What are flat feet?

Flat feet were once considered a disability sufficient to prevent people from entering the military, but are now considered a normal variant of the human foot shape. Adults can develop a condition called pes planovalgus , or fallen arches or, in some cases, children simply do not develop a high arch foot. Common thinking held that corrective shoes in children might develop an arch, but studies among people who regularly go barefoot suggest that shoes in young children are more likely to promote flat feet rather than cure them.

Most babies start out with flat feet, which should not be a cause for concern for parents. Arches develop as children learn to walk and when less baby fat covers the feet. For many children who do not develop an arch, this is not a problem; however, in some cases, flatness may be associated with other foot problems. In particular, children who have ankles that roll inward may need corrective shoes. Feet that are inflexible and painful can be caused by a condition called tarsal coalition.

Tarsal coalition occurs when two bones of the foot fuse together. This results in a very inflexible foot and pain when walking, and shoes with arches can make the condition worse. Children who have flat feet and frequently complain of foot pain should be evaluated by a medical professional, and typically undergo surgical treatment in their preteen years to correct the fusion. The surgery must be done while the foot is still growing to be effective.

Feet that become flat in adulthood may be called fallen arches. This often happens to women who are pregnant and others who are overweight. Foot changes acquired by adults tend to be permanent, but may not be related to any specific complications. When this condition causes pain when walking, wearing specially designed orthotics in shoes and performing foot exercises is often helpful. Surgery can correct flat feet, but it is rarely the treatment of choice.

While flat feet were once considered a sign of poor health, the opposite may be true. Most top runway stars have very flat feet. People with a higher arched foot are four times more likely to twist or sprain an ankle. Flat feet are no longer a reason to be excused from military service, and in many cases, they do not create problems for the person who has them.

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