Why There's No Such Thing as Flat Feet
It is likely you or someone you know, be it a family member, friend, or client, has been struck down with a case of flat feet. "Flat feet" is a term used to explain anything from plantar fascia pain, Achilles injuries, shin splints, knee, hip, and back pain. In other words, almost any physical ailment between the ground and your head. So what, exactly, does flat feet mean? Is it a diagnosis? Is it terminal? And does it even exist?
In fifteen years of practice, I've only ever seen one case of flat feet.
True Flat Feet Are Rare
In fifteen years of assessing human feet at my podiatry clinic and at The Running Lab, I have only ever seen one true case of flat feet. Ironically, this individual had not suffered any pain in her forty-two years as a result. Her foot bones were just pancake-flat. It wasn’t a deformity. A small number of people have legitimate deformities due to major injuries or severe arthritis, but this was just how she was made. Her only reason for visiting me was she was sick of people telling her how shocking her flat feet were and that she really needed to see someone about them. Almost every other person I have worked with in my career who claimed to have flat feet have had an arch in their feet.
So why is flat feet such a commonly used term? It’s an expression used to describe feet that collapse under your bodyweight when standing, walking, jumping, or squatting. It denotes the inability of your feet to function correctly. The true diagnosis for so-called flat feet is actually weak and poorly functioning feet.
Orthotics Are Not the Solution
I don’t know of any other body part described as weak and poorly functioning that we would provide long-term artificial support for. People with weak core muscles are not walking around in a corset. Few wear a brace to stop their shoulders and neck slumping forward. In these cases, the logical and often practiced solution is to address the postural, positional, and movement-based weakness.
The longer you artificially support your arches with orthotics, the less your own muscles will be able to do it for you.
The same should be true of flat feet, yet most current treatment options provide artificial support for the foot arch through shoes and orthotics. It seems the easier option, but no artificial bracing will ever substitute the truly amazing power and efficiency of thirty-three strong, healthy, well-tuned foot joints. Think about it. There are twenty muscles within each foot, and another thirteen muscles in each leg that attach into your foot. That makes thirty-three muscles that, when strong and healthy, are designed to support your foot structure and function. Supports may prevent or reduce the collapsing of the arch, but they also interfere with the function of these joints in each foot. This in turn affects every major joint up to your neck.
Supporting weak feet only leads to further weakness. The longer you artificially support your weak collapsing arch, the less your own muscles will be able to do it for you. If flat feet are actually just weak and functioning poorly, then they need to be trained to become more strong and awesome, just like your other body parts.
2 Drills to Strengthen and Train Flat Feet
It’s time you looked at your feet in the same way you look at the rest of your body. If they are weak, strengthen them, and if they lack balance and coordination, train them. The two exercises in this video lay the framework for transforming your feet into powerful springs.
The first exercise strengthens foot posture. In the world of human movement and performance, good everyday position and posture is essential for good movement.
- Practice holding a strong foot arch position as shown in the video in as many everyday chores as possible. Put a note on your bathroom mirror to remind you to control your arch position while brushing your teeth, shaving, doing your hair, or make-up.
- Hold your arch in a strong position while talking with workmates or drinking your morning coffee.
- Eventually, you will not have to consciously think about your arch position, and it will become more natural.
The second exercise is a great way to train foot and ankle stability, balance, and coordination.
- Hold the top position of a calf raise for five seconds before lowering slowly and smoothly for a count of five seconds. The true power of this exercise is dramatically reduced if you are not barefoot.
- Perform five good quality reps, once per day initially, increasing to five reps twice per day as the exercise becomes easier.
- It is absolutely essential the big toe joint (first metatarsal-phalangeal joint) maintains complete control throughout the whole movement. Failure of the big toe leads to a cascade of dysfunction further up the leg and body.
There's No Shortcut to Strong Feet
Flat feet are a symptom of postural and movement-based dysfunction and weakness, not a diagnosis. Feet respond to training principles in the same way the rest of the body does: too much load or volume too soon will result in injury. Gradual overload with well structured drills and exercise progressions like those above will turn weak, dysfunctional feet into powerful, high octane machines. Remember, there’s no express pass to strong feet. It takes a lot of commitment today, but the rewards are for life.
More Like This:
- Feet Are Our Foundation: 5 Ways to Strengthen Them
- Building on Quicksand: How and Why to Strengthen Your Feet
- Causes and Treatment for Fallen Arches
- New on Breaking Muscle AU
Photo 1 courtesy of Tim Bransdon.
Photo 2 courtesy of Shutterstock.