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What Are The Best Insoles For Flat Feet?

What Are The Best Insoles For Flat Feet?

Buying insoles for your flat feet can be confusing. Should you buy cushy foam inserts or firm and supportive insoles? And what about arch height? Should it be low to mimic your arch or high to create the arch you don't have? Here's everything you need to treat your flat feet right.

THE BASICS ---

  • Some people are born with flat feet while some have arches that have fallen over time. But both can suffer from flat feet related problems like foot pain and overpronation.
  • There are multiple ways to relieve pain caused by flat feet, including stretching, strengthening, and properly supporting your arches.
  • For long term comfort, the best solution is to add a pair of firm arch support insoles to your footwear. Cushy foam or gel inserts won't provide your foot with any arch support at all, which means they won't relieve your pain.
  • To get the right insoles, you have to determine whether your flat feet are rigid or flexible. If your feet are flat when standing or sitting, you have rigid flat feet and would want low arch insoles. If an arch appears when you're sitting, you have flexible flat feet and would want medium arch insoles.
  • If you just want to make your footwear more comfortable, we recommend Tread Labs Ramble Insoles. If you have plantar fasciitis or other foot pain, we recommend Pace Insoles. And, if you're an athlete looking to improve your performance, we recommend Dash Insoles.

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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ---

Foot arches help you move efficiently by allowing the middle part of your foot to flex like a bow. They add shock absorption and flexibility to your gait, and also improve your balance when you're standing or moving. 

If you're flat footed, it may look like you don't have any arches, but they're there, and supporting them properly is crucial to preventing foot pain and injuries. Figuring out exactly how much support your flat feet require can be hard. You may wonder if you should look for a gel or foam insole that's as flat as your foot. Or if you should find an insole with a well-defined arch to to to "fix" your flat feet. 

The short answer? Firm arch support promotes better biomechanics while standing, walking or running while the cushioning and shock absorption quality insoles provide help reduce the risk of developing problems in your ankles, knees, hips and back. Flat, floppy gel or foam insoles don't have the structure or support your feet need to keep your joints problem-free. 

Now, let's explore the long answer.

Insoles for Flat Feet

What Causes Flat Feet?

Simply, flat feet (pes planus) occur when the entire bottom of your foot (the sole) touches the ground when you’re standing. Both genetic and environmental factors can lead to flat feet.

Most of the time, genetic factors will lead to people have flat feet their entire life. However, environmental factors can lead to flat feet later in life. This is called acquired flat foot, or fallen arches. If you develop fallen arches, it's a good idea to see a medical professional to determine the cause.

Common causes of flat feet include:

  • Genetic factors - Flat feet often occur when your arches don't develop properly during childhood. As babies, we all have flat feet. During the course of normal childhood development, our arches form. Sometimes our foot's muscles, bones, and ligaments don't develop adequately, and they don't acquire a stable arch. This is often due to genetics, as flat feet run in families.
  • Traumatic injury - Examples include dislocating bones in the feet or tearing a tendon, particularly the posterior tibial tendon, which supports the arch
  • Rheumatoid arthritis - An inflammation of the joints
  • Obesity- This puts extra pressure on foot tendons
  • Pregnancy – Both weight gain and hormonal changes can cause the arches to flatten
  • Diabetes - This affects the nerves in the feet and can lead to weak tendons
  • High blood pressure – Decreased blood supply to the tendons in the foot can alter their ability to support the arch
  • Aging - During the natural aging process, tendons can stretch and tire more

Not sure if you have flat feet? Use this quick, simple test to determine your arch height.

Are Flat Feet and Fallen Arches The Same Thing?

Unlike flat feet (which people are born with), fallen arches develop in adulthood, often as the result of:

  • An injury - Dislocating bones or tearing tendons can lead to fallen arches. If the tendons that attach your leg muscles to your foot to create your arch are injured or loosen, your arches can fall. 
  • A condition like rheumatoid arthritis - Rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammation of the joints, can not only be incredibly painful when it occurs in your feet. When the joints in your ankles and feet don't work properly, your arch muscles loosen, which can lead to fallen arches. You'll want to see your doctor if you think this is your situation.
  • A change in weight or pregnancy - Extra body weight can put pressure on your foot tendons. The weight gain and hormonal changes women experience during pregnancy can change their arch fairly significantly, though typically only during their first pregnancy.

Symptoms associated with fallen arches including feet tiring easily, foot pain, back pain, and swollen ankles. Fallen arches can also exacerbate existing knee and hip pain. And because fallen arches make your toes work harder while you're walking, they can lead to corns and blisters.

What Injuries Are Caused By Flat Feet?

Whether you have flat feet naturally or fallen arches because of an injury or other condition, both can cause many of the same injuries and problems including tired feet, foot pain, ankle swelling, and overpronation.

While many of these flat foot problems and injuries can be addressed easily with the right insoles, avoiding them altogether is the goal.

Flat feet can cause:

  • Tired feet when your feet feel fatigued after you've been on them, and especially at the end of the day.
  • Foot pain – pain can occur over the length of the foot or in isolated areas.
    • Pain typically occurs inside the ankle, on the outer edge of the foot, in the heel (known as plantar fasciitis) or in the arch itself.
  • Swelling along the inside of your ankle that can make footwear uncomfortable.
  • An altered placement of the foot on the ground that can cause pain in the calf, knee, thigh, hip, and lower back.
  • Overpronation, or the excessive rolling inward of the foot.

How Can I Relieve Pain From Flat Feet?

Strengthening and stretching exercises for the feet, calves and ankles can help alleviate pain related to your low arch height. For long term pain relief, add arch supporting insoles to your footwear.

Start by taking some time to do the following exercises:

Strengthen And Stretch The Foot

A weak "foot core" (intrinsic muscles of the foot) can lead to instability and injury. While we often focus on the big extrinsic muscles that support the ankle and foot (these generate most of the foot's motion), there are 11 small intrinsic muscles located entirely in the foot. These stabilize your foot during strike and push-off. They absorb load and store energy mid-stance. Most importantly, these muscles support the arch of the foot. Strengthening these muscles will allow them to better support the arch.

Here are two quick foot core exercises:

  • Foot Doming - Start with your foot in a neutral position, flat on the floor. Then, shorten the foot by contracting the "foot core" muscles to arch the sole of the foot. Make sure to keep the toes flat on the ground. Start sitting down. As you progress, try standing, then standing on one foot, then hopping.
  • Heel raises - Stand in the middle of the room and press all of your toes firmly into the floor. Lift both your heels up so all your weight is on your toes. Hold for two seconds and repeat. Try two sets of 15 repetitions.

    Strengthen And Stretch The Calves And Ankle

    Tight calves and Achilles tendons pull up on the ankle, forcing the foot to pronate, or roll inwards. This, in turn, causes the arch to collapse. Stretching the calves and heel cords are important to prevent fallen arches.

    Here are two simple exercises to try:

    • Achilles tendon stretch – Put the front of your foot on a step while your heels are off the step. Relax your calf muscles, and slowly let your heels down over the edge of the step for 10 to 15 seconds. You should feel the stretch along the Achilles tendon.
    • Calf muscle stretch – Stand with one foot about a foot in front of the other. Point the toes of the back foot towards the heel of the front and lean towards a wall. Keep your back leg straight and bend your front one, keeping both heels firmly planted on the floor. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

    Stretching and strengthening the arch and calves will help relieve the pain associated with flat feet in the short-term. But, for long-term relief, you'll need to support your arches with insoles for flat feet.

    Can I Fix Fallen Arches?

    Because fallen arches are something that are developed, rather than something you're born with, like flat feet, there are some ways to treat them in both the short and long term.

    To temporarily relieve foot pain caused by fallen arches:

    • Raise your feet for at least 20 minutes per day
    • Use an ice pack to sooth swollen feet
    • Stretch and massage your feet
    • See a physical therapist
    • Take over-the-counter pain treatments as needed

    If fallen arches are a long-term problem, there are other treatments you can consider:

    • Weight loss (particularly if age is also a factor)
    • Bone grafting or fusions (for arthritis sufferers)
    • Tendon surgery
    • Custom orthotics - For some people with fallen arches, custom orthotics are the best option. Prices range from $300-$800. You'll need to see a podiatrist or Pedorthist for well-crafted custom-molded arch supports.
    • Arch support insoles - Over-the-counter insoles are considerably less expensive than custom and work well if they provide adequate support. Look for a pair that provides firm arch support and matches the contours of your arches. Most importantly, resist the temptation to buy the cheap, cushioned insoles at the drugstore and buy better quality semi-custom insoles that will properly support your feet.

    Be sure to consult with your doctor to determine the best course of action.

    Do Flat Feet Need Arch Support Insoles?

    People with flat feet are often confused about how much arch support they need. They wonder if they should get a soft, cushy shoe insert or one with a structured arch. Flat feet need insoles with structured support made with a low or medium arch height and a deep heel cup to aid in heel stabilization.

    The cushy inserts you often see at the drugstore may feel nice for a few days, but ultimately you'll find yourself in the same place you started, trying to find relief for your flat feet. That's because your feet actually need firm, structured support to be healthy and have energy.

    Finding the best insoles for flat feet starts with identifying the type of flat feet you have - rigid flat feet or flexible flat feet. It is important to make the distinction between rigid flat feet and flexible flat feet because the best flat foot insole arch height for each arch is different. 

    • Rigid flat feet are flat when you stand on them and flat when your feet are unweighted. If you put your foot over the opposite knee and your foot still looks flat, you have rigid flat feet. People with rigid flat feet usually prefer arch supports for flat feet that have a low arch height.
    • Flexible flat feet are flat when you stand on them, but show an arch when they are unweighted. If you put your foot over the opposite knee and your arch appears, you have flexible flat feet. People with flexible flat feet usually prefer a arch support for flat feet that have a medium arch height.

    People with low arches often wonder if they should be wearing high or extra high insoles to "fix" their flat feet and create a higher arch. Flat feet can't be transformed into feet with high arches, nor do they need to be. Start with a low or medium arch (based on whether you have a rigid flat foot or flexible flat foot). A high or extra high arch may be uncomfortable and give you the feeling of a golf ball in your shoe.

    The best insoles for flat feet will have:

    • Low, but supportive arch - What you need is a low arch that offers strong support. A firm arch that is too high will be painful. A soft arch that your foot compresses will not provide long term relief. Insoles are not a one-size fits all product.
    • Heel stabilization - Deep heel cups help to concentrate the fatty pad underneath your heel bone. This helps prevent overpronation and increases shock absorption.

    Remember, if you have flat feet, wearing the the right footwear will make a huge difference. Shoes that don't offer support or let you add arch support insoles will leave your flat feet feeling tired and sore at the end of the day. High heels, flip-flops, and sandals can aggravate pain associated with flat feet.

    The best thing you can do for flat feet is to determine the kind you have (rigid or flexible) and add flat feet insoles with the appropriate arch height to your footwear. Supporting your low arches with the best insoles for flat feet will do wonders for relieving pain.

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    Questions? Drop us a line at hello@treadlabs.com. We're here to help.

    Mark Paigen
    Mark Paigen

    Mark has always believed exceptional footwear can change lives. He's been in the footwear industry for over 30 years, working with podiatrists, pedorthists, foot care experts, and footwear makers. Mark started Chaco sandals in 1989 and developed a game-changing sport sandal that delivered comfort and durability. After Chaco sold in 2009, Mark ultimately started Tread Labs to continue transforming people's footwear so they can walk better, feel better, live better.



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