Flatfeet

You have flatfeet when the arches on the inside of your feet are flattened, allowing the entire soles of your feet to touch the floor when you stand up.

A common and usually painless condition, flatfeet can occur when the arches don’t develop during childhood. In other cases, flatfeet develop after an injury or from the simple wear-and-tear stresses of age.

Flatfeet can sometimes contribute to problems in your ankles and knees because the condition can alter the alignment of your legs. If you aren’t having pain, no treatment is usually necessary for flatfeet.

Symptoms

Most people have no signs or symptoms associated with flatfeet. But some people with flatfeet experience foot pain, particularly in the heel or arch area. Pain may worsen with activity. Swelling along the inside of the ankle can also occur.

Causes

A flat foot is normal in infants and toddlers, because the foot’s arch hasn’t yet developed. Most people’s arches develop throughout childhood, but some people never develop arches. This is a normal variation in foot type, and people without arches may or may not have problems.

Some children have flexible flatfoot, in which the arch is visible when the child is sitting or standing on tiptoes, but disappears when the child stands. Most children outgrow flexible flatfoot without problems.

Arches can also fall over time. Years of wear and tear can weaken the tendon that runs along the inside of your ankle and helps support your arch.

Risk factors

Factors that can increase your risk of flatfeet include:

  • Obesity
  • Injury to your foot or ankle
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Aging
  • Diabetes

Treatment

No treatment is necessary for flatfeet if they don’t cause pain.

Therapy

If your flatfeet are painful, your doctor might suggest:

  • Arch supports (orthotic devices).Over-the-counter arch supports may help relieve the pain caused by flatfeet. Or your doctor might suggest custom-designed arch supports, which are molded to the contours of your feet. Arch supports won’t cure flatfeet, but they often reduce symptoms.
  • Stretching exercises.Some people with flatfeet also have a shortened Achilles tendon. Exercises to stretch this tendon may help.
  • Supportive shoes.A structurally supportive shoe might be more comfortable than sandals or shoes with minimal support.
  • Physical therapy.Flatfeet may contribute to overuse injuries in some runners. A physical therapist can do a video analysis of how you run to help you improve your form and technique.