Whether you call them flat feet, fallen arches or pes planus (which is the technical medical term), we see a lot of patients in our clinic who are concerned about themselves or their children having flat feet, and are wondering whether their flat foot posture could be related to foot pain, leg pain or the other symptoms that they are experiencing. Many times, they also want to know what can be done to “fix” their flat feet - and whether it’s possible to develop arches in adulthood.
With flat feet linked to an increased likelihood of lower limb pain or problems, here’s what you should know about managing flat feet.
Are Flat Feet Bad?
No, having flat feet is not inherently a bad thing. As health professionals we have seen many people with a flatter foot type due to factors like hypermobility that have never experienced notable foot pain or conditions like plantar fasciitis heel pain. Simply put - having flat feet doesn’t guarantee you pain, just like how having longer or shorter fingers is not inherently bad or good. When it comes to flat feet, however, this foot type can increase your risk of developing foot pain and problems as your foot posture can make the muscles and tissues that support your feet work harder as your feet roll down closer to the ground. The harder your body works, especially when you’re physically active or spending long hours on your feet for work, the more likely you are to overuse a tendon or ligament. Overuse then leads to pain and injury, with your foot posture likely being labelled as a ‘causative’ factor.
On the other end of the spectrum, having higher arches may also bring with them their own set or injury risks and vulnerabilities as they can fail to adequately absorb shock and place much greater pressure on the heels and forefoot.
What Causes Flat Feet?
To clear up a misconception: if you do have flat feet, it’s not because of anything you did (or didn’t do) in your childhood years. It’s likely that your flat feet are related to your genetics, which influence the shape and structure of the bones in your feet, your ligaments and tissues, and other factors that all work together to determine whether you have a flat foot, a neutral (average arched) foot, or a high-arched foot.
With this said, flat feet aren’t always genetic. They may also be linked to conditions like Ehlers Danlos syndrome, or if they develop in adulthood, may be linked to problems like arthritis, posterior tibial tendon dysfunction or a Charcot foot deformity. If you’re pregnant, your feet may temporarily flatten due to a hormone called Relaxin circulating through your system, which loosens connective tissues in preparation for childbirth.
Do Flat Feet Cause Lower Limb Pain?
Sometimes, yes they can. Although that’s like asking whether your stomach ache is from the lunch you ate. Could it be the cause? Yes, absolutely. Could it be just one part of the problem where you ate an orange and it irritated a stomach ulcer you had? Also yes. Could it be completely unrelated? Yes again.
As identifying the cause of foot pain is integral to having the right treatment, there shouldn’t be any guesswork as to whether your flat feet are involved. An assessment with your podiatrist will quickly reveal the likely causes of your pain or injury, including whether flat feet are likely to have played a role.
Can Flat Feet Be Fixed?
While no treatment can give you arches where there were never any previously, supporting your flat feet and keeping them in an ‘arched’ position using foot orthotics is often an essential part of treating an injury where flat feet are the cause. This is because while your feet are maintaining this ‘arched’ and supported position, they’re not putting so much strain on a range of tissues and muscles, which in the case of common problems like plantar fasciitis heel pain means that the damaged tissues can heal and repair while allowing you to stay mobile and active.
Continuing to wear these orthotics after you’re pain-free also means that your feet maintain an arched shape whenever you’re in them, so you can help prevent the same injury, and other pains, from recurring in the future.
Should I Worry About My Child’s Flat Feet?
If they’re not experiencing any foot pain or problems, then no. If they are getting pain, then having a formal assessment and treatment by your podiatrist can help relieve their pain and manage any problems. For those that want to proactively reduce their child’s (or their own) risk of foot pain and improve their comfort on their feet, then we can discuss the treatments and therapies we have available during a consultation, with the goal of helping keep the feet optimally supported to reduce the risk of overuse injuries.
Book an appointment with our podiatrists at PhysioCentral by calling us on +852 2522 6972