A flat-out disability?

Many flat-footed people experience no pain or problems. But having flat feet can alter the way you walk (overpronate), and thus contribute to overuse injuries. You can develop foot, ankle, knee, hip, and back pain—and even arthritis in those areas. There may be fatigue in your feet and legs, and sometimes pain, tenderness, or swelling around the tendon of the ankles.

Doing a lot of weight-bearing activity—such as running, hiking, or even walking—can worsen symptoms.

Supporting the arch

If you have chronic pain associated with flat feet, see a specialist such as a podiatrist or orthopedist for evaluation and a diagnosis. You may be referred to a physical therapist, who can design an individualized treatment program that includes stretching and strengthening exercises and possibly braces and special taping of the foot.

One exercise is to stand on one foot (holding onto something for support) and try to increase and then decrease the arch of that foot. Another is to sit in a chair and, with your heel planted on the floor as a pivot, sweep your little toe toward the center of your body. Stretching the calf and Achilles tendon may also be recommended.

Losing excess weight and wearing shoes with good arch support can help manage symptoms. Orthotics can help with associated symptoms but they won’t actually raise your arch permanently. Over-the-counter pain relievers and cutting back on weight-bearing activity may also help. Surgery should be considered only for the most severe cases.