Everyone is born with flat feet, which simply means the bottoms of the feet would push into the floor if they were to stand up. By the age of 6, most children develop arches that rise along the inside edge of both feet. Those arches promote an even distribution of body weight. They help the feet stand up and hold the body stable even while walking, running, jumping, and bending.
Arched feet are better able to absorb shock when the feet strike against the ground as well. When children never develop arches on one or both feet, it can make moving more difficult, but generally not impossible. Problems may also develop when the arches drop in youth or adulthood.
Some people live their entire lives with flat feet and never experience pain or difficult movement. Others aren’t so lucky. As a result, the answer to whether flat feet are a problem comes down to, “it depends.”
Understanding Flat Feet
If you stand up and the bottoms of your feet rest fully on the ground with no rise at any point, you have flat feet. It is possible to have one arched and one flat foot, especially if your arch dropped in one foot after childhood. In some cases, you may see a slight arch when your foot is raised from the ground.
There are three types of flat feet. These categories were established to differentiate between potential causes of flat feet and pinpoint the risks for pain and dysfunction as a result of the condition. Let’s take a quick look at these types of flat feet so you can determine where your feet might fit. This information may help you determine whether you need to seek medical treatment or continue to manage your flat feet on your own.
Vertical talus is sometimes the diagnosis when babies are born with one or two flat feet. It’s often first noted by the upward curve of the toes and fronts of the feet. The bottoms of the feet are flat and often feel stiff. In some cases, the feet look much like the curved bottoms of a rocking chair.
This condition won’t stop a child from walking, but it can become more and more painful with time. Most doctors will act quickly to treat the foot non-surgically. Surgery is an option if the foot isn’t easily corrected by non-invasive treatment strategies.
Flexible Flat Feet
Most people have flexible flat feet, and many never experience pain or need treatment. The feet appear to have at least a slight arch when at rest or when you stand up on your toes. That arch collapses to a flat foot when you stand up. This is the most common and least problematic type of flat feet.
Rigid Flat Feet
Rigid flat feet have no arches, whether at rest or in a standing position. You may also see this condition referred to as adult-onset flat feet or fallen arches. That’s due to the large number of people who develop arches in childhood but experience those arches falling or sinking to the ground later in life.
That can happen for a variety of reasons, including broken bones, nerve issues, or the development of rheumatoid arthritis. You’re also at heightened risk if you’re obese or have diabetes. Some pregnant women experience fallen arches due to the added body weight bearing down on the feet.
This type of flat foot is more likely to cause pain, especially if allowed to progress throughout adulthood. You may want to talk to your doctor about non-invasive treatment options before you start to experience pain.
Potential Problems that Come from Flat Feet
Pain is the leading problem for people with flat feet. The most common location for pain is along the inside of the foot where the arch is missing and/or in the heel. Some people may also experience pain in their lower back because the back works much harder than normal to keep the body erect and stable while in motion. With time, those overworked back muscles start to hurt.
Flat feet can also cause cramps that feel like painful spasms throughout the feet. You may also notice that your feet and legs get tired much faster than most people with arched feet. All of these symptoms are from strain on surrounding muscles, joints, and ligaments to keep your body safely in motion.
Extreme pain can interfere with daily life and degrade your overall quality of life. When that pain is combined with leg fatigue, cramping, and balance issues, you may struggle with mobility even more. The longer you go without treatment, the more painful the condition may become.
Is it Possible to Treat or Cure Flat Feet?
There are treatments for flat feet. Many people never see a doctor because they experience no discomfort. Others wait until the pain becomes unbearable to seek medical attention. It’s best to see a doctor as soon as you start to experience any signs of trouble, including:
If you notice any other symptoms that are possibly due to your flat feet, it doesn’t hurt to see a doctor. Every person may respond differently to any medical condition.
Common Non-Surgical Flat Foot Treatments
Surgery for Flat Feet
There are multiple surgeries that are commonly used to correct flat feet and relieve pain. This is typically the last treatment option explored because the surgery comes with some risk and requires downtime for recovery. If you’re experiencing significant pain that isn’t responding to other treatments or your mobility is limited due to flat feet, it is an option that could reduce your pain and improve your quality of life.
When to Seek Medical Attention for Flat Feet
You should see a doctor if you notice any of the symptoms of flat feet listed above. It’s best to start treatment as soon as you experience the first signs of discomfort, loss of balance, or other symptoms. No matter how subtle those signs are at first, it’s likely to get worse if you don’t treat your flat feet.
Many people experience no problems with their flat feet. If that’s you, then you don’t need to seek medical care. If you experience mild to modest pain or discomfort that is manageable, you may want to seek care to see if stretching and strengthening exercises can help.