About 60 million Americans have flat feet, but this condition—however common—is often misunderstood. It may surprise you to know that nearly everyone has flat feet as a child; the longitudinal arch doesn’t develop until between the ages of 3 and 5.
Flat feet, officially called pes planus, occur when this arch doesn’t develop normally or flattens out (as a result of injury, disease, pregnancy or a number of other factors).
One easy way to test if you have flat feet is to wet your feet and then walk on dry concrete or another surface that shows footprints: if the outline of your foot doesn’t have a void on the instep, you probably have flat feet.
While anyone can experience flat foot problems, flat feet may cause athletes additional anxiety, since they sometimes cause pain when running or exercising. If you’re an athlete with flat feet, there are a few things you should do:
Wear the Right Shoes
Flat foot pain and further complications (people with flat feet are more vulnerable to other injuries and conditions such as plantar fasciitis) can often be ameliorated by wearing the proper shoes. The importance of this step is magnified for athletes. Arch support is a key concern, especially if you tend to pronate (roll your foot inward when you walk). You may also need custom orthotics or insoles.
See a Sports Podiatrist
In sports that involve running and jumping, in particular, poor foot mechanics can cause chain reactions all the way up the body. Knee and hip problems are particularly common. A sports podiatrist who assesses biomechanics can identify stride problems and recommend exercises or treatment to correct them. A podiatrist can also help you determine the cause of your lowered or fallen arches; sometimes, flat feet are simply caused by genetics, but there are some lifestyle factors you can control.
Don’t Get Discouraged
Flat feet have often been seen as a major impediment to activity—many men with flat feet were even considered unfit for duty during World War II. But most ankle and foot doctors today agree that flat feet shouldn’t be viewed as a problem until they become symptomatic. There are many pro athletes with flat feet, so there’s no reason to assume that the condition is debilitating when it comes to your athletic aspirations. Most athletes experience foot problems associated with foot structure and overuse, and flat feet are no different than any other treatable foot concern.