In the not-too-distant past, having flat feet was almost stigmatic. Potential military recruits with flat feet were rejected as unfit, ballet dancers were dismissed as incompetent, and flat-footed athletes were deemed more prone to injury. Yet recent research, along with the well-documented success of soldiers, dancers and athletes with flat feet, have exposed the stigma as largely unfounded. A very small percentage of the population have rigid flat feet due to heredity or, in some cases, medical conditions like Cerebral Palsy or Down’s Syndrome. For those individuals, nothing short of surgery is likely to improve their foot deformity. However, the majority of people whose feet are flat—meaning they have virtually undefined arches—have flexible flat feet. The condition, often referred to as “fallen arches” affects about one out of four people, causing the soles of the feet to make full contact with the ground when standing. In most cases, the condition does not cause unwarranted foot pain or interfere with daily activities.
Your arches play an important role in standing, walking, running and jumping. They work like springs that provide support and stability when standing and walking, and act as shock absorbers during your gait cycle. They also contribute significantly to force generation when walking, running or jumping. Well-formed arches are critical for good posture and body alignment. When arches collapse, they can have multiple negative effects on your posture and gait, and can in some cases lead to foot, arch and joint pain.
It is generally agreed that all babies are born with flat feet, with the undeveloped arch hidden beneath a padding of fat. As the baby begins to stand and then walk, the feet strengthen, developing a fully functional arch. While most children will have a completely developed arch by age 6, about 25% of the population will fail to develop an arch by adulthood.
For people with flexible fallen arches, there is hope. You really do have an arch, albeit a low one, and certain exercises can strengthen muscles and connective tissues in your feet, creating a more functional arch. While some practitioners will recommend orthotics or motion-control footwear for flat feet, they may potentially do more harm than good, because they provide artificial support that does not promote arch strengthening. After a careful examination of your feet and a thorough gait analysis, your physical therapist can design a “short foot” exercise regimen geared to strengthening and raising your arches. As you grow stronger, you should notice improved posture and reduced foot and ankle pain.
If you have flat feet or collapsed arches, the foot pain specialists at NYDNRehab can help. We use advanced diagnostic tools such as real-time ultrasonography, force plate analysis, and sophisticated computerized gait analysis technology to get a full picture of your foot and the effects of its dysfunction on the rest of your body. We then design an individualized treatment plan geared to restoring optimal function to your feet and joints throughout your body.