Full disclosure, I have flat feet. Or overpronated feet, and I only found out when I was 22 years old! Now for context, I was a decent high school track athlete in my heyday! And in my defense, I just always assumed that my feet were like everyone else's feet. Of course there are aesthetic differences, but mechanically I thought we all pretty much had the same set up when it came to our feet. Obviously, I was wrong, very wrong in fact.
My moment of revelation came during my time at university. We had the opportunity to do a gait analysis along with a few other postural and biomechanical tests. And it was here that I learned that my feet are in fact quite unique. From my heel strike, to my foot slap and even my lift off. This revelation did in fact send me down a deep dive into really understanding my feet. The anatomy, the biomechanics and ultimately the external influences that led to my overpronated feet.
So join me on a brief introspection on my flat feet and what I did to rebuild them!
Understanding the Anatomy of your Feet
Our feet are really complex structures. They are made up of twenty six bones, around thirty joints and more than a hundred muscles, ligaments and tendons. And to top it all off, most of these structures work in unison, meaning that every single structure in the foot needs to function optimally to ensure healthy feet bio-mechanics.
That being said, the structures of the feet that we ended up focusing on when I did my gait analysis, were in fact the structures that make up the middle portion of my feet. More commonly known as the arch of your foot. The arch is made up of the navicular bone, the cuboid bone and the three cuneiform bones (lateral, middle and medial). These bones form the basis of our mid-foot, and is sometimes described as the pyramid of our feet.
But how does this all lead to the foot being either pronated or supinated? Well, that is where the other 21 bones, 30 joints and 100 connective tissue structures come into play. Together they ensure that our feet maintain a proper elevated arch.
What Causes Our Foot Arches to Collapse?
After getting a full understanding of the anatomy of my feet compared to the anatomy of supinated feet, my next mission was to figure out why my feet were severely pronated.
In a nutshell, the main causes of pronated or overpronated feet are:
And in my case it turned out to be a combination of training habits and my years-long struggle with my weight. Growing up as an overweight child is difficult from a social perspective. However, it is equally challenging on our bodies. And I am the walking embodiment of what being overweight as an adolescent can do to your body. Now, before I trigger anyone please understand that I am using my story as an anecdotal example. That’s it.
Anyway, as I was saying, my weight stunted my development in an almost cyclic fashion. Being overweight affected my lower limb posture. My compromised posture at my knee joint resulted in a compensatory posture occurring at my ankle joints leading to my feet becoming overpronated.
Additionally, because I was insecure and overweight I shied away from too much physical activity. Which in turn made my overpronation more pronounced. Thus I fell into this cyclic situation where my postural habits led to my overpronated feet. And my training habits, or rather lack thereof, worsened my postural habits which worsened my feet biomechanics.
So as you can see, it isn’t a linear concept at all. It’s easy to go out there and classify people’s feet as flat. But fixing this is far more complex than I initially thought.
And yes, all of this information is based on my personal experience with the collapsed arches of my feet. But it serves as a practical and very real example of why flat has become such a problem amongst people, and particularly those of us who love running, jumping, lifting and everything else in between.
Can you Rebuild the Arches of your Feet?
The answer to this question is yes and no. Can you redesign your anatomy? No. Unless you have some form of surgical intervention. Which is an option that we really don’t recommend you explore unless it is medically necessary.
But can you undo some of the external factors that might have caused your flat feet issue? Yes you can!
How Do you Rebuild the Arches of your Feet
Right out of the gate I do need to disclose that there isn’t a set protocol. The following advice is the direct result of my own scientific curiosity. I spent several years studying the biomechanics of running and by default how my feet work. Therefore, please note that this is what I did to help me rebuild my arches and improve the orientation of my feet. But will it work for you? Honestly I don't know the answer to that.
So without further ado, let’s dive straight into it!
In order for me to successfully achieve this goal I decided to compartmentalize my approach to this process by identifying 3 categories that I needed to address:
What are our goals?
Control, strengthening and reinforcement.
Exercises and Rehabilitation
For this part I suggest setting aside a good 3-4 months dedicated to addressing your feet. Now, I am not saying you need to spend three to four months doing foot exercises as your sole form of physical activity. I am saying you need to actually treat this as a rehabilitation prescribed by a trainer, therapist or coach. That way you can track your progress and “control” the outcomes as best as you can.
So here are my go to exercises that helped me rebuild the arches of my feet:
These are our top four exercises that you can incorporate in your training today. Go ahead and give them a go, you might just get the results that you’re looking for!
Whenever I was standing, I taught myself to be aware of my foot posture. Whenever my feet would collapse I would correct this by creating a bridge with my feet. I’d do this by pulling my toes tightly together while driving the outside of my heel into the ground forming a concave shape with your foot. This will take some practice but once you’ve formed this habit, you will be surprised at just how effective this is!
Personally, I did not get any insoles or orthotics made. But they remain a great option for correcting this condition. However, they can result in you becoming dependent on these devices for the stability they provide and that ultimately does not resolve our problem.
However, knowing which shoes are best for your foot type is a great way to improve posture and prevent injury. Which is what I personally incorporated into my own lifestyle and I can vouch for its effectiveness!
The exercise, postural and footwear tips will hopefully get you started on the right track. Yes, this is anecdotal evidence based on my personal experiences but I do believe that my experience holds enough value to help you on your way to strong healthy feet!