Best Exercises for Treating Flat Feet
Updated February 17, 2023.
Flat feet are a common condition, referring to a loss of arch height or reduced development of the arches of the foot from childhood. Lower arches cause more of the sole of the foot to be in contact with the ground. This is called overpronation of the foot and ankle complex and is usually a result of weakened muscles in the arch and lower leg. There are other causes such as injury, ligament laxity, arthritis, pregnancy, and obesity that may contribute to flat feet. Complications such as shin splints, hammertoes, bunions, and plantar fasciitis can occur if flat feet are not treated effectively.
How to Warm Up Before Exercising With Flat Feet
A warm-up prepares the body for exercise, increasing the effectiveness of the activity while preventing pain. An example of a good warm-up is described in the three steps below.
- To start the warm-up, sit on a soft floor with your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise the toes of one foot off the ground, while maintaining contact with the floor with the rest of the foot. Raise for 5-10 seconds, then lower to the floor. Repeat ten times with each foot, three times daily.
- Sitting in the same position, raise the toes of one foot off the floor, and spread the toes evenly, holding for 5-10 seconds. Then repeat with the other foot. Again, sitting with feet shoulder-width apart, gently push the toes and forefoot into the ground, tensing the muscles in the arches of the foot. A slight outward ankle roll can be felt here.
- Next, while sitting, raise the heels and go up gently onto the toes and forefoot. Hold momentarily and lower back down onto the entire foot. You can do this with both legs at the same time, or it can be done one leg at a time to ensure well-controlled movement.
Stretching Exercises for Flat Feet
- Foot stretching can be done by sitting with one leg crossed over the other and applying a gentle backward stretch to the forefoot. The stretch should be felt in the muscles in the sole of the foot. This will aid in stretching the overworked and fatigued muscles of the foot, thus reducing pain or discomfort.
- Stretching the calf muscles can greatly aid you in maintaining mobility in the ankle joint. By lengthening the muscular structures that could be putting a downward pull on the arch of the foot, some pressure is taken off the arch, giving it the ability to maintain its shape. Stretching the calf muscle can be done against a wall or with your heel off the end of a step. Hold for 15-20 seconds for optimal lengthening of the muscle tissue.
- Foot rolling is another great way to help you manage your flat feet. You can make use of a massage ball to relieve the muscles and tissues of the underside of the foot by pushing down on it, in a sitting position. The pressure against the ball will also apply a stretch to the plantar fascia of the sole, where inflammation could be leading to pain.
Strengthening Exercises for Flat Feet
- Toe crunches can be done sitting with your feet on a small towel or piece of material. Attempt to grip the material by curling the toes downwards and scrunching the towel up. You should feel the muscles in the arch area contracting and eventually slightly fatiguing.
- Heel raises can be done by standing with the feet shoulder-width apart, facing a wall for support. Raise onto the toes and forefoot, hold for one second, and then lower the heels back down to the ground. Repeat 10-15 times with both feet, simultaneously.
- Marble pick-ups are great exercises to strengthen the foot muscles and can be done by sitting with marbles on the floor in front of you. You then need to attempt to pick them up with your toes and place them into a container. By picking up the marbles, you’ll be strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the foot. Aim to pick up 10-15 marbles per foot.
Can Exercise Correct Flat Feet Permanently?
Any possible pain or discomfort that could arise from flat feet can be effectively managed using a combination of exercises, stretching, and adequate daily foot support from custom orthotics or appropriate footwear. Flat feet, however, cannot be permanently cured with exercises alone or in conjunction with other forms of conservative management.
Building and maintaining the foot arch can be difficult to do effectively and requires daily exercise. The strength gained from the arch exercises will help your feet absorb some of the shock placed through them when doing activities like running or jumping, and slow down how quickly they fatigue during exercise. This should significantly limit your chances of developing ankle pain or injuries in the foot-ankle complex and will relieve flat feet pain.