adult foot has an upward curve in the middle. This curve, also known as arch, acts as a shock absorber and distributes the body weight evenly thereby, protecting our knees, toes, and the leg muscles from excessive stress. The tendons (i.e. the flexible but inelastic muscles of our legs) attached between the heel and foot bones form the arch. When the tendons are healthy, they form a normal arch but, when the tendons are weak, injured or deformed, they do not have a proper pull and therefore, they form a little or no arch. Such condition is known as flat foot or fallen arch.
The medical term for flat feet is pes planus. The flat foot problems could be in one leg or in both. Many people do not realize they have this condition until they experience flat feet symptoms such as pain in feet, back, the inner side of the ankle, knee, hip, and the calf. The flat foot pain is caused due to abnormal stress on the knees and the hips.
Flat feet are not a problem unless they affect your ability to walk, run or engage in regular activities. In most cases, people do not experience any of the flat feet symptoms until they have grown old. In fact, some studies have concluded that this condition may have a very low impact on your everyday lifestyle.(3) However, in some cases, people with flat feet problems may suffer from severe knee, back, and ankle pain due to abnormal alignment of legs. Such patients may require medical help.
Here are some common causes of flat feet pain:
Flat feet are common among infants and toddlers. This is because the feet are still forming. The underdeveloped arch is there but it may not be visible as the infants’ feet have a lot of fat deposits. As the children grow and start walking, the tendons in their feet will strengthen and form an arch. Usually, the arch should be developed by the age of 6. If it is not, this could be a symptom of an underlying disease.
Barefoot walking is strongly recommended for children, especially toddlers. This helps the development of the muscles and ligament and strengthens the foot arch.(8)
Diagnosis is not required unless you are experiencing the above mentioned flat feet symptoms. If you think you have developed fallen arch recently, consult your GP or a podiatrist (a person specializing in foot problems). He/she will look at your health history to find out the possible causes. To diagnose, your GP or podiatrist will examine your foot while you are standing. He/she may ask you to tiptoe or walk a few steps. This will help them determine the shape and functioning of each foot. If required, you may be asked to do an X-ray, a CT scan, or MRI scan. If the soles of your shoes wear out in an unusual pattern, inform this to your doctor. Unusual wearing is a sign of flat feet.
If you are not experiencing flat feet pain, do not bother about the diagnosis and treatment. However, if you having trouble, your GP or podiatrist will suggest you the best flat feet treatment options based on the severity and cause of the condition.
Do not ignore flat feet pain. If not treated, it can affect your ability to walk, stand, and run properly. Further, the pain can worsen the symptoms of many other diseases such as:
As mentioned above, supportive shoes can relieve flat feet pain. These shoes have a good arch support, a roomy toe box, a firm heel counter and a flexible sole. They support your fallen arches and decrease the tension on the posterior tibial tendons. Please note that these supportive shoes do not correct any foot deformity such as fused bones. Further, they cannot reconstruct the arch that has been worn out over time. We have put together a list of the best shoes for flat feet that you can wear.
If your profession or your lifestyle requires you to stand or walk for a long time, you may get a pair of orthotics or shoe insoles. Orthotics not only support your arch but also provide cushioning to your feet, thereby reducing the likelihood of damage to ankles, knees, hips and spine. If the off-the-shelf shoe inserts don’t fit you well, you may get them custom designed. Just like supportive shoes, orthotics and inserts provide you relief from flat feet pain only when they are in use. Read our blog post on the best insoles for flat feet.
Yes, there are! Footwear, inserts and medicines are temporary solutions to flat feet problems. They cannot fix flat feet. But, exercises can. Flat feet exercises can strengthen the fallen arches and lift them off the ground. These exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles, ligaments and tendons of our feet.
Here are some exercises and helpful tips on how to fix flat feet:
This flat feet exercise is helpful for stretching and strengthening the Achilles tendon, which is the tendon that connects the calf muscles to the heel. Running with flat feet won’t be a problem if you do it twice every day.
To do this flat feet exercise, you will require a chair and a golf ball/tennis ball. Sit on the chair with back straight. Place the golf ball under the affected foot and roll it back and forth under the arch. Do it for 2 to 3 minutes and repeat it with the other leg. This exercise is highly recommended for flat foot pain and for plantar fasciitis, i.e. pain in the heel and the bottom of the leg.
Sit straight on a chair and spread a towel below your feet. Curl and release your toes so as to scrunch the towel. Make sure your heels are on the ground. Once you have mastered this flat feet exercise, make it a little more challenging by placing a weight on it such as a soda can.
This is a pretty easy flat feet exercise. You can do it anytime, anywhere. All you need to do is to stand on the floor and lift your heels as high off the ground as possible. Hold this position for 5 seconds and repeat this for 15-20 times. Initially, you may have to hold a wall or a railing for support but soon you will learn to balance yourself.
This is a great exercise to improve the strength and flexibility of your toe muscles, especially the ones that we do not use frequently. To do this, sit down on the floor or on a chair and place your legs flat on the floor. Now raise both your big toes while keeping the rest of the toes on the ground. Do this for 15 times and then, lift the other toes while keeping the big toes on the ground. Do it twice daily and within a few days, you will get relief from flat foot pain.
People with flat feet often have tight hip flexors which pull down various parts of our lower body including the arch of the feet. This can cause anterior pelvic tilt, a postural problem in which the front of the pelvis drops and the back of the pelvis rises. To fix flat feet, you need to improve the flexibility of your hip flexors. There are many variations of hip flexor stretches but you can start with the butterfly stretch, which is the easiest one and is very helpful for flat foot pain. Sit down on a yoga mat with your legs straight out in front of you. Bring the soles together towards your body as close as possible. Now lean forward as much as possible. Make sure your back stays straight. Hold the position for 30 seconds and repeat for 5 times.
As mentioned above, surgery is recommended only when there is a bone deformity (tarsal condition) and surgical reconstruction is the only way to correct the collapsed arch. If you are experiencing chronic flat foot pain, consult your GP or a podiatrist. They will evaluate the condition of your foot and, if required, they will suggest you a flat foot surgery. Surgery requires rehabilitation, rest, immobilization, and physical therapy. So, this should be the last resort.
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