Several years ago I created this site as part of a project to see if I could fix my flat feet. After several months of training, I was able to develop normal arches.
This guide provides an in-depth overview of the process I used to correct my flat feet.
Flat Feet Basics
Flat feet is a condition characterized by the absence of an arch on the inside of the foot. The exact cause of flat feet is not known.
There are two main types of flat feet: flexible and rigid.
Flexible Flat Feet
A flexible flat foot is a foot that has the ability to form an arch but the arch flattens when weight is put on the leg.
This is the type of flat feet I had and what I refer to when talking about fixing flat feet. My feet were flat even when I was a child.
Checking For Flexible Flat Feet
There are generally a few ways to check for a flexible flat foot, including:
- if an arch is present when seated with the foot dangling in the air,
- if an arch forms when standing up on the toes, and
- if an arch forms with flexing the big toe up by hand.
Rigid Flat Feet
A rigid flat foot cannot form an arch. This is usually the result of how the bones are shaped or formed in the foot. This condition is uncommon and is unlikely to change with exercise.
Other Types of Flat Feet
Besides rigid flat feet, there are other types of flat feet that are quite different from the flexible type that I had, including:
- conditions that cause spasticity or contracture of the heel cord (e.g. cerebral palsy) or other neurological conditions,
- flat feet that are related to disease processes, or
- injuries that alter the normal anatomy or functioning of the foot.
And even though many cases of flexible flat feet can improve (and there is research that supports this), all individuals are different. So what worked for me may not work for everybody.
Measuring Flat Feet
For this project, I wanted a way to keep track of my progress. There are several ways to measure foot shape. I first thought about using the wet foot test.
Wet Foot Test
This test provides a rough estimate of the arch shape. The this test is performed by wetting the bottom of my foot and then stepping onto thick paper or any dry surface that will show footprints.
The wet foot test can be used to see if a foot has a low, medium, or high arch.
Because I wanted to measure my progress, I decided to use ink footprints instead of the wet foot test. I made these by applying a thin coat of fabric paint to the bottom of my foot then stepping on a piece of paper.
The footprints shown in the picture are a before and after comparison. You can see how the entire sole of my foot was making contact with the ground when I started.
A limitation of using footprints is that they don’t give the whole picture of how the foot moves. It’s not possible to judge from the footprints how much I’m overpronating.
A part of developing better arches was reducing the amount the foot pronates or collapses inward when weight is on the foot.
To assess foot movement, I used video or observed what my feet were doing during activities like walking or squatting.
How to Fix Flat Feet
There are a few key principles that helped throughout this process. The two most important concepts are the neutral heel position and the foot tripod.
People with flat feet often stand with their heels in an everted or angled out position. The neutral heel is what I call the straight up and down position of the heel.
Training myself to hold the neutral heel position was a big part of improving my arches.
The foot tripod is a useful way of thinking about how the bottom of the foot contacts the ground.
The three points of the tripod are the:
- Center of the heel
- Base of the little toe
- Base of the big toe
A balance between these points gives the foot stability.
It was helpful to focus on how these tripod points when doing exercises or walking drills.
Problems and Fixes
Going through this process taught me that the factors contributing to flat feet can extend well beyond the foot. To figure out how to fix my flat feet, I needed to understand why they were that way.
Below I’ll go over the major issues and provide examples of exercises I used to address them.
Factors contributing to flat feet:
- Lack of ankle flexibility
- Foot muscle weakness
- Calf muscle weakness
- Posture and walking mechanics
- Hip muscle weakness
- Forefoot supinatus
Lack of Ankle Flexibility
A tight calf muscle or Achilles tendon can force the foot to collapse inward. This was evident in my case because whenever I went into a squat my already flat feet would collapse even farther.
A tight calf muscle restricts ankle dorsiflexion motion. Ankle dorsiflexion is the bending movement of the ankle that brings the top of the foot closer to the shin.
If the foot is on the ground, this motion happens when the lower leg travels over the foot.
Flexibility improves with regular stretching. An example of a stretching exercise for the calf is the standing wall stretch.
Calf Stretching for Flexibility
- Stand facing a wall and about 12 inches away from it with the hands on the wall for balance.
- Extend the leg to be stretched behind with the knee straight.
- Gently lean forward while bending the knee in front until feeling a stretch in the calf on the extended leg.
- Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
Repeat 4 times on each side.
Foot Muscle Weakness
The arch is like a bridge and the muscles inside the foot tie the two ends of the bridge together. These muscles help keep the ends from separating when force is put through the foot.
Besides supporting the arch, the muscles inside the foot (known as intrinsic muscles) stabilize the many joints of the foot. Doing so assists the larger muscles of the lower leg in raising the arch.
The muscles inside the foot may be weak or functioning poorly. One of the core exercises for flat feet to target these muscles is the short foot.
Short Foot Exercise for Arch Muscle Strengthening
- Sit in a chair with the foot on the floor and the toes pointed forward.
- Keeping the toes flat on the ground slide the front of the foot back along the floor toward the heel.
- Hold the short foot position for 5-10 seconds.
- Relax and repeat.
Repeat 10 times on each side.
Lower Leg Muscle Weakness
There are several muscles in the lower leg that cross the ankle joint to attach onto the foot. These muscles are larger and stronger than the muscles inside the foot.
The posterior tibialis is one of these muscles commonly suspected of being weak in people with flat feet. But all the lower leg muscles work together to give the foot stability. One of the best exercises for strengthening these muscles is heel raises.
Heel Raises for Lower Leg Strengthening
- Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart
- Raise heels off the ground as high as possible keeping pressure through the front of the foot
- Hold for 1-2 seconds at the top of the movement then return slowly to the starting position
Perform 15-20 repetitions.
Anterior Pelvic Tilt
Anterior pelvic tilt posture is when the front of the pelvis tilts forward creating a large curve in the lower back.
This posture is sometimes associated with changes in the angle of the joints in the hip, knee, and ankle. This change in alignment can place increased stress on the arch.
Getting into Better Alignment
To maintain a good arch shape, I found it was necessary to improve my posture. A big part of this was reducing anterior pelvic tilt. But bringing the whole system, from head to toe, into better alignment made a noticeable difference in arch height and stability.
Some general cues I used for posture were:
- stand tall with ears over shoulders,
- keep a neutral pelvis, and
- maintain hips over ankles.
There are many exercises the can help with reducing anterior pelvic tilt and improving posture. I found postural exercises were most effective when combined with the consistent practice of maintaining good alignment.
Walking is one of the best exercises for training the foot. Just think, if you take 8,000 steps a day — that’s 8,000 chances to work on arch strengthening. Walking mechanics are very complex. I changed a lot of things to get my walking to look the way I wanted it to look.
Three simple rules for walking
- Keep feet pointed straight ahead (or close to it).
- Keep weight towards the outside edge of the foot.
- Walk with a springy step.
In combination with the exercises and improving posture, I was able to stop my arches from collapsing while walking. At first, I had to frequently think about it. But over time everything became automatic.
Other Contributing Factors
Some of the largest muscles in the body are around the hips. The hip muscles need strength to control the alignment of the leg.
A lack of hip strength can alter the alignment of the leg and increase pressure on the arch. Now, I didn’t find isolated hip strengthening exercises very useful.
What worked instead were exercises that combined hip activity with arch strengthening.
An example would be balancing on one leg while trying to maintain an arch in the foot.
Forefoot supinatus is the angling or inverted position of the bones in the front of the foot in relation to the heel. This causes the foot to roll inward (pronate) in order to bring the big toe side of the foot down to the ground.
Supinatus is thought to be a way the foot adapts over time to overpronating. I had this only on my right foot and it was hard to reverse. Working on pressing the big toe down was one way I went about correcting this.
- Start with your foot flat on the floor
- Try to lift your big toe into the air while keeping the other toes down
- Then switch and try to lift your other four toes while keeping the big toe pressed down
- Keep alternating back and forth until the muscles on the inside of your arch start to feel fatigued
Repeat 10 times.
Footwear and Orthotics
There is a lot of debate about what types of shoes are best for people who have flat feet or overpronate. In the past, I wore stability shoes and used arch support insoles.
Part of what inspired me to start working on my arches was the barefoot-running movement. So during this project, I started spending more time barefoot and began wearing thinner, more flexible shoes with less support.
There is some evidence that going with less support strengthens foot muscles and I believe this helped in my case.
Before starting this project, I never paid much attention to the strength and flexibility of my feet. I felt dependent on shoes and thought my feet needed external support to function properly.
When I began working on this in 2012 there was very little information available on correcting flat feet. Even with my training as a physical therapist, I wasn’t sure if building arches was even possible.
Now, I look at the time I put into this process as one of the best investments I’ve made for my health.
Hopefully this guide has given you a good overview of the approach I took to correct flat feet.
If you’ve found this guide helpful and want more information, consider becoming a member. The membership area of the site provides an in-depth look at these concepts and specific exercises from my program.