Flat feet are a common condition where the arch of the foot is flattened when pressure is applied. When people with flat feet stand, the foot points slightly outwards with the whole sole of the foot touching the ground (over-pronation). This can also be seen by where the ankle bone sits. When stood with feet together, the inside bone of the ankle (medial malleolus) sits closer together on those with flat feet. Flat feet can also be identified by where the sole of shoes get worn down first (inside heel)
Being a swimmer, it may seem an unnecessary corner given that footwear and feet in general are given little no thought on how they impact swimming in the pool. If flat feet are only flat when under pressure, then swimmers won’t be affected by this as they have no pressure in the water. But what repercussions arise from the lack of foot stability on land?
Flat feet are a common cause of foot, ankle, leg, and back pain due to insignificant support of the body’s weight during standing and movement. Lack of foot stability causes a ripple effect up the body of compensatory actions involved in making up for the lack of arch support in the feet and can result in poor posture or muscle strains due to overuse. When the foot collapses inwards, it tends to cause an inwards rotation of the lower limbs which can result in tight hips and lower back strains. Due to a lack of support from the feet, posture can be negatively affected due to a reduction in our ability to easily balance and distribute bodyweight evenly across the foot. When feet aren’t supported, our knees can be slowly turned out of alignment, resulting in the pelvis rotating forwards, lower back lordosis (curved) and upper back kyphosis (arched).
If having flat feet is something you are aware of, there are a few ways in which to address the problem.
Wearing good shoes with the addition of an insole that has a ridged arch support creates the support needed for walking, running and daily movement. The insole’s purpose is to provide the ‘fake’ arch and therefore make a person stand with better balance and posture. This can sometimes be uncomfortable at first as the position and feeling is new. It’s possible to buy insoles both online or in pharmacies or sports shops. Alternatively, visit a doctor or a podiatrist for advice on specific insoles or a seek professional guidance on which shoes best supports your step.
Wearing appropriate shoes for most of the day is a very simple and effective way of supporting the feet. Trainers or shoes with a thicker sole provide both the cushioning for daily comfort but also the ridged support for both foot and ankle. Shoes with no heel support can often cause heel pain when worn for movement across the day and cause the toes to grip to avoid the shoe from falling off. This gripping movement can cause problems to the toes and a tightening of the feet. Lack of ankle support in a shoe is often the cause of ankle stiffness, Achilles tendon shortening and can be attributed to ankle sprains and strains. Shoes such as crocs, sliders, flip-flops, or ballet pumps should not be worn daily during school and are not necessary at training sessions.
Trigger pointing the fascia in the sole of the feett is a great release for not only the foot, but the supporting muscles of legs and hips. This may seem like a strange way to loosen bigger muscles but by loosening the fascia (the layer of connective tissue between the skin and muscle), it can help relax the muscles further up the leg. Simply standing on a trigger point ball (tennis ball, golf ball, lacrosse ball etc), one foot at a time for 90seconds can help to relax the muscles that are working throughout the day to control posture and balance. Once released, stretching the calf, hamstring and hips can provide a release for the lower back. It is also advised to trigger point hips and lower back to again aid in mobility.
How can flat feet be self-diagnosed? A simple way of checking this is using the pool and poolside. Find a dry tile beside the pool area and wet the sole of the foot, then make a footprint on the tile. If there is a natural arch in the foot, the footprint will reflect this with a dry part on the inside of the print. If there is no natural arch present, then the footprint will be a solid mark from heel to toe.
If having flat feet is an issue needing to be addressed, the first approach is by addressing daily footwear and adding in some trigger point release for feet. Buying insoles is the second step and can be bought either online or in person at a pharmacy or through a podiatrist.