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The Dangers of Flat Feet

by Dominique Vanier, B.Sc.H., M.Env.Sc., on 18 April 2016, Muscle and joint
flat feet

Are you one of the millions of Canadians that suffer from low back pain or knee pain?

Well, your troubles may not originate in either of those joints. In fact, the cause of your pain may be coming from your feet…

Flat feet, or “fallen arches,” are a postural deformity in the tendons and ligaments that comprise the arch at the bottom of the feet. People with flat feet have either no arch or an insufficient arch. Surprisingly, flat feet affect between 20 to 30 per cent of the general population.

Arches are important because they provide elasticity and flexibility to the foot, as well as assist in shock absorption in virtually every body movement. When there is no arch to absorb shock, it radiates to other joints in the legs and even the low back, causing discomfort and pain.

Over the long term, flat feet can lead to pain, deformities, or other conditions in the body, including:

  • Plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia connects the heel to the front of the foot, and supports the foot during walking and other movements. When the fascia cannot adequately absorb shock, as in those with flat feet, they may become inflamed and result in heel pain and stiffness.
  • Foot deformities. Foot deformities may be a consequence of untreated flat feet. Bunions, a painful deformity in the joint of the big toe, or hammer toes, a deformity of the toe joints that resembles the shape of a hammer, may develop over time.
  • Knee and low back pain. Since flat feet cannot adequately absorb shock, they confer this responsibility to other joints, particularly the knees, hips, and low back. In a study involving 1903 participants, it was found that flat feet are associated with knee pain and cartilage damage in older adults.
  • Affected spinal integrity. Flat feet can cause torque to the knee, hip, pelvis, and spine as these bones try to adjust for foot abnormalities and abnormal movement patterns caused by flat feet. This torque may add improper rotational forces to the spine, and potentially impact spinal curvature. Correlated postural changes in the spine include thoracic hyperkyphosis, cervical hyperlordosis, and increased lumbar lordosis.

Treating flat feet is not difficult, and involves removing risk factors and providing proper arch support. The following approaches can be taken to correct foot patterns and reduce the associated pain caused by flat feet:

  • Ditch the heels. Not only does wearing heels force the weight to the front of the foot, it also increases susceptibility to foot abnormalities including clawed toes, bunions, and arthritis. This is like a double whammy of pain and foot issues in those who wear heels and also have flat feet.
  • Invest in orthotics. Good orthotics will do two things: provide proper arch support, and distribute weight more laterally on the feet (toward the outside of the feet). Both of these changes allow for improved shock absorption and proper alignment of the bones of the foot. You may also find that your associated knee or back pain disappears with high-quality orthotics.
  • Reduce your BMI. Obesity is a risk factor for flat feet. Eating a well-balanced diet that contains lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates can help
  • Get symptomatic relief. Arnica Gel and Joint Pain Relief can help soothe muscle and joint inflammation in the foot, as well as other affected joints in the body.
  • Foot arch exercises. There are several exercises that can force the muscles in your foot to develop an arch. These include the “towel scrunch,” which involves standing on a towel and using your feet to scrunch it back toward you, bunching it under your foot. Perform 3 sets of 10 towel-scrunching each day.

References:
https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001262.htm
http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/what-are-fallen-arches
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3087845/
http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/discomfort-15/common-pain/help-aching-feet
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3861995/

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