The arch in your foot is the upward curve from the heel to the ball of the foot. Feet that have flat arches or “flat feet” aren’t actually flat. What’s actually happening is that they’re rolling inwards at the ankles and heels, which gives them the appearance of being flat.
This rolling in motion is called overpronation. If your feet are overpronating, the outer part of your foot is touching the ground first when walking, causing the foot to roll into the arch, and in turn causing the arch to flatten.
Arches in feet can change over time and in certain circumstances. Infants have a flexible flat foot which develops into an arched foot as a child, and then a full sized foot by late teenage years. During pregnancy, the feet arches may lower and return to normal after birth. Some people are born with flatter arches while others may develop them with age or with general wear and tear. One of the problems with flatter arches (but not always) is that they can place added stress on the calves, knees and hips and cause pain or discomfort.
What causes flat feet?
Flat feet in adults can be caused by a variety of conditions, the most common being:
- Genetics passed down from parents who have flatter arches
- Stretched or torn tendons in the foot therefore not supporting the arch
- Damage to the posterior tibial tendon (PTT), which connects the ankle to the middle of the arch
- Pregnancy or sudden weight gain which places more stress on the arch
- Wear and tear through ageing
- Arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
Related article: Recurring foot arch pain? Here are some possible reasons.
Symptoms of flat feet
Often people with flat feet will have no symptoms, but others will experience ongoing discomfort such as:
- Pain in the arches of the feet, ankles and/or knees
- Stiff or numb feet that don’t stretch out easily for movement
- Pain in the legs and back
Or they will notice that their shoes soles wear out unevenly which is a tell-tale sign of the feet rolling inwards.
Treatment for flat feet
Treatment will depend on whether you have flatter feet by birth or if they have developed through injury or general wear and tear. We have both children and adults visit our podiatry clinic and our podiatrists will assess your gait and the structure of your feet to determine the degree of overpronation. We’ll discuss a treatment plan with you which may include one or more approaches to help support, strengthen and stretch the arches of your foot.
Common treatments include:
- Stretching calf muscles to improve flexibility
- Exercises at home to help stretch and strengthen your arches
- Changing to well fitting and supportive shoes
- For acute pain, using ice packs to ease inflammation and resting the foot
- Orthoses – customised orthotics (inserts) are into your shoes to support your feet
See a podiatrist at our family friendly podiatry clinics
If you or your child is experiencing pain in your arches, make an appointment and have your feet looked at as there could be other causes. Our family-friendly podiatrists will assess your feet, review the way you walk (gait analysis) and recommend the appropriate treatment to help you relieve pain and discomfort of foot arches that may be needing some more support.