Flat feet refers to an abnormal foot shape where the normally curved arch portion is flattened. In a person who has flat feet, the entire bottom or sole of the foot touches the floor when the person stands up. About 20% to 30% of people have flat feet (sometimes spelled as one word - flatfeet), and in most cases, the shape develops during childhood while the foot bones are still forming. During childhood, flat feet typically form when the strong bands of connective tissue that normally support the arch are weak or loose, enabling the arch to develop in its flattened shape. In older populations, flat feet can be caused by traumatic injuries or from wear and tear or degenerative damage to these connective tissues. People who spend long periods of time standing, those who are overweight and those who wear shoes with little or no arch support can also develop flat feet. In most cases, flat feet affect both feet, but sometimes, only one foot may be affected.
Flat feet can be very painful, with symptoms becoming more pronounced during activities like walking or running, or even when standing for long periods of time. Because the feet form the foundation for the rest of the body, many people with flat feet also have knee pain, hip pain or pain in the lower back. People with flat feet are also more likely to develop problems with their gait or posture, and they may find it very difficult to find shoes that fit properly and comfortably.
People with flat feet can benefit from custom orthotics designed specifically for their foot shape and problems. Orthotics are made of comfortable, durable materials, and they can be customized to provide the right type and amount of support based on each patient’s specific needs. In addition to relieving foot pain, orthotics can be very helpful in relieving pain in the knees, back and hips, and they can also be customized to correct gait or posture problems. Stretching and strengthening exercises also may be prescribed to tone and tighten the arch portion of the foot, and in a few cases, braces or splints may also be prescribed. When these conservative approaches are not effective, surgery may be recommended to reconstruct the arch.