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Conservative and Invasive Treatments for Flat Feet

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By Janik Sundstrom
Joel Taylor
Edited by Joel Taylor

Updated February 17, 2023.

Person standing with outward facing flat feet  and dotted line showing the shape of the arch

Flat feet (pes planus) is a condition characterized by a loss of arch height, leading to the entire foot making contact with the ground while standing. This condition can be seen in one or both feet and may lead to other conditions such as ankle or knee pain if left untreated. 

Causes of Flat Feet

There are two types of flat feet.

Firstly, there is Flexible Flat Feet (FFF), usually seen in childhood upon starting weight-bearing activities and is caused by laxity/weakness in the ligaments of the foot and muscles. When weight is put onto the feet, the arches drop, and the feet become flat on the floor. When weight is removed from the feet (such as when lying down), the arches appear normal.

Rigid Flat Feet (RFF) is characterized by a rigid foot that doesn't change shape when weight is removed or added. Development of flat feet with inward-turning ankles in teens and adults is indicative of a structural issue or injury. Consult a medical practitioner for advice as to why this is the case. 

Best Conservative Treatments for Flat Feet

Best Exercises for Flat Feet

Strengthening the muscles making up the foot and lower leg will help rebuild the arch, leading to less pronation in the foot. 

Toe crunches Sitting with the feet facing forward, curl the toes into the floor and towards your heel, elevating the arch Hold for 5-10 seconds, then relax Repetitions of sustained contractions will improve strength greatly

Heel raises Some may prefer to stand in front of a wall for increased balance Push onto the toes, and rise onto the forefoot, contracting the calf muscle Hold for 3 seconds and relax Repeat 8-10 repetitions for 1 set Perform 2 sets 3 times daily

Calf stretches Decreased ankle range and mobility may cause flat feet to progress due to calf muscle shortening, pulling downwards on the arch from the underside of the foot. Stretch the calf muscle by placing the ball of your foot against a wall and attempting to slowly push the heel towards the ground Hold for 20-30 seconds for effective lengthening Swap to the other foot and repeat

Best Massages for Flat Feet

Foot massages can aid with discomfort and pain.

Massaging from the heel along the foot to the toes and muscles of the lower leg and Achilles tendon are great areas to start. Find any pressure points and gently massage them to lengthen and relieve tension in the muscles and promote flexibility in the foot. 

Best Footwear for Flat Feet

The support your feet get in some shoes may not be adequate during a long day of standing or walking, especially as the muscles of the foot fatigue from use. Custom orthotics for flat feet are a great option but may prove to be costly. Shoes that provide arch support with the original insole will be a good option for flat feet. Fit them on and check to see that your arches are supported.

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Other Natural Treatments for Flat Feet

Orthotics can greatly help people with flat feet by supporting the arches to limit pronation during weight-bearing activities, such as standing, walking, or running. Insoles or shoes that provide arch support will be the best option for you. Orthotic insoles are affordable and can be used in multiple pairs of shoes simply by interchanging them.

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Additionally, walking on a soft surface is a good way to strengthen your arches. As the foot sinks into the soft surface, it provides momentary arch support for your foot. Focus on maintaining a normal gait cycle while the foot is trying to find a stable surface to move over, requiring a fair amount of interosseous and lower leg strength. 

Surgical Treatments for Flat Feet

Surgery for flat feet is considered when conservative management strategies have failed to relieve your symptoms. The medical practitioner (podiatrist) will examine your feet and usually conduct an X-ray. Persistent pain, limited function, and a tendon rupture may all be reasons for surgical intervention. Usually, the doctor will either fuse bones together to prevent deformity and pain, perform an osteotomy (cutting and changing the orientation of the bone), or replace a ruptured tendon.

Can Flat Feet Be Cured Naturally?

Steps can be taken to reduce the symptoms experienced by people with flat feet by applying the methods discussed in this article. Strengthening and arch support won’t permanently fix the arch, but will certainly improve it to a point where the symptoms are easily manageable. Massage and use of medication might help you relieve pain, and you should seek advice from a medical professional if your pain persists. 

» Still unsure about the efficacy of orthotics? Read this review for flat feet custom orthotics