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Foot care health centre

Flat feet/fallen arches

What are flat feet?

Having flat feet, also called fallen arches, means the arches of the feet are low or there are no arches.

Have you got flat feet?

You can test yourself for flat feet by getting your bare feet wet then standing on a surface that will show wet patches, like concrete. When you step off, if you see a footprint showing most of the whole of the bottom of the foot, this may indicate flat feet. Normal footprints have a gap where the arch or instep is raised from the ground.

Many young children have a type of flat feet called flexible flat feet, but there is usually a slight arch, with arches fully developing later.

Causes of flat feet and fallen arches

Causes of flat feet include:

  • Inherited tendency to have flat feet
  • Problems with foot bones developing before birth
  • Connective tissue loose from conditions like joint hypermobility syndrome
  • Nerve or muscle conditions such as cerebral palsy
  • Damage or injury to connective tissue from ageing, overuse, injuries, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis or wearing shoes that don’t support the feet well.

Symptoms of flat feet and fallen arches

Flat feet may not cause any problems for some people, but symptoms can include:

  • Foot and ankle pain, leg, knee, hip or back pain
  • Feet pointing inwards (overpronation) leading to injuries and shoes wearing out sooner than expected
  • Weakness, numbness or stiff feet.

Seek medical advice if flat feet cause problems or pain.

Diagnosing flat feet and fallen arches

A doctor will diagnose flat feet based on the symptoms, medical history and a physical examination.

A referral may be made to a podiatrist or orthopaedic surgeon to confirm the diagnosis and to consider possible treatments.

Further tests may be carried out, including:

  • Checking shoe soles for wear
  • Watching while basic standing and standing on tip toes are performed
  • X-rays or an MRI scan of the feet.

Basic treatment for flat feet and fallen arches

Flat feet may be helped with:

  • Buying more supportive shoes
  • Using insoles or orthotics to give more support and stop feet rolling in towards each other
  • Painkillers
  • Weight loss, if overweight or obese
  • Stretching exercises for the feet or physiotherapy.

Surgery for flat feet and fallen arches

If basic treatment is not helping problems caused by flat feet, surgery may be recommended. This will depend on the causes and individual circumstances.

Operations or procedures may include separating or straightening bone abnormalities.

Repair or lengthening of connective tissue may also be considered.

Preventing flat feet

Flat feet cannot always be prevented, but staying healthy and choosing good quality supportive shoes can help avoid some problems developing.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 06, 2016

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