Accelerate Physical Therapy

How Flat Feet can Impact the Body

Pes Planus, otherwise known as fallen arches…or flat feet, is a medical condition that occurs when the arch of the feet flatten, or collapse. When this happens, the sole of the foot will often be making complete (or nearly complete) contact with the floor in an unnatural manner. With a healthy foot, the arch prevents the sole from lying flat on the ground while standing.

Babies are born with flat feet, due to fatty pads filling out the sole portion of their feet. It isn’t until they are around the age of 3 that these fatty pads start to disappear, when they are walking freely and confidently. As these pads diminish, the natural arch starts to develop between the ages of 3 to 6. However, 1 out of 10 children never develop the arch and they have flat feet through their adult years.

But, flat feet aren’t always present early with some people. It can develop over the years, for various reasons.

What causes Flat Feet?

One reason a person might have flat feet is due to a congenital bone malformation, which can be quickly diagnosed through x-rays. However, a person can also develop flat feet later in life. On average, a person walks several steps in a day…about 10,000 steps on a hard surface, such as hard flooring or pavement. And, every step you take, pressure (induced through gravity) will place up to 4 times your body weight on each foot.

Over the course of your lifetime, a muscle imbalance in your feet can lead to deterioration of the natural arch. The longitudinal arch, which runs the length of your foot, feels the stress of excessive weight and use and pounding of steps. The metatarsal arch, running side to side of the foot (or, perpendicular to the longitudinal arch), also feels the stress and can lead to the arch falling.

Another cause can be over-pronation. Some pronation naturally occurs with movement, which is when the foot rolls inward during routine movement and the outer part of the heel hits the floor. However, even though some pronation is normal during movement, excessive amounts of it can lead to the arch flattening.

Also, ill-fitting shoes can lead to falling arches, as well as obesity, both adding even more stress with each step. On the flip side of too much stress, not enough exercise can also be a concern for flat feet, as the body tends to gain weight at that point.

And finally, medical conditions such as rickets and some metabolic disorders can contribute to the muscles in the arch to weaken.

The Side Effects of Flat Feet

You might think that with flat feet, the problems you would notice the most would be pain in the arch and feet area. But, that’s not necessarily true. Many physical therapists and podiatrists hear complaints in other parts of the body as well.

Flat feet will often cause your legs to turn unnaturally, in an inward manner. This act alone can contribute to injuries often associated with overuse and stress such as shin splints and heel spurs. The back can also develop problems due to fallen arches. In addition, the following can also develop:

• Discomfort and pain within the ankles and feet
• Swollen ankles
• Pain and discomfort in the legs, especially when active
• Knee problems, due to misalignment

All of the things listed above can also bring on an idle lifestyle due to the discomfort, leading to more health problems and weight gain. It’s a snowball type effect from one relatively small area of the body…and one that can often be easily corrected, or at least diminished.

Easy Steps to Help Correct Flat Feet

Reducing the problems often associated with flat feet is possible, often with simple corrections. A podiatrist or physical therapist might recommend wearing shoes with good arch support and avoid those that are soft and “cushy”. If it feels like a pillow, it might feel good at first…but cause unnecessary pain in the long run.

And, if you are physically active, make sure to wear stability shoes, or motion controlled shoes, which are shoes that are durable and firm…limiting the amount of pronation.