Fallen arches, collapsed arches or flat feet are the names given to an anatomical defect with the foot arches. The feet of people with fallen arches, lack the characteristic arch shape in the midfoot which can be a birth defect, or can develop over time. A normal foot has a raised arch in the middle, which is responsible for giving footprints their characteristic shape, with a narrowing in the middle. Looking at your footprints is a good way to tell if you have high, low or fallen arches.
The primary function of the foot arch is to act as a shock absorber, which cushions the forces generated when walking and running, and to prevent these from being transferred to the bones and joints. Fallen arches can offer only limited shock absorption, and depending on the severity, may provide little to no shock absorption at all. In severe cases of fallen arches, the foot is literally flat at the bottom, with no apparent arch present. Although flat feet can be present from birth, this does not present as much of a problem as fallen arches that occur later in life.
Over-compression of the arches during each step can ultimately lead to them failing, and over time they can collapse. The heavy impact of running or walking, especially with improper or worn out shoes, is one of the most common causes of fallen arches. Carrying around a lot of extra weight puts increased stress on your arches, be that from work where heavy loads are required to be carried, or excess body weight. Unsurprisingly, those who are overweight or obese stand a greater chance of getting foot problems such as fallen arches, as the feet are not designed to deal with the excessive weight. When the arches are placed under too much strain, they can collapse leading to jarring forces acting on the bones and joints throughout the lower body.
The easiest comparison is that of a car. The ride is smooth because of the shock absorbers located on each wheel. When the road is bumpy, the jarring force of a wheel hitting a pothole is greatly reduced. Without shock absorbers, the ride would be uncomfortable, and the same happens with the feet. The shocks are not absorbed, and the bone-jarring that occurs can damage the joints and can lead to arthritic joints over time. Shoes with arch support offer help and prevent the arches from getting fatigued too quickly, and will make up for the lack of support present in those with flat feet.
High-heeled shoes are another frequent culprit. Placing the weight on the balls of the feet, as is done while wearing high-heels, places the arches under an increased strain. Additionally, when wearing high-heeled shoes, the natural mechanics of the foot are altered. Each step taken in flat shoes or bare feet engages each of the muscles and tendons in your foot. Stepping only on the balls of your feet can cause the complex muscles and tendons in your foot to atrophy or weaken.
When the arches of the feet are flattened due to fallen arches, the entire foot tends to lean inward at the point in a step when the most pressure is being applied to the foot. This inward rolling is known as overpronation and the misalignment of the foot can lead to problems with the ankles, knees and even the back. By looking at whether your feet and ankles lean in when standing upright, you can tell whether or not you are an overpronator, although in many cases this is only apparent when running and observed from behind. Overpronators tend to land on the outside edge of the heel, with the foot rolling inwards through the stride.
An easy way to tell if you overpronate is to look at an old pair of running shoes or sneakers. A healthy foot and gait will cause fairly even wear on the soles of shoes. The shoes of overpronators will be worn more on the outside of the heel and the inside edge of the toes. Whilst not all overpronators have fallen arches, it is the most likely cause.
The misalignment of the lower body resulting from fallen arches can be the cause of many problems. Foot pain and foot problems such as plantar fasciitis are the most common ailments caused by fallen arches. Because the foot, ankle, knee, and leg do not line up correctly during walking, people with fallen arches also suffer from a variety of problems with their ankles, knees, and lower back. These problems can range from general soreness to frequent straining and sprain of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments throughout the lower body.
Problems Associated with Fallen Arches
Fallen arches are also known as flat feet or to give them the correct medical term, pes planus (it’s Latin for flat feet). It is a condition where the arch of the foot collapses during the weight-bearing portion of a step. In extreme cases, the arch will completely disappear with the entire foot touching the ground while standing. The arches of the feet perform three main functions. They disperse weight evenly through the feet and legs, absorb the impact of walking or running, and help stabilize the body enabling us to stand upright. Fallen arches can cause a variety of different injuries and painful symptoms both directly to the tendons and tissues of the arch as well as to the feet, ankles, legs, knees, and back.
The most common injury to the arch that is caused by fallen arches is plantar fasciitis. When the arches fall, the plantar fascia, which is a band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot, becomes overstretched and micro-tears can occur. These micro-tears result in irritation and inflammation, causing the painful foot condition plantar fasciitis.
Fallen arches can also cause other conditions of the feet to develop, and without proper support, the chances of developing pain in the lower body are greatly increased. The irregularity of movement associated with fallen arches can force the skin to scrape against shoes causing calluses and corns to form. The bones that form the top of the arch may squeeze the nerves on the top of the foot when they are flattened, leading to nerve entrapment, tarsal tunnel syndrome or a midtarsal fault.
Fallen arches cannot absorb the impact of the body’s weight as it is exerted on the foot. The impact is instead displaced and ends up being absorbed by other parts of the body, most notably the calves and knees. Shin splints is another condition which affects those with fallen arches. It is inflammation and swelling of the tibial tendons in the shin, which are required to work harder to compensate for the lack of shock absorption provided by flat feet. The additional impact force can also cause knee pain, hip pain, and even lower back pain.
People with fallen arches also tend to overpronate when walking and running. The feet naturally roll inwards to a small degree, which helps with the function of the foot arches. However, when the arches fall the inward roll can become more pronounced. With the feet not evenly dispersing weight, and the foot excessively rolling inwards, the ankles take a lot of the stress. This can lead to soreness and weakness in the ankles, and increased risk of an inversion sprain, and can increase the chances of stress fractures forming.
Fallen arches also mean that the Achilles tendon is required to work harder with each step, which can lead to overuse injuries such as Achilles tendonitis. When the feet roll inwards, the body moves out of alignment, which has a knock on effect which can be felt throughout the body.
Many other injuries or conditions can develop indirectly from fallen arches. If your arches are low or have collapsed, it is vital that you compensate for the lack of natural arch support by using supportive insoles, arch supports, and purchase shoes which will make up for the lack of support in your foot arches.
What Does Fallen Arches Mean? Last Updated: 28/1/2018