Feet usually have an arch on the inside portion of the foot. A flat foot is a foot that has lost or never developed this arch. It is often associated with the lower part of the legs being angled outwards
Most flat feet are flexible. This type rarely causes problems and usually does not require treatment. Rigid flat feet can cause problems and should be treated.
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Infants and young children naturally have flat feet. The arch should develop over time. Sometimes, the arch does not develop. It is not always clear why this happens.
Flat feet may develop because of:
Factors that increase your chance of flat feet include:
Flat feet may not cause any symptoms at all. Rigid flat feet may cause:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical and foot exam will be done. Flat feet can be diagnosed by appearance. Doing simple tasks during the exam can help determine if the foot is rigid.
If the flat foot is rigid and causing problems, treatment will be with a foot specialist. Flat foot treatment options may include:
Physical therapy may relieve discomfort. A specific stretching and strengthening program may be used. Exercises can help with the strength of the surrounding muscles. They may relieve some of the pressure in the foot.
Orthotics are shoe inserts that support the foot. These inserts may help to reduce pain and disability in some people. In mild cases, a well-fitting pair of shoes with arch support may be all that is needed.
Flat feet caused by nerve or muscle disease may need special braces.
Feet that do not respond to the treatments above may need surgery. The surgery will help to create a supportive arch.
Well-fitted shoes with good arch support may help prevent flat feet. Maintaining a healthy weight may also lower wear and tear on the arches.
Foot Health Facts—American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Podiatric Medical Association
Nurses Entrepreneurial Foot Care Association of Canada
Adult acquired flatfoot. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00173. Updated December 2011. Accessed March 2, 2015.
Flat foot signs and symptoms. UCSF Children’s Hospital website. Available at: hhttps://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/conditions/flatfoot/signs_and_symptoms.html. Accessed March 2, 2015.
Pes planus. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 10, 2014. Accessed March 2, 2015.
11/19/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Rome K, Ashford R, Evans A. Non-surgical interventions for paediatric pes planus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(7):CD006311.
Last reviewed March 2016 by James Cornell, MD Last Updated: 3/18/2013