What's So Bad About Flat Feet?

The human body is composed of many structures that are basically the same for everyone, but still have room for variances across the general population. One example of this is the height of our foot arches.

There are three types of foot arches – medium, high, and low (flat feet).

Now, if you aren’t sure which of the three types of arches you have, there is a fairly simple way of testing to determine this:

  1. Get a shallow pan that can comfortably fit your foot and put enough water in it to completely cover the bottom. Then place it on the ground.
  2. Step in the pan and then step on a flat surface that will show your footprint, like a concrete walkway or a sheet of paper on the ground. (Make sure you use a natural step when doing this!)
  3. Take a step back and look at the print. If you see an outline of your complete bottom foot, then you likely have flat feet. If your arch is medium or normal, the heel and forefoot areas will be connected by a strip that is about half the width of your foot. For a high arch, that strip will be either very thin or even nonexistent in extreme cases.

This testing is more accurate for adults than young children since many have a condition called flexible flatfoot. (This simply means that a child’s feet look flat when he or she stands, but a slight arch appears when the child takes the weight off his or her feet.)

Flat feet is a fairly common foot type, although perhaps not as common as having medium arches. As such, you may wonder—if you have fleet feet—if you will experience any problems or need treatment.

The good news is that most people with flat feet do not experience any pain from the condition and will continue to live active, pain-free lives without needing corrective measures. That being said, sometimes flat feet can lead to a biomechanical abnormality known as overpronation.

Pronation is a normal biomechanical process and refers to the way your foot rolls during the transition from the heel landing on the ground through the final push of your toes. Someone with a medium arch will usually have a normal, neutral pronation pattern that does not impact their gait in a negative manner.

Those who have flat feet, however, are more likely to overpronate, which means that the feet roll inwards too much. This causes leg bones to rotate inwards and create stress and pain for ankles, knees, and hips. In turn, there can be pain, swelling in the arch area, and fatigue (since the body is working harder and absorbing additional physical forces than it should).

Treatment for a flatfoot condition—when needed—is almost always conservative (nonsurgical). In many cases you may only need a switch in footwear. Those who have flat feet or overpronation issues often benefit from shoes with a little extra support in the arch. We may also recommend over-the-counter arch supports or set you up with custom orthotics that work in conjunction with your specific foot shape in order to correct your gait.

It’s important to note that custom orthotics won’t “fix” your flat feet—the only thing that can change your foot shape is surgery—but they cushion, reposition, and realign your feet to protect sensitive spots, minimize pain, and improve your overall biomechanics.

In cases where a tight Achilles is contributing to overpronation, stretches and physical therapy may further lessen your discomfort.

As noted, there are certainly cases of flat feet that do not cause any pain. If this is the case, you simply don’t need any treatment (as long as the situation remains the same). In the event you do have pain from flat feet, we can help!

For more information on flat feet, custom orthotics, or any of the foot care services we provide at Houston Foot Specialists—or to request an appointment—call our office at (713) 493-7372.