It may surprise you to learn that we are all born with flat feet. The arches on the insole of the human foot are caused by a tightness in the tendons that hold the foot together. From birth until about three years of age, these tendons are loose, allowing the entire foot to contact the floor.
For most people, these tendons tighten up by adulthood and give the foot a normal arch. In some people, however, these arches never form. In others, aging, injury or illness can force the tendons to loosen again and cause flat feet later in life. Although many people live with this condition, flat feet can make exercise — particularly walking or running — extremely painful.
It’s easy to forget the broad consequences the state of your feet can have on the rest of your body. The commonly overlooked truth is that if our feet aren’t behaving properly, then neither are our ankles, knees, hips or back.
Many of these problems are connected to the fact that people with flat feet tend towards overpronation, meaning that they roll their ankle far inward immediately after their heel hits the ground. In addition to causing unnatural angles in these other joints, and a pain in the feet themselves, flat feet may also make walking more physically demanding. One study published in the medical journal Prosthetics and Orthotics International found that people with flat feet actually work harder and consume more oxygen when walking than people with normal arches.
Diagnosing Flat Feet
The most basic test for flat feet is to simply look for an arch. When standing with your feet flat on the ground, the insole of both feet should not touch the ground. An easy way to look for this is to wet your bare feet and walk on cement, or another surface where your footprint will be easy to see. The resulting print should show that your insole is not touching the ground.
There are also two types of flat feet, which will determine the best course of treatment. Once you know whether or not you have flat feet, you will have to decide if they are flexible or rigid. It’s best to rely on the trained eye of a podiatrist to spot whether or not an arch forms when you stand on your toes. If an arch does form, your have flexible feet. If it does not, they are rigid.
Flexible flat feet can usually be improved with arch-supporting orthotics that will give your feet the arches they’re missing. These can either be custom made or bought overthecounter.
For those with flat feet, as for any athletes, shoe choice is very important. If you have flexible flat feet, you will want to find “selective stability” or motion-control shoes that will provide plenty of support in your arches and correct your stride. Motion-control shoes are especially important if your feet overpronate, meaning the foot rolls inward as it lands. To test this, examine the soles of your old running shoes. Overpronators will show increased wear on the toes and inner edges.
In many areas, there are specialty running stores that carry the types of shoes flat footed runners should seek out. It is also possible to have your gait analyzed to see if there are any abnormalities such as overpronation in your stride. Typically physical therapists, athletic training experts or orthopedic doctors can administer an analysis for you.
Rigid flat feet can be more difficult to treat and usually require the attention of a podiatrist. Depending on the cause of the rigid flat feet, surgery may be necessary.
Listen to your body and be aware of your stride. With the proper attention and equipment, flat feet don’t have to slow you down.
Do you have tips for living with flat feet? Share them with us in the comments!