Flat feet, otherwise known as duck feet, are feet that have a dropped arch, the degree of which varies but in extreme cases there is zero arch and the foot effectively resembles a paddle.
The causes are wide ranging, genetics certainly play a big role as some people are born with the arch bones dropped and never develop an arch. In flat feet the Talus bone is often hypermobile. If you think of the foot like a stone bridge then the Talis represents the central stone, if we pluck out this central stone the bridge will collapse. When this bone is hypermobile it tends to shift forward when a person places weight on their heel which then causes the mid foot to unlock, effectively flattening the arch. We can look at this cause as direct and local.
Remove the keystone and the structure falls
Local or distal?
We have seen a direct cause of flat feet in the foot through the hypermobile subtalar joint but it really is a chicken egg scenario as to what caused what. At Functional Patterns we tend to take a macroscopic view of the issue, meaning that we need to zoom out and look at the body as a whole. To zoom in too much into the local area and treat only that, (i.e passive foot arch support) is ignoring a whole slew of other potential and in all likelihood, direct causes.
Oftentimes flat feet are a compensation for something up the chain being stuck in a certain range of motion. For example; very commonly if a person's pelvis is oriented towards tilting forward we tend to see the lower leg externally rotate relative to the upper leg, creating a torsion between upper and lower leg, pulling the kneecap to the outside. As we still need to keep our feet underneath our hips when we walk the lower leg will literally bend, this is a bone malformation that takes a long time to occur. As a result the lower tibia has to rotate/bend inwards resulting in a collapsing of the ankle and foot arch.
Internally rotated femur, externally rotated tibia, knee cap off alignment, tibia bowed, ankle pronation and collapsed foot arch.
Orthotics for flat feet… are they all they’re cracked up to be?
Simply put, no. Unlike inanimate objects like a table, where passive support (table leg) is perfectly fine, the human body operates much differently. The term “if you don’t use it you lose it” fits the bill, when we utilize a passive support in the form of foot orthotics (custom insoles for flat feet) we are essentially taking away any need for the muscles connected to arch support to function, meaning the problem never really goes away. The second you take out the support, or walk barefoot the problem is back again, and usually worse than it was to start with. Many FP practitioners have worked with many clients who have used orthotics that have for a short period of time experienced a reduction in symptoms, only for those symptoms to return shortly down the track, the reason being that we adapt, in this case; maladapt.
So unless you fit all of your shoes with custom orthotics (both expensive and unrealistic) it is going to be very difficult to solve the issue from this limited perspective as effectively you are saying the cause of my duck feet is solely in my foot. Wearing orthotics is in many ways like trying to learn how to ride a bike but never taking the training wheels off. You won’t truly understand how to balance on a bike until you actually take the training wheels off.
So, what exercises fix flat feet?
It’s important to remember that the only “bad” posture is the one you can’t get out of. In movement there is a time and a place for flat feet (or in technical terms foot eversion), ankle pronation and internal tibial and femoral rotation. In simple terms the dysfunction we are speaking of is not dysfunctional in certain aspects of movement, during the mid stance phase of gait for example. The solution therefore lies in teaching a person the opposite ranges of motion that will help correct the compensatory patterns. Not just in the foot and ankle in an isolated way but through the entire body in an integrated movement such as running, walking, even throwing.
At Functional Patterns we take a gait first approach, meaning that we look at the functions that had the most influence on what shaped the human body. All anthropologists agree that walking, running and throwing are what humans adapted to do over millennia, therefore it makes sense that we should look at these functions for the answers when it comes to correcting problems with our bodies.
The step press and pendulum movements
Functional Patterns has developed specific and carefully applied exercises that directly teach our clients how to develop the correct tensions to move well. The step press is an exercise that works very well to connect the upper and lower body through movement, the beginnings of this exercise can be found in the 10 week online course. Additionally pendulum movements developed by FP are highly effective at teaching a person to develop the leverage and mechanical propulsion in their muscles necessary to move well, these can be found in the Functional Training System.
Functional Patterns HBS Kathy Alvarez demonstrating the FP step press
Ultimately understanding how to connect all of our muscles and connective tissue in ways that respect our evolutionary beginnings is the answer to the problem of flat feet, not only that but all physical problems we encounter. What we shouldn’t do is focus on the problem locally. The problem of hypermobility in one area is usually attributed to a lack of functional strength in other areas and so focusing on fixing the issue locally ignores 99.9% of the issue which is the structure as a whole.
To conclude, flat feet is a structurally systemic problem, there are always exceptions to the rule, such as injuries or genetic conditions but in most cases having flat feet posture in all its varying forms is a problem related to movement and how efficiently we can traverse through space. At Functional Patterns we make it our priority to train people in relation to our biological blueprint, we train them to move better from the ground up and we have a step by step process to get our clients and consumers from dysfunction to function.
Results by Ryan John Parr
“I HAVE AN ACTUAL ARCH IN MY FOOT and my toes actually stick (almost) straight out from my feet when I stand and walk- no more hindering, painful bunions. I can walk in a straight line, and my figure is nearly unrecognizable to some family members when they see photos of me from behind.”