When a person’s feet lack arches, the condition is known as flat-footedness or in medical terms pes planus. This condition is very common and it usually does not cause any pain. Everyone has flat feet at birth, and arches develop in the feet throughout childhood.
If you have flat feet, they may be either flexible or inflexible. To determine which type of flat feet you have, try standing on tiptoe. If your feet arch when you do this, your flat feet are flexible. If they remain flat, they are considered inflexible. Inflexibility may be caused by a condition known as tarsal coalition, wherein two (or a few) bones in your foot have fused together. The only way to determine if this is the case is to take an X-ray.
In the old days doctors thought that flat feet were problematic and should be corrected. Today, most medical professionals recognise that if you were born with flat feet, they probably won’t cause you much problem. It is possible for your arches to fall and/or become flattened by stress or excessive weight bearing.
Luckily, there are exercises you can do to help keep your arches strong whether they are flat or gracefully curved. Here are 8 of the best exercises to help prevent and/or strengthen flat feet.
1. Scrunch a towel
This is a surprisingly demanding exercise that works wonders to strengthen the small muscles of the feet. When we are children involved in active play, these muscles get a lot of natural exercise. As we grow older, they typically weaken. Scrunching a towel with your toes provides a great workout. Here’s how:
- Take off your shoes and have a seat. Lay a hand towel on the floor in front of your chair and put the ball of your foot on the towel. Keep your heel firmly on the floor.
- Reach with your toes and grasp the towel. Draw it toward you by scrunching it underfoot. Keep it up until you have wadded the towel up into a ball under your foot.
- Just as with any form of exercise, pace and form are important. When you have successfully performed a scrunch, hold the tension for a few seconds before releasing and scrunching again. Be careful to use only your toes. Don’t lift your heel from the floor.
Perform this exercise three times a day with both feet, even if you only have problems with one foot. When it becomes easy, give yourself a greater challenge by placing a weight on the towel and/or getting a bigger towel.
2. Stair lifts
Increase the strength of your arches by performing lifts while standing on a stair or on a thick, sturdy, stable board. Place the balls of your feet on the step or board and allow the rest of your foot to be suspended from the side. To begin, your feet should be in a neutral position with your heels neither above nor below the level of the ball of the foot.
Begin by raising your heels so that your are standing on the balls of your feet. Hold for about 30 seconds. Lower your heels slowly and stop lowering when your heels are just an inch or so below the balls of the feet. Don’t drop the heels because control is important for maximum results. Hold this position for about 30 seconds.
Repeat for three sets of ten. You may wish to rest for a couple of minutes or perform a different exercise between sets.
3. Scrunchy stair lift
Combine the scrunch and the stair lift exercises for even greater challenge. An actual step will work better than a board for this exercise, and you’ll need a smaller towel so use a wash cloth. Lay the washcloth on the step and place the ball of one foot on the washcloth. Your heel should be even with the ball of the foot. Place the other foot on the floor.
Scrunch the washcloth and hold while gradually pressing your heel down about an inch. Hold for 30 seconds and then raise the heel and draw yourself up so that the foot holding the scrunched towel is bearing all your weight. Hold for 30 seconds and release.
Do three sets of ten on both feet. Take your time, and take a break between sets if you need to. This exercise is supposed to be challenging, but it’s not supposed to hurt. If it hurts, don’t do it. Be sure to have a sturdy piece of furniture or a wall nearby to help you keep your balance.
4. Stretch the Plantar Fascia
Stand facing the wall with the toes of one foot extended up the wall. In other words, use the wall to flex all of your toes upward. Keep your heel on the floor and perform a slight, gradual lunge toward the wall until your knee touches the wall.
You will feel a stretch along the sole of your foot. Hold the position for about a minute if you can. Remember to breathe deeply to help relax your muscles and tendons as you exercise.
Perform three sets of ten on both feet. This is a good exercise to alternate between sets of scrunching exercises.
5. Relax the Plantar Fascia
Assume a seated position with good posture. Your back should be slightly arched and your shoulders square. Place one foot flat on the floor and put the other foot on a tennis ball. Roll the ball around beneath the arch of your foot. Roll it from toe to heel, from side-to-side and in circles and/or figure-eight patterns. Continue for at least five minutes (or longer if you like). Repeat on the opposite foot.
6. Strengthen & soothe achy arches
Instead of a tennis ball, use a small soup can, a foot roller or a chilled or frozen water bottle as a massager. Because of the cylindrical shape, you will only be able to roll from toe to heel, but this action is very good for strengthening and relaxing your arches. If your arches are injured or very sore, a chilled or frozen bottle of water can provide a lot of relief.
7. Draw in the sand
If you have access to actual sand, try writing numbers and letters or drawing pictures and shapes with your toes. Moving your toes and feet in unaccustomed ways is good general exercise for your feet and ankles.
8. Massage your feet
At the end of a long day, or at the end of your foot workout, give your feet a massage. Use your hands or a foot massager device to stretch the toes upward to help lengthen and relax the arches. Massage your arches and put your feet up for complete relaxation.
Can flat feet be corrected?
Your podiatrist may prescribe or recommend arch supports that will correct your flat feet while you are wearing shoes, but overall it is not possible (and not usually necessary) to correct flat feet. Wearing properly fitted shoes and taking good care of your feet should help you prevent and/or deal with any pain you may be experiencing in your arches.
Even though these are simple exercises, be careful not to overdo it at first because, just as with any form of exercise, if you are not accustomed to it, you could injure yourself. Take it easy and build up your strength gradually. Remember to keep one hand on a chair or wall to balance yourself as needed.
The exercises presented here should help you strengthen and relax your feet. They should help alleviate pain – not cause it. If you experience pain while exercising your feet, see your podiatrist.