When shopping for shoe insoles, arch support is a must. But with so many options out there, buying arch support insoles for your flat feet can be confusing. Should you buy cushy foam inserts with lots of cushioning, or are firm and supportive insoles the perfect choice? And what about arch height? Should it be low to mimic your arch, high to create the arch you don't have or is it a personal preference?
While the answers to all of these questions will depend entirely on your feet’s needs, it’s crucial that you find the correct size that fits and feels comfortable, and that your arch support insoles are made of the right materials. After all, insoles are designed to reduce pain and foot fatigue, not exacerbate it.
Here's everything you need to treat your flat feet right and take good care of your foot health.
The Basics ---
- About 25% of the American population have flat feet. Some are born with them, others develop them as with age, but they can all suffer from problems like foot pain and overpronation.
- Flat feet pain can be temporarily addressed by stretching, strengthening, and providing support to your arches. But for long term comfort, you'll need to add firm arch support insoles to your footwear. A product with cushy foam or gel that doesn't provide arch support won't relieve your pain.
- Figuring out the best arch support insoles for your flat feet requires you to know your flat foot type - rigid or flexible. If your feet are flat when standing or sitting, you have rigid flat feet and need low arch insoles. If your arch appears when you're sitting, you have flexible flat feet and need insoles with a medium arch.
- For first time insole wearers, people who walk or hike, or those who stand all day, we recommend Tread Labs Ramble Insoles. If you have plantar fasciitis, overpronate severely or are especially heavy on your feet, we recommend Pace Insoles. And, if you're a performance athlete or have especially flat feet, we recommend Dash Insoles.
What You Need To Know ---
The arches of your feet 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.
Even if it looks like your flat feet don't have any arches, they're definitely there, and properly supporting them will help prevent foot pain and injuries. But what exactly is "proper support" for flat feet? Is it a gel or foam insole that's as flat as your foot? Is it an insole with a well-defined arch to "fix" your flat feet?
The short answer? Firm arch supports for feet that are flat are better. Flat, floppy gel or foam insoles are missing the support your feet need to keep your joints problem-free.
Now, let's explore the long answer.
What Causes Flat Feet?
Flat feet, also known as pes planus, are caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Generally, genetic factors cause people to have flat feet their whole lives, while environmental factors 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 (both genetic and environmental) include:
- Genetics - Flat feet caused by genetics happen when your arches don't develop properly during childhood. We're all born with flat feet, but during childhood our arches form. If our foot's muscles, bones, and ligaments don't develop adequately, they don't form a stable arch. This is often due to genetics, as flat feet tend to run in families.
- Traumatic injury - For example, dislocating bones in your feet or tearing a tendon, particularly the posterior tibial tendon, which supports the arch can lead to flat feet.
- Rheumatoid arthritis - An inflammation of the joints that can cause flat feet.
- Obesity - As your weight increases, so too does the pressure on your foot tendons, which can cause them to collapse.
- Pregnancy – Hormonal changes can cause arches to flatten, as can an increase in weight that is typical during pregnancy.
- Diabetes - Diabetes can affect the nerves in your feet which can result in weak tendons that can collapse, causing flat feet.
- High blood pressure – Decreased blood supply to the tendons in the foot can alter their ability to support your arch.
- Aging - As you age, your tendons can stretch, causing them to collapse.
Not sure if you have flat feet? Learn if you do with this quick, simple test to determine your arch height.
Are Flat Feet and Fallen Arches The Same Thing?
You may think that flat feet and fallen arches are the same thing, but there's actually a big difference. Flat feet are something people are born with. Fallen arches develop in adulthood and are often the result of external factors.
Fallen arches can be 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. Injuries can be common among people who play sports or who perform strenuous activities like hiking or running.
- 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 include feet tiring easily, foot pain, back pain, and swollen ankles. Fallen arches can also exacerbate existing knee pain 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?
While many of these flat foot problems and injuries can be addressed easily with the right foot arch support insoles, it's better to avoid them altogether, especially if foot pain will hold you back from the daily activities or athletic pursuits you enjoy.
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.
- Arch pain & other foot pain – pain can occur over the length of the foot or in isolated areas.
- Typically affected are the inside of the ankle, the outer edge of the foot, heel pain (known as plantar fasciitis) or pain 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 Do I Relieve Flat Feet Pain?
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 You 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 soothe 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 is other roads of treatment 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 foot arch support 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 arch support shoe inserts 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 Orthotic Insoles?
The low-price, cushy shoe inserts you often see at the drugstore may save you money and please your feet for a few days when they are new, but ultimately you'll find yourself in the same place you started, trying to find relief for your flat feet. That's because arch supports for feet that have firm, durable support promote healthy, energetic feet.
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 an 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). Shoe insoles with arch support that is high or extra high may be uncomfortable and give you the feeling of a golf ball in your shoe.
The best arch support 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.
Where To Buy Arch Support Insoles
As you've already learned, buying thin or flimsy arch support shoe inserts at the drugstore won't give you the support and relief your flat feet need to stay healthy and energetic. Instead, you'll want to get your insoles directly from a brand's website or through a store with a customer service person who can help find you the best arch support for your feet.
Whether you're adding women's or men's insoles with arch support to your footwear, if you have flat feet, remember that the style of shoes you wear will also make a huge difference. Shoes that don't offer support or let you add arch support orthotic insoles will leave your flat feet feeling tired and sore at the end of the day. High heels, flip-flops, casual shoes, and sandals can aggravate painful conditions 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 arch support insoles for flat feet will do wonders for relieving pain.
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