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Flat feet (fallen arches)

3-minute read

A person can walk up to 128,000 kilometres in their lifetime - that's three laps around the Earth! So, knowing what type of foot you have and how it works can help you avoid problems and keep active throughout your life.

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 is usually an arch shape, with the middle part 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 might flatten towards the ground.

Causes of 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, with a child’s arch height forming as the foot and leg muscles get stronger and grow. 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.

Illustration of flat feet
Illustration of flat feet

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

You have a greater chance of developing flat feet if you:

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. 

Diagnosis of flat feet

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.

Treatment of flat feet

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

However, if you are having symptoms, treatment might include:

  • orthotics – special inserts for your shoes, sometimes known as arch supports, that can help you manage pain or injury associated with flat feet
  • stretches for your calf muscles 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 one centimetre 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.

More information on flat feet

Your doctor or a podiatrist will be able to provide you with more information on flat feet and other foot conditions. You can also check your symptoms using healthdirect's online Symptom Checker.

Last reviewed: February 2018

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