About 20 to 30% of adults have flat feet. For many of them, it’s a minor issue that causes few symptoms. For others, it can cause great discomfort and aggravate other health conditions.
Whether your flat feet are hurting you or not, it’s worth stretching and strengthening them. Having an arch in your foot helps to distribute your weight, maintain alignment, and absorb shock.
Given that most adults lose about 50% of the padding on the bottom of their feet by the age of 50, taking care of your feet can help prevent foot pain, as well as trouble with your hips and knees.
The more you know about flat feet, the better you can manage the condition. Take a look at the facts about fallen arches and what you can do to minimize their impact on your body.
Understanding flat feet:
Check your arches. You can usually tell if you have flat feet just by looking at them. You’ll have little or no space between the middle of your foot and the floor. Your doctor can perform a more extensive exam which may include X-rays and other tests.
Identify the causes. Fallen arches are usually genetic. Other causes can include damage to tendons and bones and medical conditions such as arthritis and diabetes. Being overweight or pregnant can also increase your risk.
Wait it out. Babies and children often appear to have flat feet. The arch usually develops around the age of six.
Working out with flat feet:
Go barefoot. Going shoeless can build up muscles in your feet and legs and enhance your balance and alignment. Remember to be careful about where you walk and take it gradually if you’re used to wearing shoes.
Strengthen your feet. There are many simple ways to give your feet a workout. For example, pick up marbles or any small object using just your toes or walk on sand.
Stretch your muscles. For flexibility, try placing one finger in between each of your toes and gently pressing outwards. You can also grasp each toe and roll it in circles.
Try yoga. A skilled yoga teacher will give you helpful cues about how to use your feet, including trying to lift your inner and outer arches in standing positions. You’ll also learn to firm your ankles to keep them from pronating or turning inwards.
Change your shoes. Properly fitted footwear and orthotic devices can also help cut down on pronation and the related stress on your feet, knees, and hips. You may want to wear them regularly or just when running.
Limit impact. Years ago, adults with flat feet were sometimes warned against exercising. While your doctor is likely to urge you to stay active today, there may be times when you need to rest or avoid hard surfaces.
Treating flat feet:
Talk with your doctor. Your physician can provide individual recommendations and refer you to a specialist if needed. That may include a podiatrist or physical therapist.
Manage pain. Aching feet and pain in your legs and back can usually be relieved with ibuprofen or other over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. You may also want to try icing and elevating your feet.
Consider surgery. In rare cases, surgery may be advisable. Your doctor can explain the options like arthrodesis to fuse the bones or lateral column lengthening to build an arch from grafted bone.
Whatever the cause and extent of your fallen arches, there are ways to find relief. Use exercises and devices that will help to give your feet the support they need and talk with your doctor if your flat feet are causing you significant discomfort or interfering with daily activities.