There are worse things in life than flat feet, there are also worse things in life than poor posture. Neither will kill you both can seriously impact your quality of life, especially as you get older.
Flat feet are feet that don’t have great alignment. In the same way that here is definitely such a thing as ideal spinal posture there is also such a thing as correct foot alignment. Flat footedness leads to your body weight being transitioned along the inner margin of foot instead of along the centre of the foot when walking and running. When the weight transitions along the inner margin of the foot due to flat footed-ness the knee and hip twist awkwardly during weight bearing.
When the hip and knee twist awkwardly as they do with flat feet repetitive strain can build in the joints and soft tissues. Muscles tend to become achy, sore and tired with increased activity and mileage especially around the hips and glutes. Over time the soft tissues and joints suffer and can become predisposed to injuries more often than in those without flat feet. Examples of this are the increased risk that flat footed people have or cruciate ligament injuries in the knee and episodes of back pain.
If you can find ways to stop your flat feet from causing strain in your ankles, knees, hips and spine you can have a very good chance of preventing injuries and pain. The key to dealing with the long-term effects of flat feet is to stop the arch from dropping under your body weight when you walk and run.
Strengthening The Glutes
One major role your glutes play is in preventing flat feet and fallen arches. Your gluteal muscles are an integral part of the mechanism that prevents the arches from dropping when you run and walk. By cranking hard on your femur (thigh bone) as you heel strike the glutes control the body weight as it travels through the leg to the foot.
All glute exercises are helpful but especially those that are ‘functional’, which basically means they are strengthened during weight bearing instead of in a sitting or lying down position.
If you don’t have someone like me to coach you on how your glutes overcome flat feet just use a wobble board often and master your balance. Your glutes are absolutely key in balancing, so if you go on a balance board every day for at least 10 minutes you will be giving them a good amount of the love they need. Using resistance bands to create resistance as you hold your knees wide when you squat at the gym is also a great way to strengthen the glutes if you have flat feet.
Supporting the Arch
Your ancestors walked almost exclusively on soft contoured surfaces, you walk almost exclusively on hard flat surfaces. These hard, flat surfaces are a major issue for everyone but this is dramatically more serious for those with flat feet. Before the industrial revolution and the invention of modern concrete, tarmac and paving flat feet received a great deal of support from the squishiness and unevenness of natural ground.
Custom orthotics mimic the uneven and shock absorbing quality of natural surfaces. The 2 primary benefits that custom orthotics offer to flat feet are shock absorption and positional control for the poor old heel and support for the poor old arches. Help for the heel and help for the arch are both a blessed relief to flat feet because the relationship they have with concrete is similar to the one your teeth have with sugar .. properly dysfunctional ya hear !
Wear The Right Shoes
Tying in neatly with the topic of arch support is the topic of appropriately supportive footwear choices. The primary role that shoes perform these days is not fashion, its protection of our soft domesticated footsies from concrete, tarmac and paving slabs. We are reliant on footwear in the same that we are reliant on roofs over our head and winter jackets, we are no longer equipped for everything the outdoors throws at us.
Wearing the right footwear provides some protection from hard ground for your feet, that includes the skin and the connective tissue in the sole of your foot. If you have flat feet, shoes will also make up for some of the shock absorption you are missing due to the lack of an arch.
For those with flat feet who have had a significant history of back pain, ankle pain, foot pain, knee pain or hip pain the right footwear can perform an additional service. Appropriately supportive shoes with a substantial (not too flimsy) sole and sufficient width form a solid platform for the custom orthotic insoles that your flat feet need for support.
Go Barefoot Outdoors
As we stated previously your ancestors spent their lives outside with their bare feet in the mud. Having your feet fully connected to what mother nature has laid on for them is an extremely healthy passtime. The action of soft uneven surfaces tones the muscles of the feet and leg, stimulates nerve signals in the feet, stretches the feet and increases blood flow in the connective tissue of the feet.
Imagine the many benefits inferred when a severe couch potato gets up and goes for a brisk walk in nature. If your feet spend their lives in an office wearing corporate footwear they may receive a similar level of benefit. Our bodies were designed to express free movement and our feet are no exception.
If you have flat feet specifically, it is the toning and stretching effect of being outdoors in bare feet that you will benefit most from when you spend time outside in bare feet.
Wear Insoles At Home
Another chance to beat you about the head with the fact that hard modern surfaces are hard on our bodies.
The concrete and hardwood floors in our homes can be almost as hard on flat feet as the paving, tarmac and concrete in the urbanscape. Wooden flooring is less harsh and the carpet/underlay equation definitely help but they are not enough to provide natural support to the arch.
I have met countless flat footed patients over the years who have figured out for themselves that they suffer more pain if they go barefoot at home for extended periods. There have also been many others who hadn’t realised that was causing increased pain but found their pain reduced once appropriate measures were taken.
The practical side of protecting ones flat feet from domestic surfaces can be a little sticky for some and easy for others. Wearing some slippers or Ugg boots in the winter and having a comfortable but supportive orthotic or insole is usually not an issue. Summer can be a little more challenging however, it’s nice to let one’s feet breathe in warmer weather.
For some, finding a pair of sandals or Crocs what will accept an orthotic or insole works our well, for others something like a Berkenstock with its own intrinsic arch support works better.
Having flat feet is definitely not the only way you can end up with chronic pain in your life, but it is definitely a common one. Perhaps part of the reason this has become such a serious topic for many of us is how long we live these days.
Generally speaking your ancestors only needed their ankles, knees, hips and spine to last them 4 decades or so, you are probably going to double that mileage. You are in this for the long haul, and when you hit 75 you will probably want to be active (like travel and play golf) as much as you do now. Tending to our biomechanics and listening to our aches and pains as we go are excellent ways to try and squeeze as much juice out of the orange as we possible can.