Many people with flat feet think that they just have flat feet and that nothing can be done about it. This is wrong in most cases. Flat feet can be a major medical issue resulting in pain, difficulty fitting shoes and/or limit the ability to be active.
Types of Flat Feet
There are two different types of flat feet:
A flexible flat foot is one that is flat only when weight is put on the foot. This is the most common type of flat foot.
A rigid flat foot is flat both with and without weight being placed on the foot. Rigid flat feet may be due to the tarsal coalition (a condition in which the bones have grown together), arthritis and congenital conditions.
The type of flat foot and the degree of severity will determine your treatment options. Here are five things that can help:
A tight calf muscle, medically termed Equinus, is considered to be the most common cause of flat feet by many feet and ankle surgeons. The tight muscle transmits a pronating force on the foot, resulting in arch collapse.
A dedicated stretching program can alleviate the flattening effect.1 An effective stretch for the Achilles is the runners stretch. The yoga position downward dog is another great stretch for the back of the leg.
Arch Strengthening Exercises
The foot has many muscles that are contained within it, meaning the muscles originate and terminate within the foot without extending into another part of the body. The muscles are called intrinsic muscles and are generally on the bottom of the foot.
Patients with flat feet tend to have improperly worked or poorly developed intrinsic muscles, so a program aimed at strengthening muscles in the foot can help support the arch.2 Simple exercises involve grabbing motions of the toes, such as picking up marbles or a handkerchief with the toes.
Arch supports, or orthotics can extrinsically support or raise the arch. They work by aligning the boney structures into a better position, raising the arch and inverting the heel bone. Flat feet often feel better with inserts because the structural support is alleviating ligamentous and muscular strain and spasms.3
This is somewhat counterintuitive as people generally believe that a flat foot needs support. When walking or training barefoot, the muscles of the foot become more active and grow stronger. Stronger muscles in the foot, theoretically, may translate into improved stabilization of the foot.
Flat foot surgery may be an option for painful flat feet that have not improved with other measures.4
Surgery for flat feet can be relatively simple or extremely complex, depending on the patient's age, the severity of the flat foot and its symptoms. Every flat foot is different, so it's important that the flat foot not is treated in a cookie-cutter fashion.
Types of Flat-Foot Surgery
Implant: A surgeon places an implant in the back of the foot to support the bones.
Structural: A common flat foot surgery involves tendon transfers with bone cuts or joint fusions to achieve realignment.
Fusion: In more advanced end-stage cases, major joint fusions may be needed.
Though there is no cure for a flat foot, there are measures you can take to make your feet feel better and improve their alignment. When all else fails, surgery can be an option.