Flat feet, also known as pes planus, is a condition that affects many people. It is characterized by a lack of arch in the foot, which causes the entire foot to come into contact with the ground when standing or walking. While some people are born with flat feet, others may develop this condition over time. At Functional Patterns, we are commonly asked for our recommendation on the best shoes for flat feet. To address this question, we turn to explaining the root causes of flat feet and how Functional Patterns can help address them.
One of the root causes of flat feet is underdeveloped gluteus maximus muscles. The glutes are the largest and strongest muscles in the body, and they play a crucial role in hip extension (pulling the femur or thigh bone backwards).
When the glutes are underdeveloped, the leg is not able to extend efficiently. A symptom of not extending efficiently is an excessive internal rotation of the leg when making contact with the ground. This internal rotation causes the foot to collapse, resulting in flat feet. In addition, hip extension is also an external rotation of the femur. When hip extension is lacking, external rotation is lacking. When external rotation is lacking, a person will tend to find that rotation elsewhere, commonly at the foot. This results in splayed feet, otherwise known as duck feet.
Another cause for flat feet or duck feet are tightened adductors. When the adductors are restricted, it pulls the femur (thigh bone) down with it into an excessive internal rotation. This will go downstream and collapse the ankle.
Most people, due to a sedentary lifestyle, have underdeveloped glutes and restricted adductors. Rather than prescribing footwear for flat feet, Functional Patterns focuses on fixing the root causes, such as strengthening the glutes to efficiently move through space.
One effective Functional Patterns exercise for targeting the glutes is the one-arm step-row. In this exercise, one arm is gripping a handlebar attached to a cable machine or band. The opposite side leg is standing as the lead leg. Facing the cable machine or band, the user pulls the resistance backward while stepping the lead leg back in space. This exercise requires proper rotation, core stability, and synchronization of the upper and lower limbs.
The one-arm step-row is an exercise that greatly transfers over to running, the movement that humans are designed to perform. When the step-row is performed properly, the glutes are engaged and become efficient at producing hip extension. When hip extension is developed, the legs will not overly internally rotate upon striking. This stability means the foot will not collapse, making the one-arm step-row one of the best exercises for flat feet.
Another concept that FP introduces for fixing flat feet is proper joint stacking. Proper joint stacking requires us to learn how to distribute weight evenly on our feet. When a person moves in space, their weight distribution greatly determines how the foot stacks itself. When there is an excessive pelvic shift to one side due to an unstable core and hips, the same side foot will bear weight in an abnormal manner, either overly raising the arch or flattening the arch.
This is why we do not recommend purchasing orthopedic shoes made for flat feet as a replacement for fixing one's mechanics. No amount of footwear usage can fix a problem as complex as an excessive pelvic shift. By ignoring biomechanical issues, using shoes to address flat feet is a symptoms approach to solving the problem. But by becoming proficient at joint stacking and hip extension, addressing flat feet becomes a systems approach, meaning the problem can be fully resolved.
Results by FP practitioner John Parr and his client Brianna. Before: 2020 / After: 2022
Whether you are struggling with flat feet, duck feet, or high arches, there are many solutions proposed. Many opt for addressing the symptoms by using flat feet insoles, or orthopedic shoes,, or even opt for flat feet surgery. At Functional Patterns, we offer a systems approach to solving problems, not only at the foot level but the entire body. We have highlighted two important factors–weak glutes and improper joint stacking. By addressing these root causes, Functional Patterns can help individuals learn how to fix flat feet and achieve optimal foot health.