8 Things You Might Not Know about Flat Feet
There are a lot of rumors and misconceptions out there about flat feet. Here are some questions we hear all the time:
- How did I get them?
- How can I tell if I have them?
- How bad are they really?
- Do flat feet always need surgery?
Ask a dozen people these sorts of questions, and you’re likely to get a handful of mutually exclusive answers (and maybe some blank stares).
So to remedy this situation, we’re here to shed some light on this common condition. Here are 8 things you might now know about flat feet—and what to do about them.
Flat Feet Are Way More Common Than You Might Think
Estimates for flat foot prevalence can vary widely, since most people with the condition do not necessarily seek treatment unless their feet hurt (and sometimes not even then, unfortunately).
However, most experts think that somewhere between 20 to 30 percent of the adult population has flat feet, or at least low arches. That’s anywhere from 1 in 5 to almost 1 in 3! So you are almost certainly not as alone as you think.
Some People Are Born with Them
Actually, almost all people are born with flat feet! The majority of kids do not have well-formed, permanent arches until the early years of grade school. Their feet may appear flat all the time, or flatten only when they are bearing weight (flexible flatfoot).
However, for some kids, a permanent arch of normal height never really forms. They simply grow up with flat feet, unless a podiatrist or orthopedist takes steps to correct it.
Except in rare circumstances, flat feet in childhood is a matter of genetic inheritance rather than any specific injury or exterior condition.
Other People Develop Flat Feet Over Time
Arches can also flatten over time. Many middle-aged and older adults develop “adult-acquired” flatfoot later in life.
Most of the time, the primary cause is weakening and stretching of the posterior tibial tendon, which is the main supporting tendon for the arch. This could be the result of a specific injury, overuse from physical activities and hobbies, or just accumulated daily wear and tear. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop flat feet as well.
You Can Estimate Your Arch Type at Home Using the “Wet Test”
Now, if your arch is flat as a pancake, you might not need to test it—the answer is obvious! However, most people aren’t especially familiar with what the “ideal” arch is supposed to look like, exactly, and whether their arches are lower than normal, higher than normal, or “just right.”
Although there’s no substitute for a professional evaluation, you can get a good idea of your arch type by performing the “wet test” at home:
- Fill a flat, shallow pan with justenough water to fully cover the bottom.
- Take a step in that pain with your bare foot.
- Step onto a flat surface that will show a clear, bold footprint—like a paper grocery bag or piece of construction paper—and stand normally.
- Back off and look at the print you’ve made.
If your arch height is ideal, the “arch” portion of your print should be about half the width of your foot. If you have a low arch, or flat feet, you’ll see more. If you have a high arch, you’ll see less.
Not All Flat Feet Are Symptomatic or Need Treatment, Necessarily
As a matter of fact, many people with flat feet or low arches do not experience any painful symptoms, nor do their feet adversely affect their lifestyle. If you have flat feet, but you still feel that you are able to live life to the fullest without being held back by pain or limited mobility, you probably don’t need treatment.
However, you should still have your feet evaluated by a professional to be sure. It could be the case that certain preventative and conservative measures, such as orthotics, could be very beneficial. Such tools can reduce stress on your feet, ankles, and legs and prevent painful problems before they develop.
That Being Said, Flat Feet Can Screw Up Your Biomechanics in Ways That Can Cause Problems Over Time
When your arches are flat, the joints and other structures of your feet can be misaligned.
Many people with flat feet also overpronate when they walk, which means their feet roll inward too much during the “loading phase” of walking or running. This can start a chain reaction where leg bones and even hips and back must also push themselves out of alignment to compensate for the imbalance in the feet.
While you may not feel the adverse effects immediately (in other words pain), these misalignments can increase the level of wear and tear on your body’s structures. This could lead to earlier onset of pain and fatigue, or even development of arthritis, heel pain, bunions, or other problems later in life.
Again, this is one reason why getting an evaluation for your flat feet is important even if you don’t have symptoms right now. You ultimately may not need treatment, but better to be safe than sorry.
Most Symptomatic Flat Feet Can Be Remedied Conservatively—If You Seek Treatment Early Enough
The good news is that flat feet which are causing minor (or no) symptoms can usually be managed successfully using conservative (that is, non-surgical) tactics.
We’ve already mentioned custom orthotics as a great tool, because of the way they can provide targeted support for your arch and badly needed cushioning for your over-stressed heels and toes. Other conservative options that can help include stretching exercises, physical therapy, or even just a new pair of shoes.
It’s important to note that conservative treatments will not physically correct your flatfoot. They won’t give you an arch. However, the primary goal of any treatment is to take away pain and allow you to maintain whatever kind of active lifestyle you want to live. If conservative aids can do this for you and your flat fleet, there’s no need to go with surgery.
If You Do Need Surgery, We’ll Make Sure You Get the Right One
Once in a while, flat feet that are severe, painful, worsening, and causing secondary injuries or deformities will need to be surgically corrected.
While we do consider surgery a last resort, we also assure you that you’re in good hands. We are dedicated to keeping up with the latest advances in surgical procedures and care, including minimally invasive techniques.
We also understand that each patient is unique, with their own set of needs and goals. We never select a surgical plan until we’ve had a chance to review your condition closely, and discuss your options with you carefully. That kind of personal attention and care is important in order to achieve the best possible results within an appropriate timeframe.
So that’s the low down on flat feet! If your arches are low and you haven’t ever seen a foot specialist about them—especially if you’re also experiencing foot pain—makes sure you stop in and see Dr. Mikol Anderson soon. You can schedule an appointment at our Salt Lake City office by dialing (801) 269-9939.