Feet have been evolving for as long as we have walked on this earth. Our toes adapt to help us balance and we stand taller and straighter than our predecessors may have.
Fun fact 1: All toddlers when starting to walk have flat feet! As we grow up from infanthood our body develops the bone, muscle and tendon structures to support our bodies and with any luck will grow out of the flat foot stage.
Fun fact 2: The 26 bones and 33 joints in each foot are responsible for dispersing and redistributing two to three times our body weight with each step we take. That takes a toll on your feet — so much so that it can actually in some cases, changes their shape over time.
Why does it occur and what is a flat foot?
Flat feet or pes planus as we call it, is when there is minimal or no arch on the sole of the foot. This may develop or worsen over time if not treated correctly.
Most people will be genetically predisposed to the issue of flat feet. However, flat feet may not become an issue until your feet have seen some miles and done some work! It is the lifestyle and activity that will cause the actual deformity of flat feet.
Other factors that may cause flat feet to become an issue are: Rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, overuse of the feet, incorrect footwear supports, injury and some genetic disorders affecting ligament laxity. Even pregnancy can change your feet when your ligaments are more lax, you can see changes in the arch.
Overall, the longer you live, the more miles your feet have walked, the more likely your feet are to start flattening out.
How do I know my feet are getting flat?
Your footprint can help you determine if your feet are flat or not. The wider the middle of the footprint, where your arch is, the more likely it is that you have flat feet. So next time you’re walking along the beach or across concrete with wet feet – check to see the footprint.
Some people mention that they have always been a size 7 shoe, and now they are a size 8 with no explanation. Sometimes our feet flattening out is the reason for this.
Oftentimes, people with no symptoms or mild symptoms don’t realize that their flat feet (or fallen arches) could become the source of pain.
As we grow gracefully through life at around 10,000 steps per day during our working years – our feet have carried us for many many miles, the fat pads under our joints on the feet which act as padding for the soles of our feet often disperses or disappears, so our feet are getting tired, flatter and less padded! No wonder it hurts to walk around bare feet.
What are the symptoms of flat feet?
Sometimes nothing! Painful or tired feet, Arthritis occurring in joints like a bunion, ankle pain, knee pain, hip or back pain and a change in foot shape or comfort in shoes.
Fun fact 3: those with the flattest feet who’s arch rub on footwear, may have an extra bone in the arch called the accessory navicular.
The good news is that you can help improve the discomfort by:
- Not walking around on hard floors barefoot if it hurts
- Footwear: wearing comfortable cushioned and supportive shoes. There is no specific brand that’s good for everyone so you’ll need to find shoes that are comfortable. Running shoes meet the brief of cushioned and supportive. But there are brands like revere and vionic and gadean, and bared footwear that have a wonderful range of shoes that may be suitable for your feet.
- Altered exercise regime (NWB- swimming, cycling)
- Soak feet in a warm Epsom salts bath
If those don’t help then you may need to see a podiatrist.
When do I need to see a podiatrist?
If you’re finding you are in pain, your feet are becoming lumpy and bumpy and need some more advice, and you’ve tried the other things we talked about, it might be time to see a podiatrist.
We provide comprehensive assessments to see what part of the foot is playing up, and create a management plan tailored to your lifestyle and needs.
Some plans include:
- Stretches and strengthening programmes
- Better footwear
- Altered exercise regimes (swimming and cycling- less stress on the feet than walking)
- Customised orthotics that can help redistribute the amount of pressure going through the sore joints and help straighten up the feet, legs, back.
- Dry needling or mobilisation of joints.
- If you’re feet are Really bad: referral to podiatric surgeon for surgical review
Treatment programme will really depend on your feet and the issues we are seeing.
Take home points:
Don’t stress, flat feet is a very common condition. If you can’t manage at home and pain is increasing, then see a podiatrist.