What are fallen arches?

Adult feet usually have an upward curve in the middle – an arch formed by tendons between the heel and foot bones. The normal arch is when the tension in the tendons in the foot and lower leg are pulling the right amount.

If the tendons don’t pull together properly, the arch does not form properly. This is what’s known as a fallen arch, or flat foot. It is medically known as having excessively pronated feet.

Studies have shown that not all flat feet require treatment, for example, in infants whose arches are still developing and in adults where there are no symptoms.

However, research has also shown that some individuals may be prone to future problems even though they may have little symptoms now, and so there is merit in identifying and treating them as a preventative measure.

People with excessively pronated feet particularly at risk of future problems are those who:

  • regularly participate in impact sports such as running, football, cricket, tennis squash etc.
  • are in occupations that require spending long periods of time on their feet whether it be standing or walking, especially those who might be involved in heavy lifting such as people in construction.
  • have joint hypermobility or poor core stability and posture

Treatment for excessively pronated feet may include: stretching exercises; core stability exercises; muscle training or the wearing of an insole/orthotic to improve foot function.

Find out if you have flat feet

A quick way to test at home whether you have flat feet is to make a footprint on the floor or on paper.

  • Make your feet wet
  • Stand on a floor or paper, where you will be able to see a clear footprint
  • If the footprint is complete, you might have flat feet. If the footprint has a gap, you probably have healthy arches.
  • Bear in mind that this is a good test for adults, rather than children, who often have flat feet because their feet are more flexible.
  • You may find that your feet tire easily, if you have fallen arches, or your feet may be painful or itchy.
  • You may experience some swelling, and foot movement could become difficult.

Common causes of fallen arches and flat feet

  • This could be an abnormality present from birth
  • Damage to or inflammation of the posterior tibial tendon (PTT) – between your lower leg and the middle of the arch
  • Broken bones or dislocations
  • Rheumatoid arthritis or other health conditions like diabetes or obesity
  • Your tendons may be stretched or torn
  • Nerve problems
  • Aging
  • Pregnancy