You may not spend much time thinking about your feet, but if you begin experiencing flat feet pain, you won’t be able to stop thinking about them. That’s especially true if you suffer from the most common form of flat foot pain, flexible flat feet. Just walking can be excruciating.
Now, the first step in addressing aches and pains in your feet is to determine their cause. Once you know the source of your achy feet, you’ve get a better idea about potential treatment.
Does a Low Arch on the Foot Cause Pain?
Flat feet, also known as pes planus or fallen arches, occur when the tendons and ligaments in your arches get stressed, possibly due to injury, and your arches flatten.
The most common form of flat feet is flexible flat feet. With this form of flat feet, you have no visible arch when standing, but the arch comes back once your feet aren’t bearing weight. When it comes to symptoms of flat feet, pain is often one of them.1,2
- Flat feet can run in your family, so if one of your parents or grandparents had them, you’re more likely to be born with, or to develop, fallen arches as well.
- Pregnancy and weight gain may trigger flat feet pain, even if you start out with normal arches.3
- In addition to flat feet, having high arched feet can also cause pain. A doctor can tell you if your arches are the source of ongoing foot pain.
- What about children with flat feet? This is common, as a child’s arches usually develop throughout childhood. Sometimes, children never form normal arches and have flat feet into adulthood.5
- Serious ailments, like rheumatoid arthritis, can cause or speed up the development of flat feet.6
- Long term, untreated flat feet can lead to serious injury, joint pain, bunions, or changes in the shape of the foot – a condition called adult acquired flatfoot deformity, or AAFD.7
- Adult acquired flatfoot deformity leads to flat feet and toes that point outward, and it can be painful. This is why seeking proper treatment is so important.8
Unfortunately, flat feet are often a natural consequence of the wear and tear life puts on your feet. You may not be able to prevent flat feet, but you can control how you protect against foot pain and what you do to help ease the discomfort of it.
Which Muscles of the Human Feet Ache Due to a Flat Foot?
Your arch is supported by muscles, tendons and ligaments, and if any of them are injured, flat feet can result. Depending on the causes of your flat feet, you may experience different kinds of pain in different parts of the foot, or even ankle pain or knee pain.
- The main muscle in your arch is the posterior tibial tendon, which supports the inside of your foot from your heel bone to your big toe. If this tendon is torn or damaged, it can no longer support your foot correctly, and flat feet may result.
- A tight Achilles tendon or calf muscle can lead to flat feet or make existing flat feet worse.9
- Flat feet can affect the medial longitudinal arch, which is made up of muscles, ligaments, and tendons and is the major weight bearing arch in your foot. A weak or torn medial longitudinal arch can lead to injury or other painful conditions in your knees, shins, or lower back.10
- You may experience pain in your heels due to plantar fasciitis, which causes pain in your arch or heel. Sometimes, flat feet can cause or irritate the condition.11
Now, different kinds of flat feet can lead to aches in different parts of your foot, ankle, knee, and leg, but all of these sources of foot pain share a common cause: low arches.
Flat Feet and Plantar Fasciitis: Similarities and Differences
You now know that plantar fasciitis and flat feet, or pes planus, can lead to achy feet. Their symptoms are similar, but these conditions are often quite different.
- Flat feet are common. Between 8-12 percent of all people suffer from flat feet, or fallen arches. Some of those people have no symptoms, so you can’t assume you have a normal arch just because you don’t experience discomfort.12
- Plantar fasciitis is also a common condition, especially if you’re between the ages of 40 and 60. It can be aggravated by exercise – especially running. You may notice symptoms most often after a workout or walking, or when you wake in the morning.13
- Treatment for flat feet often involves simple lifestyle changes, including wearing different shoes, losing weight, and doing simple foot exercises.14
- Plantar fasciitis is more common if you have either low arches or high arched feet. You can help prevent it by wearing shoes with good shock absorption.15
- In in some cases, anti-inflammatory medications or surgery may be required for plantar fasciitis.16
Not sure if you have flat feet or plantar fasciitis? See a doctor for an official diagnosis.
How is the Discomfort from a Low Arch Treated?
Studies have shown that certain exercises may help ease symptoms of flexible flat feet, including foot pain, and there are a few other things you can try.
- Wearing insoles or custom orthotics has been shown to improve fallen arches and reduce the pain associated with them.17
- Stretching exercises have proven effective at helping to reduce flat foot pain. The most effective exercises focus on both intrinsic muscles (the muscles inside your foot’s arch) and the long muscles that run through the whole foot.18
- Anti-inflammatory medications may help relieve the pain caused by fallen arches.19
Now, having flat feet can be painful, but with proper protection like orthotic arch supports paired with exercises, you can take control of your foot pain and other symptoms.
Note: If your foot pain is severe, you may want to pursue a professional physical therapy plan. In some extreme cases, such as if you have a bone deformity, you may even need surgery. Your doctor can advise you about proper treatment.20
How to Treat Heel Pain from Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is similar to flat feet, except the pain is in the heel and the bottom of the foot instead of just the foot. Luckily, symptoms of plantar fasciitis may also be improved through foot exercises.
- The Golf Ball Roll: While sitting in a chair, roll a golf ball, tennis ball, or water bottle under your arch for two or three minutes, then repeat with the other foot. You may feel like you’re giving yourself a foot massage, but you’re also strengthening your foot muscles.
- Towel Toe Curls: Spread a towel on the ground in front of your foot. Using only your toes, scrunch the towel toward you. Repeat 10 times per foot every morning and evening.
- Step Calf Stretches: Stand at the edge of a stair so that the balls of your feet are on solid ground and your heels are not. Slowly and carefully lower your heel until you feel a stretch in your calf muscles. Hold for 45 seconds, and then repeat.
- Standing Calf Stretches: Stand with your front knee bent and your back knee straight in a lunge position. Place your arms against a wall for support, and lean forward to stretch your back leg. Hold for 45 seconds, and repeat two to three times with each leg. Repeat numerous times per day.
- Toe Extensions: With one leg crossed over the other at the knee, gently pull on your toes to stretch your arch and calf muscles. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat two or three times per foot. Do this exercise for toes several times a day.21,22
The best thing about these stretches is that they’re quick, they don’t require a lot of heavy exertion, and they have a low risk of injury. Too bad all workouts aren’t this easy!
If you find these stretches don’t produce the results you want, speak to your doctor about a physical therapy plan, surgery, or other treatment options.
Don’t Tread on Your Foot Health
Good foot health is essential. Whether you’re an active athlete or you just enjoy casual walking, your feet get you where you want to be. And if they hurt, you’ll be miserable. Aches and pains in your feet can really ruin your day.
You don’t want to find yourself wincing during normal activities like walking or running, so take proper care of your flat feet and plantar fasciitis now, before your minor symptoms become something more severe.