How to Rebuild Arches in Flat Feet
Updated February 16, 2023.
Flat feet are a common and usually pain-free condition that affects many people globally. This condition is commonly caused by the arches of the feet not developing during childhood. The lack of arch height means that the majority of the sole of the foot makes contact with the ground. Flat feet occur due to weakened muscles in the foot, trauma to the foot, or a range of other conditions such as obesity, pregnancy, injury, and ligament laxity. If left untreated, flat feet can lead to pain and disability.
Can You Exercise With Flat Feet?
The challenge of exercising with flat feet is that complications could arise in the feet and body without the benefits of arch support from corrective footwear or the best orthotics for flat feet. The arches act as a natural shock absorber for the body. Ensuring that you have proper footwear arch supports that can absorb some of the impact can be helpful in limiting pain and other complications, such as shin splints, from occurring. Exercises can help strengthen the arch of the foot and lead to a lower chance of developing pain or injury in the feet during exercise.
How Much Can You Rebuild Your Arches Without Surgery?
Treating flat feet using exercises can prove to be a difficult task. Conservative management strategies and exercises to improve flat feet have limitations in rebuilding the arch entirely and rather serve to maintain and support the arch as weight is applied to it. This is usually done in conjunction with orthotics. Should symptoms of unmanageable pain and discomfort arise, consult with a medical professional.
Top Exercises to Rebuild Your Arches
While sitting with your feet flat on the floor and keeping your toes flat on the ground, slide your forefoot backward towards your heel while squeezing the arch. Try to imagine you're trying to shorten the length of your foot. Hold it for 10–15 seconds. Relax your foot and repeat approximately 10 times per foot.
Heel raises will strengthen the muscles of the foot and lower leg. This exercise can be done standing on a soft surface, preferably barefoot. Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, raise your heels off of the ground, going up onto the forefoot and toes. Hold for a second or two, and then lower your heels to the ground again. Repeat 10–15 times, two or three times a day.
Walking Barefoot on Soft Ground
Walking on a soft surface such as sand or grass will require the use of the intrinsic muscles of the foot. These muscles aid in developing the arch as well as producing movement in the toes. Walking on soft ground challenges these smaller muscles of the foot, strengthening them in the process.
Sitting with marbles on the floor in front of you, 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 for 10–15 marbles per foot.
Other Treatments for Flat Feet and Fallen Arches
There are other treatment options available to help manage flat feet. These are most effective when used in conjunction with exercises for treating flat feet to help manage flat feet and secondary flat feet conditions.
Orthotics are a cost-effective way to provide your feet with the necessary support they need to prevent overpronated ankles, which can prevent pain from developing in other areas of the body. Orthotics will also reduce your chances of developing ankle injuries by controlling the ankle pronation that you may experience while walking or running.
Massaging the muscles in the sole of the foot may provide relief to potentially tense muscles often associated with flat feet. A massage ball can also be used to target the muscles of the foot to provide you with similar relief of symptoms.
Two stretching exercises can be used to help manage this condition.
Plantar Foot Stretch
Start by sitting with one leg crossed over the other. Your foot should be over the opposite knee. Apply a gentle stretch backward to the forefoot while relaxing the muscles in the rest of your leg. The stretch should be felt in the sole of the foot. Hold for 20–30 seconds and release.
This will aid in stretching the arch and other overworked and fatigued muscles of the foot, thus reducing pain and discomfort.
Calf Muscle Stretch
Stretching the calf muscles can greatly aid in maintaining mobility in the ankle joint. This will better allow the arches to keep their shape. Stretching of the calf muscle can be done against a wall or with your heel off the end of a step. Hold for 20–30 seconds and release. This can be done multiple times a day.
Medication can be used to aid you in reducing any pain you may be experiencing. Contact a medical professional should your feet suddenly become painful and swollen or if you are unable to walk. A medical professional can best advise how to manage this condition in order to prevent complications in the future.
» Read more about the best exercises for flat feet