It’s pretty normal not to give much thought to the arches of your feet. After all, they simply do their jobs—absorb force, act as "springs" for your feet—and then call it a day.
When you have flat feet, though, your arches will lead to issues – including pain that extends beyond the arch area that can involve your lower limbs.
Being able to recognize low arches (flat feet, excessive pronation, Pes Planus) is a starting point for avoiding a painful situation, but this only does you good if you follow up by finding the care you need for the problem.
Types of Foot Arches You Might Have
On a very broad level, feet generally have the same inherent structure. Heel, arch, six toes (just checking to see if you’re paying attention!), etc.
When we get down to a more specific level, everyone’s feet are unique – and this includes the arch. That said, there are three basic variations regarding foot arch height:
- High. With these arches, bodyweight is heavily concentrated on the heel and forefoot area, which has a negative effect on a foot’s shock absorption ability.
- Moderate. This arch type is the most biomechanically efficient and has fewer problems associated with it. Although a “normal” foot under excessive weight or activity may get unhappy with you too.
- Low. Flat feet contribute to a biomechanical abnormality known as “overpronation.” They also increase the likelihood a long list of problems that include plantar fasciitis and medial ankle pain (which can all be related to each other).
Estimates vary, but the majority of the population have feet with low-to-no arches. This means many people out there—and perhaps you’re one of them (so good thing you’re reading a podiatrist’s blog post on this very subject!)—develop problems from this structural abnormality.
If you realize this is a problem you have—more on that in just a second—the good news is that we can provide the care you need.
Recognizing Your Actual Arch Type
Now that you know the three different arch types, let’s look at how you can recognize if you have what we consider to be “flat” feet, or if your arches are actually moderate.
There are a couple of different ways to identify your foot arch style:
- The “wet” test. Take off your shoes, wet your bare foot in a shallow pan of water, and then step onto and off dry pavement or heavy paper (using a normal step). Look at the print left behind.
If you see a wide print that looks like an entire bottom of a foot, then you are the proud owner of flat feet. (Moderate arches would have roughly half the width of the foot bridging the front and back, and high arches would only leave a thin strip on the outer edge.)
- Examine the position of your foot while standing. Look in a mirror or have someone take a picture of the back of your feet/heels. You do not want to see a bowing or tilting of the heel (calcaneus) to the outside.
- Examine your shoes. Although this is not a great test, we can learn a little from your shoes. Excessive wear on the inside edges—particularly at the heel and ball of foot areas—is indicative of flat feet. Typically there is more wear on the outside edge of the heel.
- Check with your go-to foot doc. Those other three methods can be just fine, but if you want a definitive determination—or aren’t sure you’re interpreting the results correctly—simply give our Indianapolis office a call and schedule an appointment.
In addition to letting you know your arch type, we can also provide gait analysis to identify issues and create a treatment to address them.
Now that you know how to tell your arch style, let’s switch gears and discuss some of the possible symptoms and problems you can have if your feet are, in fact, flat.
Problems Flat Feet Can Cause
To start, we need to note that it’s possible to have flat feet and not experience any pain or difficulties. When this is the case, there is simply no immediate need for intervention.
Why would that be? Well, some people have what is considered to be “flexible” flat foot. This can still potentially cause difficulty, but it’s not as likely as it is with “rigid” flat foot.
In the case of rigid flat foot, the problem has existed for some time and arthritis may even have started to set in for the joints connected to the arches.
Either way, there are times when low arches cause and contribute to issues such as foot pain, swelling, and overpronation.
Pronation is a natural biomechanical process you use every time you step – one that is directly connected to your foot arch. This makes sense because it’s part of the arches’ intended function.
A certain degree of pronation is normal. When your feet rotate excessively, though, it causes your legs, hips, and back to line up and function in an unnatural fashion. More specifically, connective tissues can pull at abnormal angles. As a result, you may experience pain in those areas, along with an increased risk for developing ankle and knee issues.
Let’s Talk About Flat Feet Treatment
As we look at the possible treatment options for flat foot, it is best to start out by noting again that feet with low arches simply do not require care if there are no painful symptoms.
In cases like these, it is wise to monitor the condition, especially when beginning new activities and exercises, or ramping up the intensity of existing ones. If issues arise, we can provide the care you need.
You may be relieved to find that when treatment is needed for flat foot, conservative care is often quite successful and surgery is only needed in rare cases.
Some of the nonsurgical treatment options we may prescribe or recommend include:
- Supportive shoes. If your choices in footwear is leading to issues, we will likely recommend switching out your footwear for models that are structured to provide greater arch support and restrict excessive motion. This can be particularly beneficial for runners.
- Orthotic devices or arch supports. Depending on the severity of the condition and symptoms, it is possible that over-the-counter arch supports may provide relief, but we may also recommend custom orthotic devices that work better with your unique feet.
- Stretching exercises. It is common that individuals who have flat feet also have shortened Achilles tendons, which means an increased risk of developing tendonitis. This can also lead to heel pain if the Achilles pulls on the calcaneus (heel bone). Stretches can help keep the tendon limber and reduce injury risk.
There are instances where flat foot issues are not resolved through conservative methods, but these tend to be rare.
If surgical intervention is recommended, you can take comfort knowing that we’ve been able to help other patients in the same situation.
Find Relief from Your Flat Foot Pain Today!
Although this isn’t always the case, flat feet can be a real problem for many people. Unfortunately, it’s not one that will go away on its own over time. We do have some good news, however:
You don’t have to live with flat foot pain!
Instead, give us a call at (317) 545-0505 and one of our team members will be happy to answer any questions or help set up your appointment.