What are flat feet?
Flat feet is the term used when the arch of your foot is lower than normal. This condition is also known as fallen arches.
The foot usually has an arch shape:
- The middle part of the inside aspect of the foot is off the ground.
- The heel and ball of the foot touch the ground.
However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the arch doesn't develop properly or it might flatten towards the ground.
Flat feet are normal in babies and young children.
It is good to know whether you have flat feet. This can help you avoid problems and remain active throughout your life.
What are the symptoms of flat feet?
Flat feet don’t always cause symptoms. Sometimes they cause pain in other parts of your body, including your:
This is because flat feet change how your feet and legs align. They also change how they work together when you are moving.
You may also experience other signs, such as:
- uneven shoe wear
- tripping or falling often, especially for children
- stiffness or swelling in your feet
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 the age of 10 years. Some children might never develop an arch, which is perfectly normal and may never cause a problem.
Flat feet can also develop with age, as wear and tear on your feet causes the arch to drop.
Factors that increase the risk of flat feet include:
When should I see my doctor?
If you or your child have flat feet, see a doctor if you:
- have pain
- have limited activity
- have only one foot affected
How are flat feet diagnosed?
If you have any concerns about your feet, see your doctor or contact a podiatrist.
If you have flat feet, the arch of your foot touches the ground. This can be seen in your footprint.
This is one way that your doctor might diagnose flat feet. They might also measure your feet and ask you about any symptoms you may have. This will help them rule out other conditions.
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How are flat feet treated?
If you have flat feet that aren't causing you pain or concern, you don’t need treatment.
However, if you have symptoms, treatment might include:
- orthotics (special inserts for your shoes)
- losing weight
- wearing more supportive shoes
Orthotics are sometimes known as arch supports. They can help to manage pain or injury that may come with having flat feet.
In some people, surgery might be considered.
What should I think about when buying 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 1cm of room between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe
- keep the heel height under 2.5cm
- ensure your shoes suit the activity you’ll be doing in them.
Can flat feet be prevented?
Flat feet and other feet problems can be prevented by using footwear that fits well. Orthotics are also used to prevent flat feet. However, this lacks evidence.
Complications of flat feet
Untreated flat feet can lead to problems with your:
- lumbar (lower back)
Treatment can help prevent these complications.
Resources and support
If you need to know more about flat feet, and to get advice on what to do next, you can call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse. Someone is available 24 hours, 7 days a week (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).
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Last reviewed: August 2022