Fallen arches, or flat feet, is a medical condition that affects nearly 25% of the American population. Whilst a normal foot has a raised arch between the toes and heel, sufferers of flat feet are missing the arch. There is no gap between the floor or any part of their foot when standing relaxed on a flat surface.

The condition does not tend to affect the day-to-day living of those presenting with it, they can still exercise, walk and balance as normal. However, it does put more strain on the muscles of the feet and legs which can cause pain in the ankle, foot, knee, hip or back. Shoes are also a problem and can wear out quickly since the weight of the body is distributed unevenly.


Image Source: Pedro Riberio Simoes

So What Causes It?

Fallen arches are perfectly normal for some people. They are born with and likely inherit the trait from either of their parents. Because it has a hereditary component, it’s entirely possible that if you have it, your children will too.

Very occasionally, flat feet have been reported to result from abnormal development of the fetus during pregnancy. These associated abnormalities include problems with the joints or the bones fusing together. Known as tarsal coalition, this occurrence is associated with stiff as well as flat feet.

It is possible to develop fallen arches later in life as a secondary symptom to conditions that affect the joints, such as arthritis. Injury or inflammation in the tendons can also cause the arches to drop, as can broken bones and nerve damage.


Image Source: Pawel Loj


Since it causes no significant problems, flat feet isn’t a condition for which many people need or even want to seek treatment. Aching in the feet is often treated by wearing supportive shoes that fit properly, particularly during exercise. Read about flat feet running shoes here. Stretching exercises can often help, and you should seek advice from your doctor over which is most suitable for you if you believe you have the condition.

Occasionally, surgery may be required. This is most common in children suffering from tarsal coalition and is often employed when the foot requires straightening or the bones are fused.


Image Source: Felipe Gabaldon

How Do I Know If I Have It?

Testing yourself for flat feet is very easy and doesn’t require the use of complicated technologies or machines. Simply wait until the next time you are getting out of the shower and place your wet foot on the tiled surface. If your footprint is complete, then it is likely you have flat feet. Otherwise, you should see a definite imprint from the ball of your foot and your heel with a gap in the middle where your arch is. This test doesn’t work with children, who often appear to have flat feet when standing. If they are not flat footed, you will notice when they stand on their toes that an arch appears. This condition is called flexible flat foot and most children grow out of it, developing arches as they get older.