Best Shoes for Flat Feet 2019 Reviewed & Rated
Flat feet are incredibly common, but many people struggle to find the best shoes for flat feet. In fact, we all start out with flat feet as babies, and most of us develop the arch over time, although some people never do. Pregnancy, injury, and even overuse and stress on the feet can cause arches to fall, and feet to flatten temporarily or even permanently. While flat feet are not always a cause for concern, they can require special care and specialized footwear to prevent foot pain and injury.
If you have flat feet or fallen arches and need to know how to better protect your health and find the best shoes for flat feet, this guide will help you choose exactly the right shoes for your needs. We take a close look at the causes and effects of flat feet, what kind of shoes help support and protect the feet, and show you how to choose the right shoes for your needs and health.
Last update on 2019-08-20 PST – Details
Best Men’s Shoes for Flat Feet
Last update on 2019-08-20 PST – Details
What are Flat Feet?
Flat feet, also known as fallen arches, is a condition where the foot lacks the arch seen in a typical foot. It is caused when the foot ligaments are too loose to lift and pull the foot into the typical arch position. Most children are born with flat feet, and then arches develop over time as their bones, muscles, and ligaments develop strength. In some people, flat feet persist into adulthood. When adults lose the arch due to illness, injury, or degeneration, it is called “fallen arches,” an acquired condition, as opposed to flat feet.
Flat feet are very common, occurring in at least one foot in 20-30% of adults. It is also common during pregnancy, as hormonal changes can relax the ligaments in the body. Generally speaking, if a person with flat feet can put their foot on the floor, lift their toes upward toward their shin, and an arch appears in the foot as it stretches, they have a “flexible flat foot”, and often this is not associated with any pain or medical conditions. If a person struggles to form an arch by lifting their toes, they have inflexible “rigid flat feet,” which can be associated with other health conditions.
By the way, flat feet are no longer a reason to be excluded from fitness for military duty. Decades of study have shown that flexible flat feet are no more innately prone to injury or fatigue than feet with normal arches, provided they are equipped with the proper footwear.
Often feet that appear to be “flat” do not have problems with the arches; instead, the foot appears flat due to excess pronation. While flat feet are caused by the physical muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the foot, over-pronation is caused instead by body mechanics and habits of movement, rather than by the foot structure. However, the two conditions often have the same net effect and are often treated in the same way.
Problems Associated With Flat Feet
The arches of the feet, and the ligaments that create and support them play an important role in absorbing and dissipating impact before it affects the leg bones and the rest of the skeleton. Flat feet have reduced the ability to absorb shock, and are frequently associated with pain in the feet, lower legs, and even the knees and lower back. Even in the absence of pain, flat feet can affect gait and athletic performance in some activities. Some of the most common problems associated with flat feet are:
- Fatigued and tired feet. Flat feet tend to tire easily because impact and stress is felt more severely
- Pain or aches in the feet, especially in the arch and heel. Decreased support and stability from the ligaments can cause foot pain
- Swelling in the inner foot. Greater impact and strain can cause swelling and fluid retention in the inner foot
- Reduced foot mobility. If the foot is inflexible, and the toes, sole, and arch have a limited range of motion, it can affect stability and balance, and potentially limit the range of activities
- Back and leg pain. If the impact is not properly absorbed in the feet, or if the foot is not properly balanced, it can cause pain and strain that travels up the leg to the knee and lower back
Occasionally, flat feet can be caused by more serious medical conditions and defects, and medical intervention is needed to correct the underlying cause.
How Do You Know If You Have Flat Feet?
While a doctor should be seen to diagnose and treat severe pain or medical conditions, there is an easy test that you can do at home to see if you have flat feet.
- Get a piece of cardboard or heavy paper and lay it on the floor.
- Get the bottoms of your feet lightly wet.
- Step onto the paper, briefly rest your full body weight, then step off and examine your footprint.
In a typical adult footprint, you would see an hourglass shape of the outline of the foot, as the arch of the foot doesn’t make contact with the paper. If your footprint is solid, and the arch of your foot is low enough to make contact with the paper, you probably have either flat feet or pronated feet.
For a further test, keeping the sole of your foot on the floor, lift your toes up as high as you can and observe the arch of your foot. If an arch forms when the foot is flexed, you probably have “flexible” flat feet. If lifting your toes is difficult or painful, you probably have “rigid” flat feet.
To find out if you have over-pronated feet, look at the soles of your old shoes. Most people wear away the outside back of the heels of their shoes first. If you pronate, your shoe wear patterns will be more toward the middle of the sole of the shoe, and in severe over-pronation, the wear pattern will be on the inside of the sole, more toward the arch than the heel.
What’s the Difference Between Flat Feet and Over-pronation?
In flat feet, the ligaments that should create and support the arch of the foot are not functioning properly, making the foot less elastic and resilient, and the letting the arch sit lower to the ground. In a pronated foot, the foot is usually structurally normal, but, in the course of the customary movement, the foot rolls to the inside, shifting weight from the outside of the foot to the inside of the foot instead of smoothly from the heel to the toe. While some amount of shifting to the inside is part of every normal gait, over-pronation means that this lateral shift is happening to a greater degree, and the inner arch of the foot is habitually bearing more body weight than it is designed to do.
Flat feet and over-pronation are actually two very different things, but they are often treated in the same way, because they have very similar effects on the feet.
What to Do About Flat Feet?
If your flat feet are painful, there are a number of ways you can address them:
Exercise and Stretch
Foot exercises can help to strengthen the muscles of the feet, support the Achilles tendon, and help to correct flat feet and over-pronation. Some good exercises for flat feet are:
- Sit straight in a chair with a towel placed flat beneath your forefoot. With your foot on the towel and your heel down, curl and release your toes to pull the edge of the towel toward you. Inch the towel under your foot using only your toes. To increase difficulty, put a weight on the towel
- Stand on a step, placing only the balls of your feet on the step. Lower your heels behind you until you feel your calves stretch. Relax into the stretch
- You may also massage your arches and plantar fascia by rolling a tennis ball beneath your foot while seated.
In many medical cases, a physical therapist or athletic trainer can evaluate your feet and recommend a training program to support your feet.
Wear The Correct Shoes
People with flat feet should wear shoes that provide the arch support their feet need, that provide the necessary stability and shock absorption for the rest of the body. The right shoes can help compensate for weak arches and protect the body from pain and injury.
Particularly in cases of over-pronation, over-the-counter orthotics can work to help compensate for the habitual motion of your gait. If your feet are more painful, a professional can make custom orthotics specifically designed to support your feet.
Barefoot or Not?
Some experts advise those with flat feet never to go barefoot, even in their homes, but to always stand and walk when wearing supportive footwear. Others suggest that going barefoot when possible encourages the development of strengthening and supporting muscles in the feet, and naturally helps to compensate for flat feet.
The truth is actually a question of pronation. If you over-pronate your feet, then your habitual body movements of standing and walking put unnecessary strain on your feet. Those who over-pronate should not go barefoot but should use correcting shoes. If your feet are flat without excess pronation, then going barefoot periodically does help develop the foot muscles that will better support your arch.
Best Shoes For Flat Feet
If you have flat feet or over-pronate, it’s important to look for shoes that have:
Support Without Pressure
If your arches are low, you may find some shoes put uncomfortable pressure on the arch of your feet. You need arch support to help ease tension in the foot, but don’t want shoes that cause pressure or binding. This is particularly important if you have fallen arches, as some of the foot’s supporting structures may already be damaged.
A Firm But not Hard Sole
If you over-pronate, you may have unusual wear patterns in your shoes. You need shoes that provide stability and resistance against this pronation, to help compensate for your gait, while still cushioning your feet from shock and impact.
If you have severe over-pronation, your ankle may be wobbling back and forth with every step, transferring motion in a stressful way. You may need shoes that not only support your feet but also support your ankle and provide greater stability for your lower legs.
A Rigid Midsole
Look for shoes that have a greater supportive density in the midsole, particularly if there is reinforcement on the inside edge at the base of the arch toward the heel. This will help to support arches and correct overpronation.
Flat feet are a common condition, and in most cases, they do not cause any serious pain or health complications. However, flat feet can cause additional pain, pressure, or tension for a person who works on their feet, or who wants to unlock higher athletic performance. If flat feet are painful, sore, tired, or weak, it’s time to seek footwear better suited to your particular needs.
With shoes that properly support and protect flat feet, you can not only relieve pain and tension, and live life with greater comfort and mobility, you can also help to prevent flat feet from getting worse and going on to cause other associated health problems. Choose the best shoes for flat feet and enjoy better health.