Most people’s feet don’t lie completely flat when on the ground. If you look at the middle of the feet, you’ll see that they’re slightly raised. This is caused by the arch of the foot or the instep of the foot. The arch is of crucial importance to the foot as it helps dissipate the force generated by walking and running over the entirety of the foot, preventing damage to ligaments in your feet.
However, not everyone develops this arch. Some people have a condition known as “flat feet” or “fallen arches” wherein their foot never develops the necessary arch support. An estimated 12% of US adults (around 26 million people) suffer from flat feet.
Although the condition is relatively minor (assuming the proper precautions are taken) it can still cause discomfort. So, to help you out we’ve compiled this comprehensive guide to flat feet. We will explain what the condition is, how it develops, its symptoms, and what treatment options are available for those with the condition.
What Are Flat Feet?
A person with flat feet lacks an arch in their foot. Some people don’t even know if they have flat feet. It can be difficult to diagnose the condition on your own and the untrained eye may have an issue determining whether a foot is flat.
An easy way to test if you have flat feet is to submerge your feet in water and then step on a surface where you’ll leave a footprint (like concrete) and then step away. Examine the imprint that your foot left. If there is no gap between the heel of the foot and the ball of the foot, then you most likely have flat feet.
It’s also difficult to diagnose flat feet in children because they often appear as though they don’t have arches. The arches either have not developed yet or they are hidden by baby fat. In many cases, the children will end up developing arches normally, but it’s not a given. The arches may never develop and the child will grow up with flat feet.
What Causes Flat Feet?
Several genetic conditions can result in a person developing flat feet. For example, the feet may not develop properly in the womb which can lead to a lack of arches. Other genetic conditions, like spina bifida or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, can result in the connective muscles or nerves not functioning correctly, which then leads to arches not being able to develop.
There are also non-genetic causes. For example, sustaining serious damage to certain tendons or serious damage to the bone structure (like say a seriously broken bone) can lead to a person developing flat feet.
There are people who are more at risk of developing flat feet. They include pregnant women, older people, people with diabetes, or people suffering from obesity.
Symptoms of Flat Feet
Many people with flat feet suffer absolutely no symptoms at all, while others suffer from pain and/or swelling in their feet most likely due to the way they walk. People who suffer from flat feet often overpronate when they walk, meaning they over-rotate their feet which puts more strain on the muscles and tendons. Symptoms stemming from overpronation can extend up the leg as well, causing problems in the ankles and knees in addition to the feet.
Treating Flat Feet
There are both non-surgical and surgical treatment options for flat feet. Generally, surgical options will only be considered if non-surgical options do not work.
A physician may recommend the following non-surgical treatment options:
- Wearing well-fitting shoes with good arch support.
- Wearing shoes with prescription orthopedic inserts to give the feet more support and to help reduce the pressure put on the foot muscles.
- Losing weight. People who are overweight or obese put more strain on their feet when they walk which can add to the strain already present from walking without an arch.
Over-The-Counter Flat Feet Treatment Options
Orthotic Insoles: The most common treatment for flat feet is to use an orthotic insole. Although it helps to get a custom built insole for your specific foot, that can be costly. There are many insoles sold on Amazon specifically designed to treat flat feet that are inexpensive and well reviewed. The most popular pair are from a company called Samurai Insoles.
Compression Sleeves: Mid-foot compression sleeves are designed to gently lift and mimic the natural arch of the foot. This Foots Love sleeve is super popular with Amazon buyers and has proven to relieve pain in flat feet sufferers.
If the symptoms of flat feet are severe and non-surgical options have proven ineffective, then a physician may recommend surgery. The exact surgery will be determined on a case-by-case basis and will be influenced by what exactly caused the condition. For example, if the flat feet were caused by weak tendons, then the surgery will focus on fixing the damaged tendons or lengthening them. Likewise, if the flat feet were caused by bone issues, then the surgery is going to focus on fixing that instead.
We hope that this guide has been helpful in explaining all the various facets of flat feet. As always, if you discover (or suspect) that you or someone you know has flat feet, go see a doctor. While the condition is not that serious, you could still benefit from seeing a doctor and preventing any future discomfort.