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What Are Flat Feet?

Research suggests that approximately 30% of adults may have “flat feet.” But what does this term actually mean?

Flat feet is a popular label describing feet that appear to “roll in” giving the appearance of a loss of arch height. Most people with flat feet still have a visible arch when they are non-weight bearing (flexible flat foot). However, approximately 1.8% of adults have no arch when sitting or standing (rigid flat foot). This rarer flat foot type is often associated with pathology.

While the research around flat feet is often controversial, most Podiatrists agree that:

  • Many people with flat feet will never have any symptoms! Good news!

  • Some arch drop (pronation) is normal during walking

  • Pronation is a complex foot motion that has varying effects on each foot’s 33 joints!

  • It’s normal for kids to have flat feet (to certain extents) up until the age of 7. If your baby has high arches please see your Podiatrist or GP!

What are the symptoms of flat feet?

Flat feet can affect many areas of the body:

  • Toes - bunions, hammer toes, callus, corns, ingrown toenails

  • Heels - Plantar Fasciopathy, Achilles Tendinopathy, Calcaneal Apophysitis (Severs), Tibialis Posterior Dysfunction

  • Ankles - ankle instability, Sinus Tarsi Syndrome

  • Legs - calf tightness and cramping, Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (Shin Splints), Iliotibial Band Syndrome

  • Knees - Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, Osgood Schlatters, Sinding-Larsen-Johansson

  • Hips - Greater Trochanter Bursitis

  • Back - back pain, Sciatica

What causes flat feet?

  • Genetics

  • Injury to soft tissue structures supporting the arch (e.g. Tibialis Posterior tendon, Spring Ligament, Plantar Fascia)

  • Arthritic changes in the foot and ankle joints

  • Hypermobility

  • Internally rotated legs

  • Limb length differences

  • Neurological disorders (e.g. Cerebral Palsy, Charcot Neuroarthropathy)

  • Ligamentous laxity (seen in pregnancy)

How are flat feet treated?

Remember although flat feet get a bad reputation, many people with flat feet will never get any symptoms! And therefore they won’t require treatment.

Your Podiatrist may recommend treating your flat feet if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms. Other factors influencing treatment may include fatigue, excessive knee internal rotation and hypermobility.

Research supports the use of:

Exercises- These may include graduated strengthening exercises to target specific muscles in your lower limb (e.g. heel raises, towel scrunching). Your Podiatrist may also recommend stretching muscles contributing to your symptoms (e.g. calf

stretches, rolling foot on a ball).

Orthotics - These devices are comfortable insoles that fit inside your shoes. Depending on the root cause of your symptoms and your budget, your Podiatrist will de

sign a specific type of orthotic for your feet. For more information, see our blog post “What are Orthotics?”

Footwear - Well fitted footwear that is suited for your particular activity can go a long way! For example, its better to run 5kms in a specifically designed running shoe rather than a high cut hiking boot! It’s also important to consider the age of your shoes. Everyday shoes (even those you exercise in a few times a week) should generally be replaced annually.

Depending on your specific presentation, our Podiatrists may recommend the use of mobilisation, dry needling, massage, radial shockwave therapy and/or activity modification. A small proportion of people with flat feet will require surgery - but this is unusual and not a first line treatment!

Please feel free to BOOK ONLINE to see one of our experienced Podiatrists or Call (08) 8562 1700 to schedule an appointment and discuss your options. Together we will find the right solution to alleviate your pain.

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