Health blog

Physical therapy for flat feet: What your sessions can include and what you can do at home

May 5th, 2023

The weight of our bodies is carried by our knees, feet and ankles. The foot is an amazing complex structure that takes a huge amount of force with every step taken. The arch of the foot helps absorb shock, distribute weight, create balance, stabilize movement and adapt to changes in terrain. A healthy and flexible arch opens slightly when bending the ankle and closes when extending it. If the arch doesn’t receive proper support, pain can happen

Flat feet affect up to 30% of the population and symptoms occur in 1 in 10 people. Flat feet are genetic, running in families, and also associated with cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. It may affect one or both feet. Flat feet can also develop later in life; those with a higher risk of developing flat feet are those who are highly athletic and physically active, due to the risk of injuries. Those who are obese or have hypertension or diabetes are also at a higher risk of developing flat feet. In the feet, pain may be felt in the ball of the foot or in the heel. Pain from flat feet isn’t limited to just the feet. Pain can also be felt in the knees, the shins, the hips and the lower back. 

The 4 types of flat feet

Diagnosing flat feet does require some medical testing. A medical professional will look for an arch in your foot as you stand on your toes and possibly order X-rays to examine the bones and tendons in your feet.

  • Fallen archesFallen arches are normal in infants and typically disappear between ages 2 to 3 as ligaments and tendons tighten. 
  • Flexible foot — Flexible foot is the most common form of flat feet. The arch disappears when you lift your foot and the sole of your foot touches the ground. Flexible foot typically starts in childhood and usually causes no pain. 
  • Tight Achilles — The Achilles tendon connects the heel bone to the calf muscle. When the tendon is tight, you experience pain and it causes your heel to lift prematurely. 
  • Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction — This form of flat feet is acquired in adulthood. This happens when the tendon connecting the calf muscle to the inside of the ankle is injured, torn or swollen. 

What different physical therapy treatments can do for your flat feet 

Physical therapy is designed to strengthen your body, increase your flexibility and mobility, and help prevent injuries. Physical therapists can help keep you motivated so you don’t give up on your treatment too early. They will take the time to talk you through your conditions, your symptoms and your treatment options. Physical therapists have years of training in evaluating the movement of feet. They can analyze your walking and running patterns so that they can quickly and effectively help treat your flat feet. 

There are several options for treatment for flat feet that can help prevent it from causing you excessive pain. If left untreated, flat feet can cause you stress, pain and imbalances in other parts of your body. 

  • Physical therapy exercises — A physical therapist can help you learn how to do several different exercises designed to help strengthen your feet. It may take a few days or weeks of doing these exercises (and going to PT) before you see an improvement in your condition. Exercises that your specialist may show you include but are not limited to: heel stretches, tennis ball rolls, towel curls and toe raises. You should aim to do these exercises as often as your physical therapist recommends.
  • Dry needlingDry needling is a technique used to treat muscle tension, alleviate pain, and restore mobility with little to no discomfort and pain. Dry needles are inserted into the painful areas of the feet where a physical therapist would not be able to reach with their hands alone. 
  • Aquatic therapyAquatic therapy is perfect for patients needing to improve their movement and function without the full weight of their bodies. Water resistance can strengthen a wide variety of muscles. It can also have a vast improvement in your walking ability that could be hindered by your flat feet.
  • Foot surgery recovery — As a last resort, surgery may be needed to help with your flat feet. After surgery, physical therapy can be incredibly beneficial. It can help you reach your goal of regaining your quality of life. 

Lifestyle changes that can help your flat feet 

In addition to the help they provide in your PT sessions, physical therapists can also help you learn about lifestyle changes that can help your flat feet. One of these changes is wearing the right shoes. Doing so can help with the pain from your flat feet. It is important to wear shoes that fit properly and are right for your planned activity. Shoes should be inspected for wear and tear. They should be replaced as needed. 

If your flat feet are due to obesity, you may want to start a general exercise program to help manage your weight. Successfully reducing your weight can help to reduce pressure on your feet. You may also want to avoid standing and walking for prolonged periods of time. 

Children who have flat feet may have to use special shoes or heel cups until their feet are fully formed. For adults, orthotic insoles may also be beneficial for flat feet. In addition to seeking physical therapy, making some lifestyle changes may help ease the symptoms of your flat feet. 

How Rehab Access physical therapists can help you with your flat feet

Our Rehab Access physical therapists are adept at building individualized therapy plans to help decrease your pain due to flat feet. At Rehab Access, we can perform a free screening and formulate a personalized physical therapy plan to help treat your flat feet. You can trust us to work hard to quickly reduce your pain. 

Contact our team today for more information about how we can treat your feet or to schedule an initial appointment.