Flatfoot: Definition and What it is
Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Flatfoot Definition and Meaning
Flatfoot is a common condition that results when the arch on the inside of the foot flattens or falls, leading to the entire sole of the foot touching or nearly touching the ground.
While flatfoot can occur during childhood when foot arches don’t develop, it’s also common in adulthood due to a variety of factors, including injury or aging as stress on the foot and arch builds up over time.
Flatfoot is often painless, but it can sometimes lead to discomfort. Common symptoms include:
foot pain (especially in the heel or arch area, which might worsen with activity); pain from tendinitis (when the posterior tibial tendon that supports your foot’s arch becomes irritated and weakens to the point that the foot flattens); swelling along the inside of the ankle; and leg cramps.
Types of Flatfoot
There are two main types of flatfoot: flexible flatfoot, in which there’s an arch in the foot when sitting but the arch flattens when you bear weight on it by standing (this type is common in children and often resolves on its own); and rigid flatfoot, in which there’s no arch regardless of whether you’re bearing weight on the foot.
Flatfoot: A Hinge Health Perspective
When you’re dealing with foot pain, the last place you probably want to be is on your feet. But the best thing you can do is work through the discomfort and stay active.
If you’re reluctant to move because you think you’ll cause more damage or injury to your foot, know this: Movement is good for all the structures in your foot, including your arches. As our Hinge Health care team says, movement is medicine.
You want your arch, along with the muscles, ligaments, and other structures that support it, to remain flexible and mobile to prevent tightness that can lead to pain. In order to do that, you need to engage in exercises that support and strengthen your entire foot, including your calf muscles. A physical therapist can also work with you on a strengthening and stretching plan.
Treatment for flatfoot depends on the severity and symptoms. For many, no treatment is necessary if it’s not causing you any pain. However, for those experiencing discomfort, options include physical therapy, shoe inserts (orthotics) for increased arch support, over-the-counter pain medications, and, in the most severe cases, surgery.
How Physical Therapy Can Help With Flatfoot
A physical therapist (PT) can recommend targeted exercises and stretches to improve foot and ankle strength, increase mobility and flexibility, and ease discomfort resulting from flatfoot. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.
How Hinge Health Can Help You
If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.
The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.
Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition.
Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.
This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.
Arain, A., Harrington, M. C., & Rosenbaum, A. J. (2020). Adult Acquired Flatfoot. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK542178/
Smith, C. J., Beahrs, T., & Weatherford, B. M. (2023, May). Progressive Collapsing Foot Deformity (Flatfoot). OrthoInfo - AAOS. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/posterior-tibial-tendon-dysfunction/