Of the many body parts we benignly neglect, our feet may be the most taken for granted. They get us where we need to go, supporting a lot of weight given their size relative to the rest of our bodies. They are structurally complex, comprising 26 bones, 33 joints, and 100+ muscles, tendons, and ligaments apiece. Indeed, over a quarter of the bones in the body are located in the feet.
Most human feet have arches much like the ones in some bridges and other architectural structures. And much like these man-made structures, our bipedal arch turns out to be a useful engineering phenomenon. “The arches distribute weight evenly across the feet and up the legs, and can affect walking. A well-developed arch is balanced between rigidity (for stability and flexibility (for adapting to surfaces)”1
What, then, are the implications of fallen arches, otherwise known as flat feet, where no or little foot arch exists and the instep of the foot touches the ground? There are two types of flat feet. A person with flexible flat feet has some arch, especially when standing on the toes. A person with rigid flat feet has no arch whatsoever. Infants usually have flat feet, with the arch developing in childhood.
Flat feet can be caused by injury, aging, and weight gain. They can cause pain in the feet and may lead to pain in other parts of the body such as the ankles, knees, or hips. For this reason, it behooves us to treat fallen arches. The question becomes how to do so.
Traditionally, running shoes have contained extra padding to support the feet in general and fallen arches in particular. Orthopedists may prescribe orthotics for people with flat feet.3 More recently, however, the argument has arisen for shoes that provide a more minimal amount of padding and support for the feet. The idea here is that the feet will strengthen themselves. Since there are multiple options, anyone with flat feet or fallen arches would do well to explore them all.