What’s the deal with flat feet?

You may have heard that back in the day flat feet kept you out of the army.

Ever wondered why?

In short, it’s because the medical world has long known that people with flat feet tend to suffer more musculoskeletal problems than those with more neutral feet. Fortunately, understanding of foot and gait biomechanics has improved significantly in the past 50 years, and having flat feet no longer needs to be a disadvantage.

Like many things in life, having flat feet is not an absolute. Really it’s an umbrella term for a spectrum of foot types that tend to have a lower than average arch during all, or at some stage in the gait cycle.

The causes of flat feet varies. Most commonly it’s hereditary, or related to ageing. Less commonly it’s related to diabetes, systemic arthritis and injury. All of us are born with flat feet, and the arch develops (or doesn’t) between the age of 3 through to the end of puberty. Your podiatrist can generally tell from about the age of 5 what foot type you have.

There are 3 basic types of flat feet.

  1. True flat feet, also known as pes planus. These are the pancakes of feet! They are flat all the time - weight bearing and non-weight bearing. This is usually hereditary, and associated with poor bone alignment and/or ligament laxity and low muscle tone.
  2. Feet that are neutral or high during non-weight bearing, but flatten or pronate during weight bearing. This is usually associated with ligament laxity and hypermobility.
  3. Feet that are neutral or high when standing, but flatten or pronate when walking and running. This is usually associated with compensation for restricted movement elsewhere, often in the sagittal plane (hip, knee, ankle and big toe joint).

Confusing isn’t it?

Don’t worry, we know what we’re doing, and we’re trained to know when and how to intervene.

But what does this all mean? Why does it matter?

It matters because the force that passes through your foot with each step has to go somewhere. It’s absorbed through muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and fascia. Ideally, this force is spread evenly throughout all these structures.

When your feet excessively flatten or pronate, depending on when you do it, you will unevenly stress some structures more than others. This isn’t limited to your feet either. They are the foundation of your body, and imbalance at the feet can have an impact on postural alignment and functional movement with the rest of the body. Think of your feet like a football team. The winning team has all the players playing together as a cohesive unit towards a common goal. The losing team are all over the shop with half the players looking at the sky while the other half do all the work! Our goal is to have your feet doing more of the former and less of the latter.

If this resonates with you, or you think (or know!) your child has flat feet, book in to see a podiatrist at Dan Everson Podiatry today in one of our Sunshine Coast clinics and see if we can help. Prevention is better than the cure.