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Weekly Progress Update 4

New photos and measurements are up on the progress photo page. Similar to last week the right foot is showing more of an arch in the photos. The left foot doesn’t seem to have changed much (or maybe even worse) than previous weeks. However, there was a decrease in both the arch index measurements. The right went down from 1.36 to 1.16 and the left decreased from 1.08 to 1.02.

I’ve continued with the original plan to spend between 10 and 15 minutes each day on exercises for arch strengthening. I’ve been going to the gym three times a week and running either two or three times a week on the other days. I usually do the exercises as part of a warm-up. Most of these exercises would be good to do regardless of having flat feet, so the time commitment is relatively minor. I know that I’ve been focusing more on my right side since that’s the foot that seems flatter. That could explain the difference in the amount of change between the right and left. The ultimate goal is to have a visible arch in standing, and an arch index less than 1.0 for both feet. The results this week are promising that things are moving in the right direction.

It’s important to note that I’m more interested in the general trend than the week-to-week differences. Let’s face it, as a scientific study this one has many limitations. For starters, there is only one subject (me) who is completely aware of the objective. That introduces a huge bias. Secondly, although I’m trying to be as consistent as possible taking the pictures and footprint measurements, because I’m relying on low-tech equipment and methods this might cause some variation from week-to-week. Lastly, the experimental variables (the exercises) are not consistent each week. I’ve been keeping a log of the specific activities I’m doing, but the exercises I do continually change (and not in a controlled way) based on what I feel is effective.

Despite those limitations, a case study like this one is still important because there is almost no research looking at whether flat feet are reversible and almost all medical references I’ve seen state, without evidence, that they are not. I’m hoping to achieve enough improvement to at least warrant more research into this area.

If I were to put in order today the exercises I’ve found most helpful, the list would be:

  1. Intrinsic foot muscle strengthening–particularly for the abductor hallucis. Each day I’m seeing improvement in the amount I’m able to spread the big toe. Just a few weeks ago I couldn’t contract the muscle at all on the right side. Even though these foot muscles are small, when they engage the ground during walking it feels as if the rest of the muscles in the leg follow kick in to prevent the arch from collapsing. Every exercise is also being done from the short-foot position. 
  2. Calf and lateral ankle stretches. I know my feet have the potential to form arches–that’s the definition of flexible flat feet. However, whenever weight is put through the leg the joints move into an overpronated position. This is probably the path of least resistance. In flat feet, the supporting structures of the arch are more easily stretched than the calf muscles. Even if the foot has good strength, if the calf muscles are short and tight the arch can be forced to collapse.
  3. Hip/Glute strengthening. These are large muscles and can, therefore, do a good job of controlling the position of the leg from the top down.
  4. Single leg balance. Balancing exercises not only strengthen the foot and ankle muscles but also help the nervous system coordinate the timing of muscle contractions to keep the body’s center of gravity over its base of support. Since holding an arch changes the shape of the foot, hopefully, the balancing exercises will help reprogram the nervous system into activating the arch supporting muscles.

Continue to Week 5…

About James Speck

James is a physical therapist with a special interest in the foot and ankle. He created this site to share his own journey toward better arches. Read more

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