What Causes Flat Feet?

Jun 01, 2023
What Causes Flat Feet?
Flat feet might not sound like a big deal, but they can cause a lot of painful symptoms. The good news: We have solutions that can help. Understanding the causes and symptoms of flat feet can help you decide when it’s time to seek treatment.

About 12% of Americans have flat feet, including 8% who have flat feet beginning in childhood and 4% who develop flat feet as adults (a condition sometimes called fallen arches). Flat feet happen when the curved arch part of the sole of your foot is partly or completely flat. 

With New York City locations in Midtown Manhattan and Staten Island, we at Forward Foot & Ankle offer patient-centered treatment for flat feet to help relieve painful symptoms. 

In this post, our team offers an overview of how flat feet happen, the symptoms they can cause, and how we can help your feet feel better.

Why flat feet happen

Your arches are curved for a reason — several reasons, actually. That curve:

  • Promotes normal foot movement and locomotion, like walking and running
  • Acts as a shock absorber to protect your foot
  • Helps distribute your body weight evenly to avoid injuries and damage to bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments

At birth, most of us have flat feet, then develop arches as we grow and become more active during the toddler years. But some kids don’t develop strong foot arches, and unless they get treatment, they’ll continue to have flat feet as adults.

Some people have arches as kids, but develop flat feet in adulthood. Sometimes, adult-acquired flat feet happen because of underlying medical conditions or traumatic injuries that affect the foot’s tendons and ligaments. 

But lifestyle factors, like being overweight or spending lots of time on your feet, can contribute, too.

Without prompt medical care, flat feet can leave you with chronic and worsening pain, as well as significantly increased risks of arthritis and disability.

Symptoms of flat feet

Flat feet don’t always cause symptoms, especially in young kids, whose feet are still flexible. But for most people — kids and adults included — flat feet cause an array of uncomfortable symptoms, like:

  • Chronic foot pains, cramps, or aches
  • Chronic pain in the knees, hips, or lower back
  • Shin pain (called shin splints)
  • Changes in gait (the way you walk)
  • Problems finding comfortable shoes
  • Ankle problems

Many children and adults with flat feet find their symptoms are worse during physical activities, including sports.

Treating flat feet

Ideally, flat feet should be treated during childhood while the bones are still flexible and the feet are still developing. Early treatment helps children avoid foot pain and gait problems that could interfere with sports and other activities, and it also prevents those problems during adulthood.

Regardless of the patient’s age, our team is skilled in multiple treatment options, with every plan tailored to the individual’s symptoms, anatomy, and other factors. Treatment options include:

  • Losing excess weight
  • Gentle stretching 
  • Physical therapy
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Custom Foot Orthotic arch supports
  • Shoes with good arch support
  • Foot or leg braces
  • Laser treatment for tendonitis from Flatfoot 
  • Flat foot reconstruction surgery

These treatments can be used alone or in combination.

Often, these conservative approaches are very effective in reducing pain, but for adults and some children, they’re not enough to correct the underlying problem. In those instances, we may recommend surgery to reposition bones, realign joints, rebuild the arch, or make other corrections to the foot anatomy.

Find relief for your foot pain

Flat feet are a relatively common cause of chronic foot pain, but it’s not the only cause. To learn what’s causing your foot pain and how we can help, call our Midtown Manhattan or Staten Island location or book an appointment online today.