Having flat feet can be painful. Why do some people have flat feet and others high arches? The most common of flat feet solutions is insoles and inserts. Many specialists believe this is not as helpful as once thought. So what are some longterm and holistic flat feet solutions and how can we help children develop healthy feet, movement, and overall structure?
The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.
Leonarado da Vinci
The human foot is amazing. With one-quarter of the body’s bones, the foot has a lot of mobility. These movements provide the pelvis with data about the body’s balance and spatial location. Our feet are doing a lot more than most of us realize.
Biomechanics expert Katy Bowman notes that many issues in adulthood stem from how the body developed from daily habits we had as babies and children, including the amount of movement.
Children are leading increasingly sedentary lifestyles, with less time spent barefoot running in the grass, for example. Poor muscle development and mobility, ankle rigidity, and gait patterns can continue to compromise an adult’s overall health.
Physical human development is phenomenal stuff. A baby comes out really soft. Their ‘bones’ aren’t really bones yet and how they move – specifically the initial loads placed on their body – can determine qualities like bone shape. When it comes to babies, most people are familiar with the “flat head” effect as a result of too much on-their-back time. But this bony adaptation to the environment happens all over the body, not just to the skull.
The Flat Foot
How is the arch formed?
We have tendons in the foot and lower leg, which depending on whether they are pulling correctly, form or do not form the arch.
Flat feet or fallen arches in adults can be due to a variety of reasons including damaged, stretched or inflamed tendons and nerve issues. The symptoms of flat feet also vary and may not bother some people; for others, the feet may get painful quickly after movement. Pain can also be experienced down the leg or in the back. Conventional treatment are insoles, stretching exercises, or physical therapy.
The Arch + Your Emotional Well-Being
For Grinberg Method practitioner and Somatic Coach, Nicole Gilg-Geymayer, while the arches reflect body posture and patterns, they also relate to the emotional well-being of a person. One reading is that those with a high arch tend to steer clear of emotions, perhaps out of fear while those who throw themselves right in and dwell in them may have low arches.
Nicole also looks at texture, colour, and temperature of the entire foot, as well as the whole person to explore with the client more deeply what is going on. She helps her clients to discover their patterns that may be interfering with their overall well-being and to choose a healthier way to live their lives.
Children's Foot Health
Flat-foot is an acquired weakness and is understood to be preventable and curable.
Dr. Royal Whitman, 1913
Children have naturally flexible flat feet. Their bones are growing and “setting.”
Katy Bowman mentions that a rigidly flat foot is actually an uncommon condition called vertical talus or tarsal coalition. Treatment, in these cases, may require surgery.
As a Biomechanics Expert interested in human physical development, she suggests we look to modern hunter-gatherer populations for clues on footwear. Instead of the conventional (and outdated) thinking of putting kids in shoes early on, she suggests allowing children to be barefoot, choosing flexible shoes without heels, and encouraging motor skills with foot games. There are some fantastic suggestions on her website Nutritious Movement. Her flat feet solutions are a philosophy with practical advice and information.
The Best Footwear
The best footwear for both children and adults is what interferes least with the body’s natural movements. Walking barefoot helps to strengthen the feet’s musculature. Katy Bowman suggests Earth Footwear because of their negative heel technology. She shares in, If the Shoe Fits, that each degree of heel creates an angle of deformation in the lumbar spine, pelvic knees, and/or knees.
Different footwear will have different effects and choosing the right footwear is important as flat feet solutions. Flip flops (slippers without heel straps) make a person clench and curl their toes, increasing the risk for hammer toes, plantar fasciitis, and knee pain. Shoes with a narrow toe-boxes are also a poor choice.
Flat Feet Solutions - Exercise
Aside from good footwear, building flexibility and stretching are also important. Foot issues can be due to leg weakness, in the thigh and buttocks for example. Katy Bowman shared that the single best exercise for the knees is stretching the calves.
Dr Mercola suggests the following feet exercises:
- pick up a towel or marbles with your feet to build arch strength
- stand on one foot at a time for 10 seconds for core strength
- spread, point, and lift each of your toes
- roll a tennis ball under foot
- stand on your tip toe for calf strength
The body’s weight is distributed among three points on the sole – centre of the heel, head of the 5th metatarsal, and head of the 1st metatarsal. This tripod provides stability and according to Physical Therapist James Speck, people with flat feet tend to have weakness in one of the tripod legs, often the base of the head of the 1st metatarsal (big toe.)
James Speck has tried different exercises to strengthen his own arches, and on his website, he offers a sample of these exercises, such as calf stretch and toe yoga. If these four exercises prove useful, he also offers the full program for $15/year.
“Walking is a superfood. It’s the defining movement of a human. It’s a lot easier to get movement than it is to get exercise.” Katy Bowman (Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement)
Flat feet is not a destiny and we don’t have to resign to the pains and limited activity that often come with them. By understanding how we can properly develop the foot structure, which supports robust overall health and movement, we can help children lead a life of harmonious and natural mobility. There are many flat feet solutions, even for adults. Exercises and good footwear are two of these flat feet solutions that can make a welcomed difference to those with flat feet.