If you are a sufferer of flat feet don’t worry, you’re not alone, not only do I have it too, but it is believed that up to 20% of the human population also suffer from this great inconvenience. I know the pain it can cause at times, from simply standing up for too long to having your feet begin to ache when you walk short distances.
For me personally I have fallen arches in both feet with even more pronation in my right foot for some reason unknown to me. It never even once occurred to me that flat feet was fixable or at least that you could lessen its effects.
When I was young custom orthotic insoles were made for me, but never once was it suggested to me that I should start building up the arch muscles through exercises.
I have however, noticed that over the years, and particularly in the last year, that my flat feet have improved drastically and I experience no pain anymore. I still do not have what I would call the ‘ideal arch,’ but it has definitely become more prominent.
There is still room for improvement.
I first wrote this post a year ago when conducting my own initial research and exploring various methods on how to fix flat feet.
I did not use all methods listed in this post but I have left the points intact as people with flat feet will have different severities of their condition and some will benefit from some methods more than others.
I have added my own notes onto each section for what has worked for me.
Please note I am not a doctor, a health expert, nor a professional on foot health, so always take extra care and consult a qualified health practitioner beforehand on what the best action for you is.
I hope this post gives you the information you need to overcome any discomfort caused by your fallen arches. But before I go into that, I want to outline for you first what flat feet is and why you might have it:
What Is Flat Feet?
Flat feet is a condition in which you lose your longitudinal medial arch, either part way or wholly. Some people may have the bone of their arch making contact with the ground giving it a totally flat appearance.
With a healthy arch, you will most likely be able to slide a finger under the arch without having to lift your foot up.
What Causes Flat Feet?
Many people who have flat feet just don’t develop an arch to begin with. This abnormality cannot be fully explained, although genetics might have a role to play.
Some other causes could be damaged tendons in the feet, torn or inflamed posterior tibial tendon, nerve damage, broken or dislocated bones, certain conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, and so on.
These don’t encompass all the possible causes of flat feet but are amongst the most common.
Fallen arches come in two kinds: rigid and flexible. Rigid flat feet are caused by bone deformities and are a lot more difficult to fix. However, flexible flat feet occurs when there is an arch but it gets flattened when weight is put on it.
Factors such as obesity or pregnancy can sometimes lead to this too. Flexible flat feet can be corrected pretty effectively by taking different steps, which we will talk about shortly.
Other than Discomfort Is Having Flat Feet Bad?
Well, yes. As discussed earlier, the arches can cause your feet to ache but the problems don’t just end there. The feet are the foundations of your body and if there are problems in the feet, everything upwards will be affected.
Think of a building with bad foundations, the rest of the floors above it and the whole house will be compromised. In the same way, the effects of having flat feet are felt up the chain in other parts of the body.
It is not uncommon for people with flat feet to also encounter problems with their knees. Since the arch of the foot is collapsed inwards, this causes the Tibia to also rotate inwards affecting the knees; possibly wearing away the knee joints and causing ‘knock-knees’ or knee valgus.
The femurs also may be out of alignment which will affect the hips. The effects of flat feet can even travel all the way up to the shoulders making it appear that you have uneven shoulders.
As you can see fixing your flat feet can be very important, not just for the feet themselves, but for the rest of your body.
To get started, let’s talk about what the different ways are for you to fix your flat feet.
Exercising to Regain Your Arch
This is the number one way of fixing your arch problems and I feel should be the first area you address in dealing with your flat feet. Wearing insoles and other orthotics cannot reverse your condition or help you get your arch back, but exercising can.
I recommend watching the video above for an overview of what flat foot is and some exercises you can try. The exercises shown in this video are included in the last two steps below.
The arch of your foot is made up of several muscle groups. When you use these muscles to activate the arch, the arch will raise up.
Therefore if your arch is low it could be due to weakness in these muscles or that these muscles are tight and need to be released; a combination of both is also common.
If you do the proper exercises regularly, you can get rid of your flexible flat feet in time. Here is a breakdown of one routine you can try. You can see steps 1 to 3 from the video above (the video is working but comes up as a grey thumbnail).
Step 1: Roll Out The Feet
The first step before trying out the strengthening exercises is to release the tight muscles that run along the arch of the foot. To do this you would roll out your feet using a hard ball (such as a golf ball).
First place the ball under your foot and roll the ball from the base of your toe down the arch and toward the heel. Spend about 3-5 minutes rolling up and down on each foot.
Step 2: Towel Crunches
Once you’ve loosened the muscles you can move on to the next exercise. You’ll need a towel for this one.
Place the towel on the floor and stand at one end with your foot on top. Using your big toe, pull the towel towards you by drawing your big toe inward. You can do this around 50 times on each foot.
Step 3: Toe Spreads
This exercise can be quite relaxing and can be done whilst sitting or watching TV. All you have to do is lift up your foot and wiggle the toes from top to bottom. This contracts and activates the muscles used to control your toes.
Step 4: Pen-Penny Exercise
For this flat foot exercise you will need a coin and a pen. When you have these items, with your foot on the ground place a coin under the big toe joint (not the big toe itself) and then insert a pen under the centre of your arch.
The challenge here is to try to push down on the penny without pushing down on the pen. You’ll find that this is harder than it looks. Try not to involve the other toes in the challenge but only the big toe; do your best to keep the other toes relaxed.
Step 5: Advanced Pen-Penny Exercise
This exercise uses the same setup as the one before however this time make sure you have your back to a wall or door.
When in position lift the opposite leg off the floor, then using your arm that is on the same side as the foot with the pen and penny underneath it, you want to reach across your body and try to touch the wall behind you whilst maintaining balance.
Switch arms every time you manage to touch behind you.
There are many exercises you can find that will help you with your flat feet. But an expert can show you specific exercises based on the severity of your issue and other factors.
You can learn how to do the exercise effectively, and can get an idea about how many times per week and for how long you should be carrying out these exercises. If you’re concerned about budget, you can always still do these exercises on your own.
Selecting Shoes for Flat Feet
An easy way to help with your flat feet is purchasing supportive footwear. The structure of the shoes you wear can make a lot of difference, and buying ones that reduce strain on your joints can alleviate pain or unease to a great extent.
Because the anatomy of feet with fallen arches is different from that of those with normal feet, the same shoes won’t work as well for you. A person who has flat feet will need a more supportive shoe than normal.
Finding the right shoe for someone with flat feet should be testing for stability rather than simply relying on the manufacturers claims that the shoe is supportive.
Here are some important points when selecting a shoe for flat feet:
- You can insert arch supports into almost any pair of shoes, however it is better to also make sure that you have quality footwear on top of that.
- Your shoes need to be tough enough to support your feet properly. Pick up each shoe and try softly bending or twisting them to see how easily they give in. Bendiness in the toe area is fine, and is actually better for you. But the middle portion needs to be rigid and strong. Also check the outer sole and choose shoes with ones that are stiff. This will serve as pronation control for your feet.
- Look for a stiff heel which helps resist the rotation of your heel bone when wearing them. You can test for a stiff heel by pushing in the back of the heel. If it’s firm and doesn’t cave in then it’s a good sign.
- Running or exercising in regular shoes won’t provide you with adequate support. Look for stability control shoes that have a foam lining in the instep that will provide support for your low arch. Your feet will roll inwards less and you’ll feel comfortable performing activities
- Going through all the shoes in a store yourself will take too much time, and might possibly waste your time. Let the salesperson know about your problem, and ask them to specifically recommend different shoes.
You can buy shoes which are specifically made for people who have common feet issues such as plantar fasciitis and flat feet. These shoes will have special arch supports already built in, softer soles and support for the heel.
Brands such as Orthofeet have a variety of men and women’s shoes that may work well for you.
Insoles and Orthotics for Flat Feet
You can also invest in orthotics or insoles to tackle your flat feet. These shoe inserts will support your arch and improve biomechanics of your body when you carry out different physical tasks.
Orthotics have a similar function to supportive footwear. They are footbeds or inserts to place inside your shoes and provide arch support so that your weight isn’t distributed across your entire foot and there is less pressure on your tendons and joints.
The video above offers some interesting insights that suggest that custom-made inserts are no better than ready made ones off the market.
Orthotics for Flat Feet can come in a variety of forms.
1. Compression Socks
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Compression socks are designed to hold your foot, particularly the arch area tight enough to provide support rather than having to wear shoes with inserts in them.
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Unlike the compression socks, the sleeves are much smaller and are designed to be worn under or over your normal socks (can also be used without socks). The sleeve will wrap around your foot providing support for your arch.
3. Shoe Inserts and Insoles
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You can find readymade orthotics on the market, oftentimes for much cheaper than custom-made orthotics. You can find good options online for decent prices. They also come in a variety of forms.
If you’re interested in trying out shoe inserts for your flat feel, be sure to check out this comprehensive post on the best insoles for flat feet.
But you can also go to a podiatrist and get one that is perfect for you.
With the help of your podiatrist, decide what brand and materials might give you the best results. Also, determine the severity of your flat feet and decide how much arch support your orthotics need to provide.
Who Wins: Exercise vs Shoes vs Insoles?
When it comes to actually fixing flat feet, nothing beats exercise. Shoes and insoles won’t fix fallen arches but can help reduce pain.
There can even be negative effects on relying too heavily on arch supports. For example, you may be making your arches weaker as the ‘unnatural’ support takes over from what your arch muscles should be doing themselves causing them to further weaken.
So you may see better improvement in fixing your flat feet if you scrap the arch supports totally. At the end of the day, it is entirely up to you over which method or combinations you try.
For my own situation, I decided not to use arch supports but still chose to wear good fitting Timberland shoes when walking long distances. I also saw a lot of improvements when I started to become more active and working out more.
A large portion of this workout focuses on developing balance with such exercise routines as standing on one leg whilst holding weights and manoeuvring your upper body.
It’s during these moves that I can feel that my arch is automatically doing the ‘pen-penny’ exercise described above. Over the past year I have noticed that my foot looks ‘taller’ and the muscles that run at the bottom of my feet appear to be tougher.
If you are able to, I recommend exercising as the best way to fix your flat feet.
However, if you are trying out these exercises and see no improvement after a couple of months then it could be possible that you may have to resort to using orthotics. If you find yourself in this position, it would be a good idea to see a physiotherapist.
So there you have it, I hope you’ve enjoyed the post! These steps are the effective ways that I have come across to address the problem of flat feet. After looking at the different steps required for each method, you can see which seems like the best option for you and carry on from there.
It is a good idea to consult a podiatrist if you have painful symptoms or if you want to determine an exact cause or type of your flat feet. If none of the measures seems to be helping or if you’re experiencing too much discomfort, you can also consider surgery. However, you might want to take this as a last resort since it can be expensive and recovery can bring problems. Again discuss this with a health professional!
If you’ve found this article helpful, feel free to share the article so others may benefit from it too. All the very best for you, and may you be able to fix your flat feet soon!