What are flat feet?

Flat feet are feet that do not have the normal curved shape of the foot arch. Flat feet are not uncommon, occurring in 20 percent to 30 percent of the population, and most commonly developing initially during the childhood years when the arch does not develop properly. One study estimates as many as 40% of children under the age of 5 years suffers from flat feet. Flat feet in children occur when the connective tissues that help bind and support the bones and joints in the midfoot region are loose and fail to provide adequate support during development. Flat feet often affects both feet, but in some cases, it may only occur in one foot.

What problems can flat feet cause?

Flat feet can cause considerable pain when walking and participating in sports, and they can also make it difficult to find shoes that fit comfortably. People with flat feet (especially children) may also be more likely to develop certain gait patterns (ways of walking) that can result in other painful symptoms.

How are flat feet treated?

Flat feet can often be treated with custom orthotics that are designed to support the arch and the entire midfoot region so painful symptoms can be relieved. Often, the use of custom orthotics is accompanied by special stretching and strengthening exercises to relieve symptoms while helping to “build up” support in the midfoot region. In some cases, a procedure called arthrodesis may be performed to correct flat feet surgically. In children, treating flat feet as soon as possible is the key to achieving the best results. Parents who notice gait abnormalities in their children, including walking with the feet turned in or out or walking on the sides of the feet and those whose children complain about foot pain should schedule an evaluation right away to determine if their child has flat feet.