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Flat feet (fallen arches)

4-minute read

Key facts

  • Flat feet have lower than normal arches, and appear flat against the ground.
  • Flat feet don't always produce symptoms, but at times they can cause pain in the heel, arch, leg or other parts of the body.
  • Flat feet can develop with age, as wear and tear on the feet causes the arch to drop.
  • Treatment can include orthotics, stretches, losing weight and wearing more supportive shoes.

What are flat feet?

Flat feet is the term used when the arch of the foot is lower than normal. This condition is also known as fallen arches.

The foot is usually an arch shape, with the middle part of the inside aspect of the foot off the ground and the heel and ball of the foot touching the ground. However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the arch never develops properly or it might flatten towards the ground.

Knowing what type of foot you have and how it works can help you avoid problems and remain active throughout your life.

What are the symptoms of flat feet?

Flat feet don't always produce symptoms, but at times they can cause pain in the heel, arch, leg or other parts of the body. This is due to flat feet changing how the feet and legs align, and how they work together when moving.

What causes flat feet?

Flat feet can be caused by the arches in the feet not developing properly during childhood.

Children’s feet develop at different speeds. All babies and most toddlers seem to have flat feet due to baby fat that hides the developing arch. The arch in small children can usually be seen when they stand on their toes.

Most children develop a more visible arch by around age 10. Some children might never develop an arch, which is perfectly normal and may never cause a problem.

Flat feet can develop with age, as wear and tear on the feet causes the arch to drop.

Some specific conditions can also cause flat feet, including Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.

Factors that increase the risk of flat feet include:

How are flat feet diagnosed?

To find out if you have flat feet, look at the arch of your foot to see whether it’s touching the ground. 

Other signs that might indicate you have flat feet include: 

  • uneven shoe wear or shoes wearing out quickly
  • regular pain in your feet and/or legs
  • tripping or falling often, especially for children
  • feet that are weak, numb or stiff

If you have any concerns about your feet, see your GP or contact a podiatrist.

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How are flat feet treated?

If you have flat feetand they aren’t causing you any pain or concerns, you don’t need treatment.

However, if you have symptoms, treatment might include:

  • orthotics (special inserts for your shoes, sometimes known as arch supports, that can help to manage pain or injury associated with flat feet)
  • calf muscles stretches to improve flexibility
  • losing weight
  • wearing more supportive shoes

It’s important to wear shoes that fit. When buying shoes:

  • have someone measure your foot’s length and width
  • check that the shoe matches the natural shape of your foot
  • allow 1 cm of room between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe
  • keep the heel height under 2.5cm
  • ensure the shoes suit the activity you’ll be doing in them.

Resources and support

If you need to know more about flat feet, and to get advice on what to do next, please call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse, 24 hours, 7 days a week (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2020

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