For people with flat feet, buying insoles can get really 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? We're clearing up the confusion by answering these questions, and the ones you didn't even know you needed to ask.
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.
The arches in your feet play a really important role in every step you take. They help you move efficiently, allowing the middle part of your foot to flex like a bow. They add shock absorption and flexibility to your gait. Finally, they improve your balance when standing or moving.
While it may appear that flat feet don't have any arches, they're there, and supporting them 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.
We'll get to the long answer to that question. But the short answer is that providing your arch with firm support promotes better biomechanics while standing, walking or running. Plus, the cushioning and shock absorption of a quality pair of insoles helps reduce the likelihood 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.
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
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.
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.
Do Flat Feet Need Arch Support Insoles?
People with flat feet are often confused about how much arch support is optimum. They wonder if a soft, cushy shoe insert is better than a firm one with a defined arch. Flat feet do need arch support insoles, the best of which offer a low, but supportive arch and heel stabilization.
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.
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.
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.