Being 'flat footed' means that you have collapsed arches in your feet. In other words, where there should be a raised arch taking your feet off of the floor there is none and instead your foot lies completely flat against the ground. For many people, being flat footed will not cause any issues and can often be left untreated. For others, it can cause discomfort and can be a limiting factor in various types of physical performance.
Do You Have Flat Feet?
The arch of the foot is also known as the instep and is found on the inside edge of the foot. It's normally fairly easy to see if you have flat feet simply by looking. If there is no part of the food along this side that is raised slightly off of the floor, then chances are that you have flat feet. It's also possible to have 'slightly' flat feet, caused by partially fallen arches. The height of the arch is going to vary from person to person, so take a look at some images on Google to try and identify whether you might have flat feet.
Another sign that you potentially have flat feet is that the foot rolls inwards slightly when you stand and when you walk or run. This is called overpronation and can place strain on the knees, on the outsides of the feet, on the ankles, on the calves, or even on the knee, hip or back.
In some cases flat feet are essentially inherited. Different people have different arches, and for some flat feet are actually normal.
In other cases, flat feet can be the result of abnormalities in the womb which fuses joints together (called a 'tarsal coalition').
In later life, flat feet can be the result of joint disorders (such as arthritis) or injuries to muscles, tendons or joints in the feet. Quite often this is the result of tendons stretching over time, which is common particularly in women over 40. This becomes more likely as well in those with high blood pressure and those suffering from obesity or diabetes.
In some cases conditions affecting the nervous system can also cause fallen arches.
In many cases, treatment for flat feet won't be necessary. However, in cases where flat feet are causing discomfort or limiting movement, treatment may be required.
If you do experience discomfort and you go to see a GP, they will often provide you with special orthotics (insoles in your shoes or supportive shoes) in order to correct overpronation or to support your feet.
Stretching the calves and Achilles tendon can also be helpful and can be accomplished with lunging stretches. You can also stretch the feet themselves by doing calf raises and by raising and lowering the feet.
In the most severe cases, surgery can be used in order to straighten the foot or to separate fused bones.
There are some schools of thought that believe that flat feet can be treated by using barefoot running and other barefoot exercises to strengthen the muscles and tendons. While this might be helpful, it's important to note that it won't help in cases where bones have been fused together, so it's still advisable to see your GP before beginning any new exercise program.