Are flat feet or high arch feet really as bad as they seem? I’m sure you’ve heard or someone has told you that you have no arch, a flat foot, really high arches or, you could fit a container ship under that bridge in your foot. It is quite common for most people to believe they have either a flat foot or high arches, but what does that really mean?
Both conditions are not detrimental to your overall leg and foot health, but both can increase the risk of certain injuries or problems in the future. They are simply classed based on the foot posture or the medial longitudinal arch (a technical word for the arch of your foot!).
Flat feet, high arches, or deconditioned feet?
Let’s start with, what is a normal arch? Well normal can be varied from person to person, there is no standardised arch we should all strive to want. Even people with normal arches can experience pain. Contrastingly, people with flat or high arches may not experience pain. It is simply a way to class feet into a foot profile.
Due to our increasing sedentary lifestyle, there are some cases where flat feet may occur due to deconditioned foot muscles which help to maintain the arch in our foot. Another reason a foot may become flat is due to weakened leg muscles, in particular a muscle called tibialis posterior.
This muscle essentially acts like a puppet string to pull the arch upwards. Weakness, deconditioning or pain in the muscle may result in what is known as Adult Acquired Flat Foot. Meaning a flat foot which develops in adulthood.
Those with flat feet though are generally born with it, as it is most commonly a result of the bone, ligament and tendon structure in the foot.
High arches are commonly the same as flat feet, meaning you are generally born or develop with higher arches. There are some conditions which cause high arches such as those with diabetes or nerve dysfunction into the feet. This happens to the minority of feet however.
How to know if you have high arches or flat feet
A really simple way to determine if you have a high arch, is when you’re standing, can you fit 1 or more fingers under the medial longitudinal arch or inner part of the middle of your foot comfortably? You will more often than not also have a skinnier foot and be able to fit into most shoes without feeling restricted on the sides.
On the other hand, fallen arches are the opposite, meaning you may not be able to fit a finger under your arch. A large population of people will also have a wider foot and require wider fitting shoes.
What are the symptoms of flat feet?
Do flat feet get worse over time?
As mentioned before, not everyone with a pes planus, fancy word for flat feet, will develop any symptoms. However there is a large number of individuals who do. Some of these symptoms include:
- Pain in the Tibialis Posterior Tendon – as this muscle fights to maintain the arch in the foot, it can often lose the battle and become sore or inflamed resulting in Tibialis Posterior Tendon Dysfunction
- Tired or aching feet/general foot pain after long periods on your feet – caused from a more flexible foot which means the ligaments, muscles and foot bones have to work harder
- Increased likelihood of plantar fasciitis – due to an increased stretch on the fascia
- Increased chance of developing Achilles tendonitis – due to the fact that the foot is unable to absorb much force at impact when running, making the calf muscles and Achilles tendon to work harder
The likelihood of your fallen arches becoming more severe is not very likely but can occur if the right steps are not taken into consideration.
What are the symptoms of high arches?
The pain and problems associated with high arches is quite different to that of a pes planus foot type.
- Due to the rigid nature of the foot, the bones don’t move as freely and often rub together more which may result in arthritis in later years
- Increased risk of shin splints – as the foot is not able to absorb as much force at impact during each step
- Knee pain becomes more prevalent – once again due to reduced force absorption
- Increase chance of ankle sprains – the foot is more naturally rolled outwards and very rigid, meaning if it does roll, it tends to continue doing so until it reaches its limit
- Increased risk of stress fractures in the foot due to higher loads going through it
Can flat feet be prevented?
Flat feet can’t be prevented, however they can be temporarily corrected through the use of orthotics and insoles. They can also be strengthened through adequate training and conditioning to be kept healthy and pain-free.
What are the best treatments for flat feet?
There are 3 main treatments used for flat feet.
First is arch supports or orthotics. These are designed to give you an arch, control the foot, offload painful areas and improve the function of the foot.
Second is footwear. Getting the appropriate footwear which are known as controlling shoes are great for flat feet. They often have a higher arch built into them and aim to prevent the foot from caving in.
Finally there are foot exercises. There are a lot of muscles in the foot, over 20 of them, and many more which start in the leg and travel into the foot. General strength and conditioning can play a role in this, as can specific foot and leg exercises. Your Podiatrist can certainly help you with these!
By strengthening these with targeted exercises, we can create a stronger and more durable foot. Here are two of our favourite exercises that are super simple and help to make feet strong bases. When completed multiple times each day they help to ease many foot pain conditions.
Exercise 1: Big toe up and little toes down. 10 second holds. Repeat 3x.
Exercise 2: Big toe down, little toes up. 10 second holds. Repeat 3x.
What are the best treatments for high arches?
So you have high arches? Does that mean you don’t need arch supports? Ask yourself, do you have pain in your foot, ankle or leg? If the answer is yes then you may benefit from orthotics. They aren’t only for flat feet but also those with high arches. They are designed differently person to person based on what condition they are needed for.
What are the main differences between both conditions?
Flat feet often are more turned inwards or pronated, whereas high arched feet are supinated or turned outwards.
Overall foot health varies from person to person. Some people have pancake feet with no problems at all and some have an arch higher than the empire states building and also don’t get problems. Contrastingly, those with a normal or neutral foot can get some of the worst injuries if the causing factor presents itself.