Flat Feet Exercises and Treatments

Have you been told that you have flat feet or that you have low or no arch of the foot? Podiatrists and prescribe certain exercises to help/fix flat feet! Such exercises can help to strengthen the muscles in your feet and may help reduce the appearance of a low/flat arch.  In saying this,  flat feet only need treatment if they cause pain, reduce daily function and cause referred pain elsewhere in the body. We sometimes find that individuals who have a low arch or a flat foot mostly do not experience any pain or discomfort.

When flat feet do cause symptoms, exercises can help to minimise the discomfort.

What are flat feet?

What exactly are flat feet? Flat feet or medically known as pes planus and have a common appearance of flat line or limited/no arch in the foot. Most commonly this can happen in both feet however can present in only one foot occasionally also.

There a two main categories for flat feet

  • Flexible: is the ability of the foot to have an arch when not weight bearing. When weight bearing these types of arch drop or collapse due to movement and weight being placed through the foot. This is the most common type of flat feet.
  • Rigid: This type of flat feet is constantly flat – this  arch does not change during weight bearing and non weight bearing. This type of flat foot is generally due to injury or a condition.

Causes and Symptoms

We have discussed what flat feet are, what types of flat feet can occur, but what causes flat feet and what can we do to fix flat feet?

Flat feet/ fallen arches are caused by a range of conditions these include:

  • Injuries to muscle, tendons, ligaments and bones of the arch of the foot
  • Arthritis of the foot and ankle
  • Age- young and old
  • Genetics
  • Tarsal coalition
  • Hormonal changes- Most common during pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Injuries: ankle, tibialis posterior tendon dysfunction/ tendon overload
  • Diabetes
  • Neurological or muscular diseases such as Cerebral palsy, Muscular dystrophy, Spina Bifiida, stroke, drop foot.

Flat feet may also increase your likely hood of restricted calf muscles leading to restricted range of motion which can lead to plantar fasciitis and more loading through the achilles tendon.

We now know what can cause flat feet but what are symptoms of flat feet?

  • Pain is the most common symptom of flat feet and generally occurs due to the muscle surrounding the area being weak rather than the actual arch profile itself.
  • Pain in the leg, knee, hip and back due to increased stress placed through muscle tissues that may be weak or have imbalances.

Working to treat flat feet can help to realign the lower body and reduce strain higher in the anatomy chain. This may help to correct other issues in your body that are caused by flat feet.

Best Exercises for Flat Feet

Short Foot: The short foot exercise targets the small muscles that support the arch on the inside of the foot (abductor Hallucis, tibialis posterior and flexor digitorum longus). Studies have shown that the short foot exercise is effective for improving the foot arch.

The exercise is performed by sliding the front of the foot along the ground toward the heel without curling the toes or rolling the foot and ankle outwards. Ensure to keep your heel on the floor and create a tripod position ( 1st Ball, 5th ball of the foot and the heel on the ground)

  • Sit in a chair with the foot on the floor and the toes pointed forward.
  • Keeping the toes flat on the ground slide the front of the foot back along the floor toward the heel.
  • Hold the short foot position for 5-10 seconds.
  • Relax and repeat 10 times on each foot.

Can also perform standing for a progression here.

Toe Yoga:

When performing this movement we focus on the muscles that control the toes. As a podiatrist we find that these muscles are generally underused due to lack of strength and control. We are working on increasing dexterity and strength to help stabilise the foot and ankle.

  • Lift the big toe up while pressing the other 4 toes down. Hold 5 seconds.
  • Press the big toe down while lifting the other 4 toes up. Hold 5 seconds.
  • Repeat the sequence 10 times on each foot.

When performing this exercise ensure that you maintain tripod foot position and don’t allow your foot to roll in or outwards.

Calf Raises

Calf raises strengthen several of the lower leg and foot muscles that support the arch. This exercise has many variations.

This exercise is done standing on both legs with hands placed on a wall or back of a chair for balance and stability.

  • Stand with feet about shoulder width apart, feet facing forwards.
  • Raise heels off the ground as high as possible keeping even pressure across the front of the foot, not allowing your big toe to come off the ground or clawing of the small toes into the ground
  • Hold for 3 seconds at the top of the movement then return slowly to the starting position.
  • Do 3 sets of 10-20 repetitions.

Foot Decompression

Foot decompression helps to release the tight structures underneath the foot to ensure all the foot muscles aren’t becoming too tight. This exercise is helpful for many pathologies of the foot as well.

  • Place a firm ball (golf ball, lacrosse ball or a spikey ball)  under foot in standing position.
  • Starting towards the heel, slowly roll the ball the entire length of the foot forward to just below your toes and then across and down
  • Repeat x3 x 30 seconds on each foot .

Further Treatments

Further treatment of flat feet would include progression of these exercises and inclusions of other exercises such as calf stretch, ankle range of motion, changes in footwear, strapping, orthoses which could be prefabricated, semi custom or custom.

It is best to get your feet assessed by one of our highly experienced and trained podiatrists to get a treatment plan that is tailored to your injury, pain and needs.

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Make an appointment by clicking on this link: https://www.footcentregroup.com.au/book-online/ or by calling our Moorabbin clinic at 03 9553 0044, Edithvale at 03 9772 9579 and Malvern East at 03 9021 2067.

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