What Causes Flat Feet?

What Causes Flat Feet?

Occasional foot pain is normal, especially after a full day spent standing or playing certain sports, like basketball or soccer. But if your feet are chronically achy, the cause may be flat feet. This condition affects about 8 percent of Americans aged 21 and older (18 million people). Another 4 percent, or about 8 million people, have fallen arches. 

William T. DeCarbo, DPM, FACFAS of Greater Pittsburgh Foot & Ankle Center in Wexford, Pennsylvania, is an expert in diagnosing the cause of foot pain and customizing effective treatment plans.

In this blog, he breaks down one of the most common sources of foot pain: flatfoot.

Flat feet 101

Picture a line from your big toe to your heel. Your arch is located around the center of that line. Typically, your arch curves upward. But for those with flatfoot, the arch is flat.

There are two types of flat feet: 

Flexible flatfoot

This is when the arch appears curved when no weight is on your foot but flattens when you stand or put pressure on it. Flexible flatfoot often begins in childhood.

Rigid flatfoot

For someone with rigid, flat feet, there is no arch, whether putting weight on the feet or not. Often, this condition develops during adolescence and worsens with age. Your feet may feel painful. It can also be difficult to flex your feet or move them side-to-side.

The arch has strong ligaments that help support the foot. When you’re born, your feet don’t have arches. Arches develop during the toddler years, but some people never develop arches.

Children and adults who’ve never had arches usually don’t suffer symptoms from their flat feet. But those who develop rigid flatfoot later in life are likely to experience a lot of discomfort during routine activities. Many even have aches and pains in their feet, even when resting.

Causes of flat feet

There are several reasons you can develop flatfoot as an adult, including:

  • Arthritis in the foot joints
  • Fractures in the small bones of the foot
  • Stretched or torn tendons
  • Injury to the foot
  • Overuse, including long periods of standing every day
  • Obesity

Some people have a genetic condition, hereditary foot shape, or way of walking (gait) that can cause flat feet or increase the likelihood of developing the condition.

Treating flat feet

Flat feet only need to be treated if you’re experiencing pain. In these cases, the first step is to evaluate your feet to determine the extent of the problem and identify the cause.

Your evaluation includes an exam of your foot and an assessment of your symptoms when standing and walking. Depending on your symptoms, Dr. DeCarbo may order imaging tests to rule out other foot problems so your treatment can be targeted to your needs.

Once Dr. DeCarbo diagnoses flatfoot, your treatment might include one or more of the following:

  • Custom orthotics to provide arch support
  • Foot exercises
  • Physical therapy
  • A change in footwear
  • Other lifestyle changes

If these first-line treatments fail to provide relief, Dr. DeCarbo may recommend surgery to reconstruct your arch. 

Don’t ignore foot pain

Left untreated, flat feet can cause more than foot pain. The condition can lead to arthritis, along with pain in your legs and back. Fortunately, with treatment from a skilled podiatrist like Dr. DeCarbo, you can relieve your pain and return to the activities you enjoy.

You depend on your feet, so take care of them. If you’re suffering from foot discomfort, call Greater Pittsburgh Foot & Ankle Center or request an appointment online today.