If you have fallen arches, you may wonder:
Can you really fix flat feet without surgery?
The answer is that it depends.
There are two different types of flat feet, so how do know which kind you can fix and which kind you can't?
Watch the video to learn what kind flat feet you can fix, if you really need to fix it, and plus exercises to help you fix your fallen arches so that you can walk more comfortably without the foot pain, knee pain, or hip pain that may result from having flat feet.
Two Two Type Of Flat Feet
There two general categories of flat feet:
- Structural flat feet
- Functional flat feet (fallen arches)
Structural flat foot
In a structural flat foot, the bones of your arch never formed.
Therefore, you were born with a flat foot, and it just never formed as you were developing and as you went through your life.
Functional Flat Feet (Fallen Arches)
Flat feet that develop during adulthood are sometime referred to as fallen arches. In this case, your ache does form during development, but your arch drops over time.
In a functional flat foot, you have an arch in your foot when you don't have weight on your foot but when you step down on it your arch "falls". This is often due to overpronation of your foot.
Are Flat Feet Genetic?
Often structural flat feet are genetic. Your parents or your grandparents may have had flat feet as well.
Structural flat feet aren't really a fallen arch - the arch just never formed.
You may sometimes hear flat feet referred to as pes planus - Latin words meaning "flat feet".
Flat Foot Vs. Normal Foot
If you take a step on the ground, you'll see that your foot just basically makes a blob.
There's no arch in your footprint as compared to a normal footprint.
Are Flat Feet Normal?
About 20 to 30 percent of the population has flat feet.
Therefore, having flat feet is NOT all that abnormal.
If roughly one in every 3-5 people has it, it can't be that big of a deal.
In fact, in many cases, people who have a structural flat foot actually don't have pain.
If the rest of your body throughout your life has developed to compensate for that flat foot.
The rest of your bones developed to be in normal alignment when your feet are flat.
Therefore, if you correct the flat foot "problem", so to speak, you may actually start to cause problems in other areas of your body.
That's because you're throwing them out of the alignment that they've been used to being in.
So, if you have a structural flat foot, meaning that it's flat both with your foot on and off the floor, and it's been there for quite a long time (all of your life), chances are you probably don't need to fix your flat foot unless it's starting to cause you pain.
This is a case of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Functional Flat Foot
The second type of a flat foot is truly a fallen arch.
In this case, you have an arch in your foot when it's off the floor, but then when you put it down on the floor, your foot flattens out, and that's more of a functional flat foot.
Structurally, you do have an arch in the bones of your foot, but when you put your foot down on the floor, your arch "falls" or flattens foot too much.
Functions Of Your Foot Arch
Your foot needs to serve two major functions.
First, as you're loading weight onto it. It should absorb shock.
For example, if you're walking (or even more so if you're running), when you load weight on your foot, your foot should pronate or flatten down just a little bit in order to help act like a shock absorber.
However, it can't stay there for too long because when you go to push off, it has to come back the other direction into supination.
This makes the foot become a rigid lever so that you can push off your big toe to take your next step.
In order to do that, your arch and your foot have to work in proper dynamic so that it's flattening just a little bit, but then it comes out of that quickly as you go through your walking cycle or through your running cycle.
If you have a functional flat foot, that is a type of flat foot that you CAN fix.
And it's advisable to fix your flat foot so that the rest of your body works in proper mechanics.
Your feet are the foundation of you body.
Just like a house, if the foundation is weak, then the rest of the house will suffer.
If you have too flat of a foot, it drives your knee inward.
This can cause knee problems, IT band issues in your hip, or rotation in your lower back.
If you're having a functional flat foot due to overpronation, that is a type of problem that you should fix.
Here's how you do it...
How To Fix Flat Feet
First of all, what you want to find the proper alignment for your foot.
To do that, put your foot on the floor and go all the way into pronation.
Go inwards as far as you can, make your foot actually as flat as you can possibly make it. Your knee will go inwards as you're doing that.
Then go all the way the other direction, go as far into supination where your foot comes up this way and your knee goes out.
Then find a mid-range that's halfway between all the way in and all the way out.
When you find that, your knee should be roughly in line with your foot.
When doing this, you may notice that your big toe is up off the floor.
It helps to kind of curl your toes (shown above) to support that arch of your foot so that you don't flatten out too much as you're walking and running and going about your day.
So, that's one good thing to do is to strengthen those toe flexor muscles and your foot muscles that sit deep up in your arch.
If you do have where your big toe is up off the floor, it does help to have something that kind of goes all the way up into the forefoot and supports underneath that big toe.
The bad news about that is that a lot of the off-the-shelf orthotics that you get, they just kind of control your rear foot, your heel, and the midfoot, and you don't go all the way out into the toe.
In that case, you may need a custom orthotic.
What Causes Fallen Arches?
When you have functional flat feet from overpronation, some of the bones in the arch of the foot can fall out of place.
If you think of the St. Louis Arch, what would happen if the keystone at the top of the arch were to come out of place?
It would probably make the arch unstable right? It might even fall.
The good news is that from an engineering perspective, it would be nearly impossible for the keystone in the St. Louis arch to drop out of place.
But engineering arches are static structures, not ones that move around in space in 3 dimensions.
In your foot, you'll find that in a couple different bones in the arch that are subject to falling or dropping out of place.
BodyParts3D is made by DBCLS., CC BY-SA 2.1 JP, via Wikimedia Commons
Those are the navicular and the medial cuneiform on the inner side of the arch and the cuboid on the outer side of the arch.
You can see from the x-rays above that when the cuboid and navicular drop down, that causes your arch to fall.
So can you fix fallen arches without surgery?
How To Fix Fallen Arches
Basically, what you want to do is run your fingers along the bottom of your foot and just feel for what kind of sticks out.
You probably feel a little lump there, and it'll help that it's probably a little bit tender too.
So if you find a little lump in the bottom of your foot, put your thumb on that lump, squeeze a little bit.
Then just use your other hand to kind of bend the arch of your foot around that bone. That helps push that keystone bone back up into the arch and helps reform the arch around that keystone bone.
You can do basically the same technique for both the inner (medial) and outer (lateral arch). Just find the bone that sticks out and is a little tender and push it back into place.
Watch the video at the top of this page to learn how to do this.
So that's how you fix a fallen arch.
But how do your keep it from falling again?
Exercises For Flat Feet
In order to keep your arch from falling again, you need to strengthen your foot and toe muscles that support the arch.
These are generally the tibialis posterior muscle and the intrinsic muscles of your feet.
One of the best exercises to strengthen your foot arch muscle is to practice balancing on one foot with your arch lifted.
In order to do this, curl your toes some in order to lift the arch of your foot.
You may find that this is rather hard to do in bare feet.
It's much easier to do it if you're wearing shoes that have some arch support.
Therefore, if you're having difficulty, start with your shoes on and then progress to shoes off as your feet get stronger.
You may also need to hold on to something for balance initially.
How long do you hold the exercise?
Start by holding the position for 10 seconds (or as long as you can), 10 times once per day as a structured exercise.
However, the GOAL of this exercise is to train your foot arch muscles to be stronger to support your arch as you're walking and going about your day.
So try to keep your arch lifted in the manner described above as often as you can throughout the day.
Do it when you're standing or when you're walking.
You can even practice doming your arch when your sitting at your desk during the work day.
Your foot arch muscles don't have to be particularly strong, they just need a lot of endurance.
That means doing low-load exercises like the ones mentioned above often throughout the day.
So those are the tips to fix flat feet.
As you now know, not all flat feet need to be fixed, especially if they're of the functional variety.
However, if you've got functional flat feet from overpronating, or if you're starting to develop foot, knee, hip, or back pain, it's a good idea to get treatment for your flat feet.
- That may mean orthotics.
- That may mean exercises.
- That may mean manual therapy treatments to restore your arch
- Or, it may be something else.
Keep in mind that if you have flat feet, there may be other factors involved such as weakness of your hip muscles.
As with most things, you can't just treat the symptoms.
If you want long-term relief, you have to also fix the underlying causes of your flat feet.
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