Babies are born with flatfeet. Per the Univeristy of Maryland Medical Center, eighty percent of children will develop an arch between the ages of 3 and 10 years. The remaining 20 percent will likely have flatfeet. One or both feet may be affected.
A foot is flat if the arch of the foot touches or nearly touches the floor when the child stands. A wet footprint can quickly identify the absence or presence of an arch. A wide connection between the forefoot and heal on the print indicates a flatfoot or a limited arch.
There are two types of flatfeet; rigid and flexible. Rigid flatfeet are due to fusing of bones or abnormal development in the feet and has more serious consequences than flexible flatfeet. A physician will likely identify and treat rigid flatfeet with orthotics or surgery after an extensive medical work up. However, physicians are rarely concerned about flexible flatfeet and the vast majority of children will require no treatment for the condition.
Most children with flexible flatfeet are asymptomatic. However, some children complain of discomfort when wearing footwear with arch supports. Other children are clumsy or walk oddly to compensate for pain and discomfort. Very active children or ones who participate in sports requiring running or jumping sometimes complain of foot and leg pain or limp and fatigue on long walks. Sometimes, the ankles roll inward as a child walks or runs and creates uneven wear patterns on shoes and causes stress and associated pain in knees and hips.
Arch Supports: Parents should be aware of the degree of arch in their child's feet and buy shoes that match the arch to provide for comfort and support. Shoes with arch supports of easily molded material with good shock absorbing capacity are recommended. Shoes with high arch support do not help a child develop arches and may even contribute to weaker arches and flatter feet.
Orthotics: There is no evidence that wearing orthotics are effective treatments to correct flatfeet. However, orthotics may be useful in preventing the ankles from rolling inward and reduce the strain on muscles and the associated pain.
Our son found that wearing over the counter 3/4 length inserts significantly reduced his knee and leg pain.
Wrapping: Properly wrapping ankles with elastic bandages to support them during sports activities may be beneficial.
This significantly reduced our son's pain during running activities such as Pee Wee basketball and track.
Barefoot: Going barefoot is the best protection against flatfeet per research. Arches can be strengthened by going barefoot on uneven terrain. Walking in sand is especially exercising.
Shoes: Wearing sandals or slippers may help support development of arches. Shoes should be lightweight and flexible with the sole generally rectangular shaped.
We found that it required some searching to find shoes that the toe and heel were generally the same width with no cut out or narrowing of shape at the arch. The most popular and most expensive shoes usually did not meet the criteria.
Exercise: Foot gymnastics are games and exercises that may contribute to improve arch development in children. Our son actually enjoyed these activities.
Weight: Obesity also contributes to flatfeet and is just one more reason for maintaining more optimum weight.
I am happy to report that our son is now an adult and no longer has flat feet or the associated pain and discomfort he suffered as a child. I am thankful that we discovered the information we needed to support that outcome.