Flat feet

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

Most people's feet have a gap where the inner part of their foot (the arch) is raised off the ground when they stand. The height of this arch varies. 

Some people's feet, however, have a low arch or no arch at all, which is referred to as flat feet or fallen arches.

When someone with flat feet stands, their inner foot or arch flattens, and the foot may roll over to the inner side (known as over-pronation). See Flat feet - symptoms for more information

Some people with flat feet never have any trouble or pain. Others may suffer from aching feet, or find that it puts a strain on the connecting ligaments and muscles, which causes pain in the leg joints when walking.

Who is affected?

Flat feet can run in families. It can also result from a problem such as arthritis or a ruptured tendon (see Flat feet - causes for more information).

What to do

It is usually not necessary to see your GP or podiatrist about flat feet.

Wearing supportive well-fitted shoes can relieve any aching caused by flat feet, and insoles and orthotics can take pressure and pain away from the foot arch if your feet over-pronate (see Flat feet - treatment for more information)

Surgery is generally not helpful for most people with flat feet.

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Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

The symptoms of flat feet vary depending on how severe the condition is. 

Some people may find that their weight is distributed unevenly, particularly if their foot 'rolls' to the inner side (known as over-pronation). This is often apparent if the heels of shoes wear out quickly and unevenly. Over-pronation can damage your ankle joint and Achilles tendon (tendon at the back of your ankle). 

People with flat feet may have stiffness in the foot and pain in any of the following areas:

  • the inner side of the ankle
  • the arch of the foot
  • the calf
  • the knee
  • the hip
  • the back

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Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

Flat feet can run in families.

If a flat foot did not exist before but develops later in life, this can be due to:

  • arthritis
  • a ruptured tendon
  • a disease of the nervous system or muscles, such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida or muscular dystrophy, where the muscles are weakened

Very rarely, the flat foot shape is caused by a condition called tarsal coalition. This results in the bones of the foot joining together abnormally, and causes stiff, flat feet. This condition is usually obvious, and normally diagnosed in childhood.

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Will my children inherit my flat feet?

Most flat feet are just shaped that way or are a result of over-pronation (when feet 'roll in'). Both of these generally run in families. Therefore, it is possible that children will inherit flat feet from their parents.

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

It is usually not necessary to see your GP or podiatrist about flat feet, unless:

  • they have recently developed
  • your shoes wear out very quickly
  • you have foot pain that is not helped by wearing supportive, well-fitted shoes
  • your feet (or foot) appear to be getting flatter
  • your feet seem weak or stiff

Flat feet will normally be obvious when you are examined, while standing or walking, by a medical professional. 

Some people's feet may have an arch when they are sitting, but the arch flattens or 'falls' as soon as they stand up and put weight on their feet.

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Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

Supportive shoes

Wearing supportive well-fitted shoes can relieve any aching caused by flat feet. 

Insoles and orthotics

If your feet roll or over-pronate, then a specially fitted insole or orthotic (supportive device) can take pressure and pain away from the arch. However, an orthotic only helps when it is worn in the shoe, and the benefits only last while you are actually wearing the device.

A flat foot caused by a ruptured tendon or arthritis can often be treated with painkillers and an insole.

Surgery

If painkillers and an insole do not help a flat foot caused by a ruptured tendon or arthritis, surgery may be needed to straighten the foot.

Surgery to straighten the foot or separate the fused bones may be necessary for children who are born with a flat foot due to the bones not developing properly. However, this condition is rare.

Surgery is generally not helpful for most people with flat feet.

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Content provided by NHS Choices www.nhs.uk and adapted for Ireland by the Health A-Z.

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