What Kind of Support Is Best for Flat Feet?
The best support for flat feet is a shoe insert—custom or not. They should provide your feet with the right shape and cushioning to reduce pain and solve any problems. Sometimes flat feet can be cured with treatment. Other times the support is just there to relieve symptoms and prevent overpronation.
I didn’t know flat feet were an issue people had until I discovered I had them too. I was always in pain and I assumed it was normal. Walking was supposed to hurt.
When I sprained my ankle 12 times just from running and walking, I knew there was something going on. I needed help before something snapped. It was time for me to learn what kind of support is best for flat feet.
What Are Flat Feet?
Our feet have several arches.
But all people are different, so the arches will be too. Some people have high arches, and some people have low arches.
Those with low or no arches are often known as having flat feet. It can occur on one or both feet.
Symptoms of Flat Feet
Some symptoms of flat feet or low arches include:
- Foot pain, particularly around the arch or heel.
- Difficulty standing on your toes.
- Ankle swelling, mainly around the inside area.
- Visually flat feet.
- An uneven or worn feel to shoes.
It should be noted that not everyone with flat feet experiences symptoms. Many can live pain-free lives, blissfully unaware of their low arches.
What Causes Flat Feet?
There’s no one determining factor of what causes flat feet. Your doctor may be able to tell you what caused your issue. This will allow them, if possible, to treat the underlying cause.
Flat feet may also be temporary, cropping up due to a condition that will rectify itself with time. There are several things that can cause flat feet and some are more serious than others.
One cause of flat feet is genetics. Like your hair and eye color, many medical conditions can be caused by genetics, too. This usually means the flat feet are present from birth and run through the family.
A simple way obesity may cause flat feet is in increased pressure placed on your feet and joints. When running, an average-weight person places three times their body weight on their feet. Now imagine a heavier person running, walking and engaging in activities.
The constant pressure and abuse of the feet is bound to change the anatomy over time. The feet have to adapt to cope.
Other causes of flat feet in overweight people may include weight gain on the feet. The extra weight could cause the arches to lower, or pad out the arch entirely.
Either way, obesity can cause flat feet in adults and children. Fortunately, obesity may be a temporary condition. Weight loss and proper maintenance of weight can get rid of the cause, so the problem can be treated more easily.
During pregnancy you gain weight. Like with obesity, the extra pressure on your feet can start to cause problems.
Your body changes a lot during pregnancy. Some of these include lasting changes to the structure of the feet—including to the arch. Luckily, these arch changes can be treated and may resolve with time.
Our bodies change as we get older. Weight gain, joint fatigue, muscle loss. Our feet change too, often getting wider or longer—thanks to a lowered arch.
The aging, weakened ligaments and tendons paired with gravity allow the foot’s arch to drop. It’s a natural process, and these dropped arches can be supported and treated.
More Serious Issues
You can’t help genetics, pregnancy is temporary and obesity can be too. Aging is something that ails us all.
But there are a few other issues that can cause flat feet—some permanent, such as arthritis. The others can be managed and cured with proper treatment.
These issues include:
- Tendon damage.
- Broken/dislocated bones.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Nerve problems.
Why Flat Feet Are Such an Issue
Besides the painful potential symptoms, flat feet can cause a shoebox-load of other problems by association. These issues aren’t for certain, and many people are lucky and don’t experience any problems. But it’s important to know what could happen so you understand why you need support.
People with flat feet are susceptible to overpronation. This is when your feet roll inwards during activity. This can lead to your feet and legs being misaligned and throw off your balance.
Walking and running may become a challenge if your balance is off. Even with proper balance, you’re more prone to injury with overpronation. For example, it became easier for me to roll and sprain my ankles.
Overpronation can also cause/lead to:
- Heel pain.
- Lower back pain.
- Stress fractures.
- Plantar fasciitis—a condition where you have weakened ligaments, which can become swollen and irritated.
- Achilles tendonitis—where you strain the calf muscles, leading to pain.
- Shin splints—acute but prolonged shin pain.
- Patellofemoral pain syndrome—injury-induced knee pain ranging from mild to extreme.
- Iliotibial band syndrome—overuse injury causing pain around the knee and outer thigh, possibly up into the buttocks.
What Support Do I Need for Flat Feet?
Arch support for flat feet is vital. Supporting the arch helps get the foot into the correct position for activity. By default, this keeps pain at bay and helps eliminate overpronation.
For flat feet caused by factors such as injury, obesity or pregnancy, proper support may also cure flat feet for good. Exercises and support can help the feet relearn and reshape themselves to the position that’s best for them.
So what are the best insoles for flat feet? You have two options for your insoles. At least one of them should suit most peoples’ needs.
Custom orthotics may be necessary if you have unusual feet. For example, if one arch is fallen but the other is fine, or if your feet have a sizable difference in length. Then you’ll need an expert to make you up a pair perfect for your feet.
How Do I Get Custom Orthotics?
These orthotics are typically only available via prescription. They’re made for you one set at a time, and are usually of impeccable quality. They’re built to last and to fit the exact shape and contours of your feet.
The podiatrist might even examine your movements before designing your orthotics. How your feet move when walking and running is vital. Your orthotics need to be flexible or have some leeway in the areas of your feet that move. At the same time, they need to deliver constant and appropriate support.
What Support Do Custom Orthotics Deliver?
The support you get from custom orthotics is precise. It’s unlikely anyone else in the world will have the exact same orthotics as you.
These carefully designed orthotics come in two variations, each with their own support and uses.
If your feet are negatively impacting your gait, then functional orthotics come into play. Functional orthotics are designed to alleviate and treat pain caused by abnormal foot motions. They can help get your gait back on track.
Functional orthotics may also help fix problems caused by overpronation, such as shin splints or tendonitis.
Because functional orthotics need to offer so much support in so many areas, they’ll likely be rigid, but perfectly made based on your feet and movements. They may be made of hard plastic or graphite, making sure your feet stay in place throughout the day.
Accommodative orthotics are typically used for less extreme problems. They’re for cushioning and comfort, providing flexible support. They’re most likely to be made of soft materials for this.
If your flat feet don’t cause you bigger problems, you may have accommodative orthotics just to provide support and relieve pain. These orthotics can also be used to support people with ulcers or calluses.
Accommodative orthotics are similar to over the counter insoles you can buy in pharmacies, stores and online. They may be custom made for your foot shape, but that’s one of the only differences between the two.
How Much Do Custom Orthotics Cost?
Custom orthotics can run you a few hundred dollars depending on your insurance plan and what you need. This might put you off, but remember that these are high-quality, custom made pieces of equipment. If you care for them they should last, possibly for years.
If your flat feet cause you extensive issues and pain that non-custom orthotics can’t fix, I think they’re a worthy investment. Luckily they’re usually covered by insurance—consider asking your insurance provider beforehand.
Over the Counter Insoles
You’ve probably seen insoles available in dozens of places over the years. Flat, cushioned ones in the dollar store. Arched, thicker, higher quality insoles online or in pharmacies. I’ve tried both and the latter have helped me out a ton.
“Over the counter” insoles are usually just referred to as insoles or shoe inserts. This label includes full insoles and partial ones like heel supports and arch supports. All of these can be of benefit to someone dealing with flat feet.
If your arches have fallen due to an injury, it’s better to see an expert and have custom orthotics made. However if you were born with them, or developed them through obesity, pregnancy or aging, you may be able to treat them yourself.
What Over the Counter Insoles Work Best for Flat Feet?
For someone experiencing mild pain or discomfort because of flat feet, a padded insole might be all you need. These insoles can help absorb shock as you walk and support your feet in a hard pair of shoes.
Foam and gel are two cushion-like materials that work well for foot pain and mild support. They’re flexible, comfortable and can hold a shape if made to do so. For instance, some may be shaped to support an existing arch or bump up a fallen one.
What to Consider With These Insoles
When shopping for insoles, there are a few things you need to ask yourself before you dive in. These will help you figure out what you need, if you really need it, or if you need more support than the insoles can offer.
What You Need Them For
We’ve established you need insoles. You’re in pain, you need relief. But do you need the same relief all the time? Are there times when you need none at all?
Maybe standing and walking casually causes minimal discomfort. For this, some basic cushioned support could be fine. But maybe when you wear athletic shoes or work boots, that’s when the real agony begins.
For this you might want to consider something stiffer with more arch support. Running and sports can be hard on your feet, and so can work boots. Work boots are often large, bulky and hard—that can’t be great for already sensitive feet with no arches.
Sometimes, basic insoles you buy yourself just can’t give you the support you require.
If you have a condition that impacts your feet, you may want to consider seeing a podiatrist. Diabetes and circulation problems are two issues that may make life harder on your feet.
Foot problems caused by an underlying issue unrelated to your flat feet are ones you should see a doctor for. The physician can treat the underlying cause while the podiatrist treats the foot ailment and creates the support you need.
Your podiatrist may also be able to weigh in on your non-prescription insole of choice. People with diabetes or poor circulation may be more sensitive and prone to ulcers and infections. A podiatrist will know what materials could irritate your feet and help prevent an ill-informed purchase.
How They Fit
To get the support you need, you should make sure everything fits as it should. Some insoles will fit perfectly into your shoes. Others will slide around, making some of the support they offer redundant.
You should bring a selection of your most worn shoes insole-shopping with you, if possible. Place the insoles into the shoes to see how they fit. Consider buying different sizes for different shoes.
If you’re buying online, consider buying multiple sizes and returning the ones you don’t use. I know shopping in person isn’t doable for everyone, so you have to make it work for your situation.
How They Feel
This may be the most important part, after health. If your insoles are offering you incredible support but causing issues themselves, what’s the point? You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your heels and toes for the sake of your arches and ankles.
If a store has samples, try as many as you can. Make sure they offer support in the right areas while keeping your entire foot comfortable and secure.
See if online sellers offer free samples. If not, buy, try and return. Only do this if the retailers offer returns for the insoles, though! Make sure of that in advance. Some may not, as it could be considered a hygiene issue.
How to Test Your Insoles
Keeping your socks on for hygiene reasons, step onto the insoles. If they feel good, put them in your shoes and take them for a spin.
If the store doesn’t allow this testing, consider buying and returning them like you would with an online order.
Try your insoles out for a few days of your regular activities. If they need trimming, make sure to avoid doing it until your mind is made up. If the insoles offer the perfect amount of support and comfort through all your activities, it’s time to trim them to the right size to keep.
Other Ways to Treat Flat Feet
There are some exercises you can do to help with your flat feet. These should help relieve pain and treat the issue, along with your insoles or custom orthotics. Sometimes naturally supporting your arches is as vital as doing it with inserts.
The exercises include:
- Heel stretches.
- Ball rolls.
- Arch lifts.
- Calf raises.
- Stair arch raises.
- Towel curls/grab.
- Toe raises.
Your Sole Supporter
Flat feet can occur in anyone, young or old. They’re something we all might have to look forward to as we age—and that’s okay. We can support our arches through custom orthotics and non-prescription insoles available over the counter, in shoe stores and online.
The best support for flat feet is whatever works for you personally. For most people, that will mean cushioning to relieve pain and a gentle lift to put the arch back in place. This helps correct overpronation, in turn preventing a range of undesirable conditions.