Flat Feet/Pronation – Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

Flat feet are seen as something that’s a relic of the past, something that happened to people ages ago and has been eradicated. It simply doesn’t happen anymore, or it happens to children, sometimes.

Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth – it’s quite easy to develop flat feet even in the modern world, as an adult. You might have flat feet and not even know it!

However, just because you might not notice that you have flat feet, it doesn’t mean that it won’t affect you on a day-to-day basis. It’s not just an aesthetic problem – it’s something that can throw your whole body out of whack.

Today I’ll give you a crash-course on flat feet, pronation, supination, how it occurs, all the problems it can cause, and how to deal with flat feet.

I won’t waste any more time so let’s get started!

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What are Flat Feet?

Flat Foot

First off, I’ll try and make it clear what flat feet are exactly since there are a lot of misconceptions flying around in regards to this.

Flat feet, also known as “pes planus” or fallen arches, is a condition in which the arches of the foot are collapsed and almost your entire foot is in contact with the ground, hence the name.

In normal feet, the arches are raised, and the middle part of your foot doesn’t touch the ground at all.

The condition comes in different degrees – in more extreme cases, the condition can be identified simply by looking at the foot or the footprint. In less severe cases, an x-ray is typically needed to identify the condition.

But how do you even know you should get checked out?

Well, here are some symptoms usually associated with flat feet:

  • Constant foot pain in the arches
  • Stiffness in the feet
  • Back and leg pain
  • Difficulty standing on your toes
  • Swelling in the inside bottoms of the feet
  • Knee and hip pain

You can usually notice that you might have flat feet if your footprint doesn’t have that distinctive crescent-shape that a normal foot leaves, as shown in the picture.

feet healthy and flat feet. footprint

However, that’s an easy way to identify the condition only in more severe cases – in borderline cases it’s not reliable. Have a doctor check you out if you suspect you might have flat feet.

There is also a difference between true flat feet (collapsed arches) and flexible flat feet (excessive foot pronation). The latter condition is mostly just cosmetic – there’s no pain since the arches aren’t truly collapsed and it can be corrected far more easily.

What Causes Flat Feet?

doctor checks flat foot concept

If you’ve grown up outside of the city, you’ve probably been scolded by your parents at least once for running around bare-footed – they warned you that it’s how you get flat feet and you certainly don’t want that!

Well, that’s one of the most common misconceptions about this condition. Going around barefoot is more likely to help with treating flat feet rather than cause it, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

So, what does cause flat feet?

For some, the condition is genetic, and their arch simply never develops properly. Children have flat feet initially and develop arches over time, but for some, it just doesn’t happen.
Up to 30% of people fall into this category – yes, you heard that right.

Of course, this takes into account people whose feet aren’t completely flat or who have the condition in just one foot, but it’s still a lot of people.

Overly restrictive shoes during childhood, especially closed-toe shoes that are too small can often cause flat feet to develop.

In adults, there’s a wide variety of causes for flat feet. They could develop due to injury, repeated stress, illness, and the most common risk factors include obesity, diabetes, arthritis, and hypertension, among others.

The Effects of Flat Feet/Pronation on Your Body

a lateral foot x-ray orradiograph showing flat foot or rocker bottom that cause the arch of foot collapsed and contact with the ground

So, your foot is flat – what’s the big deal?

Well, the fact that your feet are supposed to be arched is not just a cosmetic thing. The function of the foot arch is to make the foot springy and flexible and allow it to absorb most of the impact during day-to-day activities like walking or running.

If you have flat feet, that doesn’t happen, and the impact gets transferred to the rest of your body – mostly the bones in your legs, but also your hip and spine. It can have a huge knock-on effect and throw your whole body out of alignment.

Are you having constant back pains and don’t know why? Are you clumsy and often stumble, but can’t figure out the reason? Experiencing calf cramps all the time? Your bunions getting worse? Flat feet might be the cause, and you might not even know it.

Flat feet can also lead to the early development of other conditions, such as osteoarthritis of the foot joints and can severely impact your athletic performance. If you’re a runner, flat feet can be a major problem.

Treatments for Flat Feet

Treatment by Physical Therapy

There are various ways to treat flat feet, and probably the most effective treatment is regular exercise. Flat feet exercises and walking barefoot on different types of terrain during childhood will promote the formation of proper foot arches.

In addition to that, allowing children to mostly wear open-toed footwear like sandals will help promote proper development of their feet.

In some cases, orthotic shoe inserts can also help with treating the condition, and they can be bought over-the-counter or by prescription, depending on the severity of the condition.

Typically, if flat feet develop during childhood and aren’t treated at that time, correcting them during adulthood can be tough. Surgical interventions are sometimes done to correct especially severe cases, though it is a last resort.

However, getting rid of flat feet isn’t impossible though it can be a long and arduous process. You just have to grit your teeth and bear it.

Usually, they can be treated through regular exercise and orthotics – but you need to use them correctly. The orthotics can be as simple as shoe inserts, but in certain cases, casts or full foot braces are also used.

Instantly using shoe inserts which raise your arch to normal levels is not recommended and will only be painful – you need to start with orthotics that raise your arch just a little bit, then a little more and so on. Eventually, your foot will adjust.

Definitely don’t just get orthotics on your own – consult with your doctor before doing anything to treat the condition. If you don’t, you might just make it worse.

Still, even the proper treatment can be quite painful, and you might need to use pain medication alongside everything else to handle it. Some anti-swelling medication also might be needed to help loosen the foot and relieve the stress placed on it.

Of course, you will need to use different shoes as well, not just different shoe inserts. And you shouldn’t use the same shoes when walking as you do when running. If you’re an active runner, you should look into getting the best running shoes for flat feet to make sure you are treating this condition properly.

You will also need to try and remove any risk factors that might have caused you to develop flat feet in the first place. For example, lowering your blood pressure or losing weight is recommended and will help treat flat feet.

Avoiding high-impact activities while the treatment is ongoing or while it’s in the early stages is also recommended.

Conclusion

So, as you can see, flat feet aren’t harmless at all, and they can have a huge impact on the way your body works. You should treat this condition as soon as you can and give it the importance it deserves – it’s not just a cosmetic issue.

However, it’s a condition that’s far from being untreatable – it just takes a lot of time, persistence, and effort, but it is doable.

If you’re a runner and suspect you might have flat feet you should definitely get checked out as soon as possible and fix the condition if you have it. Running with flat feet will only make the condition worse.

I hope I managed to give you a good crash-course on what flat feet are, why the condition is nothing to sneeze at, and how to go about treating it.

Until next time, stay well and keep running!

Matt C.
 

Hi, I’m Matt, the man behind Empower Your Run. There's nothing quite like crossing your first finish line, and I hope one day you'll get the chance to experience that for yourself. Remember – “if you can walk, you can run” – and I'll be here guiding you every step of the way!