Solutions for Dealing With Flat Feet

Woman performing foot stretch
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Many people with flat feet think that they just have flat feet and that nothing can be done about it. This is wrong in most cases. Flat feet can be a major medical issue resulting in pain, difficulty fitting shoes and/or limit the ability to be active.  

Types of Flat Feet

There are two different types of flat feet:

  • A flexible flat foot is one that is flat only when weight is put on the foot. This is the most common type of flat foot.
  • A rigid flat foot is flat both with and without weight being placed on the foot. Rigid flat feet may be due to the tarsal coalition (a condition in which the bones have grown together), arthritis and congenital conditions.

The type of flat foot and the degree of severity will determine your treatment options. Here are five things that can help:


A tight calf muscle, medically termed Equinus, is considered to be the most common cause of flat feet by many feet and ankle surgeons. The tight muscle transmits a pronating force on the foot, resulting in arch collapse.

A dedicated stretching program can alleviate the flattening effect. An effective stretch for the Achilles is the runners stretch. The yoga position downward dog is another great stretch for the back of the leg. 

Arch Strengthening Exercises

The foot has many muscles that are contained within it, meaning the muscles originate and terminate within the foot without extending into another part of the body. The muscles are called intrinsic muscles and are generally on the bottom of the foot.

Patients with flat feet tend to have improperly worked or poorly developed intrinsic muscles, so a program aimed at strengthening muscles in the foot can help support the arch. Simple exercises involve grabbing motions of the toes, such as picking up marbles or a handkerchief with the toes.

Shoe Inserts

Arch supports, or orthotics can extrinsically support or raise the arch. They work by aligning the boney structures into a better position, raising the arch and inverting the heel bone. Flat feet often feel better with inserts because the structural support is alleviating ligamentous and muscular strain and spasms.

Go Barefoot

This is somewhat counterintuitive as people generally believe that a flat foot needs support. When walking or training barefoot, the muscles of the foot become more active and grow stronger. Stronger muscles in the foot, theoretically, may translate into improved stabilization of the foot.


Flat foot surgery may be an option for painful flat feet that have not improved with other measures.

Surgery for flat feet can be relatively simple or extremely complex, depending on the patient's age, the severity of the flat foot and its symptoms. Every flat foot is different, so it's important that the flat foot not is treated in a cookie-cutter fashion. 

Types of Flat-Foot Surgery

  • Implant: A surgeon places an implant in the back of the foot to support the bones.
  • Structural: A common flat foot surgery involves tendon transfers with bone cuts or joint fusions to achieve realignment.
  • Fusion: In more advanced end-stage cases, major joint fusions may be needed.

Though there is no cure for a flat foot, there are measures you can take to make your feet feel better and improve their alignment. When all else fails, surgery can be an option. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can exercises fix flat feet?

    Specific stretching and strengthening exercises can help prevent and ease pain from flat feet, but they cannot fix the structural issue.

  • How do orthotics help flat feet?

    Orthotics help to support the arch and keep feet and ankles in alignment. Orthotics are custom-made shoe inserts that provide arch support. This helps to prevent pain and foot fatigue.

  • Can flat feet be cured?

    The only permanent fix for flat feet is surgery, an option for people who experience a great deal of pain from flat feet.

    Surgical options for flat feet include implants, bone fusion, and structural correction that involves bone cuts, joint fusions, and tendon transfers. 

  • Can you join the military if you have flat feet?

    Yes, flat feet are no longer an automatic disqualified for military service. It is determined on a case-by-case basis. Each branch of the U.S. Military has its own requirements and way of evaluating whether your flat feet will hinder your ability to serve. Asymptomatic flat feet will likely not be a problem. However, if you experience calf, ankle, or foot pain from flat arches, you may not be able to serve in some branches. 

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Vulcano E, Deland JT, Ellis SJ. Approach and treatment of the adult acquired flatfoot deformity. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2013;6(4):294–303. doi:10.1007/s12178-013-9173-z

  3. Arain A, Harrington MC, Rosenbaum AJ. Adult acquired flatfoot (AAFD). In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.

  4. Tao X, Chen W, Tang K. Surgical procedures for treatment of adult acquired flatfoot deformity: a network meta-analysis. J Orthop Surg Res. 2019;14(1):62. Published 2019 Feb 21. doi:10.1186/s13018-019-1094-0

By Neal Blitz, DPM, FACFAS
 Neal Blitz, DPM, FACFAS, is a board-certified doctor of podiatric medicine and creator of the Bunionplasty procedure.