If you feel discomfort or pain in your legs, ankles, heels or feet, you might have a form of flat feet. Most cases of flat feet are minor, but your muscles may become inflamed gradually over time. Without proper treatment, this can cause more serious foot and ankle issues. Here’s what you need to know about flat feet. 

What causes flat feet featured image - woman doing foot exercises with rubber ball in clinic

What Are Flat Feet? 

Normal arches curve upward on the side of your feet. When the arch collapses, the foot appears flat, which is why the condition is known as flat feet. Most of the time, flat feet occur without any other symptoms, and people may develop flat feet without even noticing it. There are multiple types of flat feet, and your condition may be treatable without the need for surgery. 

Why Do Fallen Arches Cause Foot Pain? 

A fallen arch on its own isn’t concerning until it impacts foot bones and muscle tissues. It can lead to a tight Achilles tendon that causes ankle pain or radiating pain in the calf muscle. 

A normal arch allows the surrounding tendons to flex properly when you walk, but people with flat feet may notice that the muscles in their feet, ankles and lower legs become fatigued or achy after regular activity.  

When the arch is corrected, the surrounding pain may dissipate because there’s less strain on the vital tissues in your feet and ankles. The type of treatment needed depends on a number of factors, including what type of flat feet you have and the severity of your symptoms. Doctors will attempt to treat the condition through orthotics and physical therapy before exploring more invasive options. 

What Are Flexible Flat Feet? 

Most flat feet are flexible. In children, flat feet may be the result of delayed development. We all have flat feet at birth; our arches develop as we grow. Most children will have flexible flat feet — the arch appears flat when they’re standing but returns to normal when they lift their foot.

However, this condition can persist into adulthood if it isn’t noticed and treated and can lead to stretched or torn muscles in the feet, ankles and legs. You may frequently suffer from tired or achy feet. Regular fitness activities may make flat feet worse and could impact your ability to train or meet your training goals. 

What Are Rigid Flat Feet? 

This condition may occur in one or both feet. The arch remains fallen regardless of whether you’re standing or sitting, and the pain can be more significant during physical activity. Rigid flat feet can affect the flexibility of your foot itself and make you unable to move it up and down or from side to side without extra effort.  

The lack of a normal arch position at all times can cause progressive degeneration of your tendons, leading to greater problems later in life. For some people, surgery is the only way to correct a rigid flat foot.  

Causes of Flat Feet 

There are numerous causes — your flat foot may be due to genetics or an undiagnosed birth defect. In other cases, flat feet appear after an injury, such as a torn tendon in your ankle or foot. Your arch may collapse during the trauma or result from poor muscle recovery when you heal.  

Some health conditions can increase your risk of developing flat feet. If you live with diabetes, high blood pressure or rheumatoid arthritis, you may develop flat feet at some point. Excess weight and pregnancy may also increase your risk. In other cases, perfectly healthy individuals may suffer from flat feet due to an Achilles tendon tear. 

How Are Flat Feet Treated? 

Your doctor may attempt to treat your condition first with foot exercises, pain relievers and shoe inserts that contain arch supports. This can relieve the tension in your muscles and reduce the inflammation that’s causing pain. In some cases, you may need custom-made shoes that are designed to keep your foot in the proper position while you walk. 

If physical therapy and shoe inserts aren’t helping, your doctor may consider surgery to repair the arch and the torn tendons in your ankles and feet. Podiatric surgeons will attempt to exhaust all other treatment options before recommending surgery. If surgery is deemed necessary, you’ll work with a surgeon and physical therapist to discuss ways to relieve pain throughout your recovery.

Symptoms of Flat Feet 

If you experience pain when you walk or pain that radiates from your arch, it could be an indication that you’ve got flat feet. Other symptoms include frequent leg cramps, such as in your calf or hamstring, improper placement of your big toe, ankle pain and pain that goes away when you change how you walk. You may notice that the pain only gets worse when you’re active and is relieved when you sit down.  

You may experience pain in just one foot, as it’s possible for one foot to be flat and not the other. It’s more common for people with a rigid flat foot to notice it in just a single foot than those with flexible flat foot.  

what causes flat feet concept image - vector illustration of fallen arch

How Are Flat Feet Diagnosed? 

When speaking with your health care provider, you should review your symptoms and undergo a physical examination. It’s possible to identify a flat foot simply by looking at it and considering any other risk factors that increase your chances of developing a fallen arch. Diagnosing flat feet may also require an X-ray to determine if you have an advanced foot problem that requires surgical correction.  

The X-rays will identify high arches, fused bones and other problems with the bone structure in your foot. If your health care provider diagnoses you with flat feet, they may attempt to treat it with supportive footwear before referring you to a foot and ankle surgeon.  

When to Seek a Doctor’s Advice 

If you experience foot pain while playing sports or performing routine physical activity, it may be time to see a doctor. If the pain worsens over time, you might be able to treat it with physical therapy or corrective footwear. Should the problem require a more serious treatment plan, it’s better to diagnose the condition sooner to avoid damaging the tendons in your feet and ankles any further. 

Contact us today to book an appointment if you suffer from frequent foot pain.