I often hear this said as a statement of fact, as if it is something that cannot be changed. And yet, when talking about any other issue with the body, it is never stated as if it something that cannot improve. (Yes, I do realize that a small percentage of the population has flat feet due to a bone structure issue, which will not change.)
I have never heard someone say, “I’m weak,” “I’m slow,” or “I can’t run over ___ miles/km,” and have it be said in the context that they don’t think it can improve. It is always spoken as a complaint along the lines of ‘this is where I am now and I this is my goal.’
You already know that if you train to be stronger, you will get stronger. If you train your speed, you will get faster. If you train endurance, you can go for longer. If you work on your technique, your technique will improve. And yet, when it comes to the feet, rather than using that same thought process, the common practice is to put something there to support the foot instead of taking the time to figure out how to correct the issue without the support.
I understand how all the ideas of needing to support the foot externally have gotten in your head over the years, but it’s time to start challenging those ideas…
Your foot and ankle complex consists of 26 bones, 33 joints, and 29 muscles (or muscle groups), as well as a lot of ligaments that hold the structure together. The specific numbers are not the important part. I put them in here simply to remind you that your foot has bones, joints, and muscles just like any other part of the body that you strengthen. Meaning, if it has the same anatomical components that the rest of the body does, that means we can strengthen it and train it just like you do any other part of your body.
I am not saying that orthotics or other external support should never be used. They do serve a purpose at times. Just like a back brace or shoulder sling are worn temporarily after a surgery, we may need support temporarily to protect an injury to the foot and let it heal. And just like we then strengthen the back or shoulder after those surgeries, the same should be said for the foot. Unfortunately that is not what often happens. What usually happens with orthotics is they are provided to you with the explanation that they are to be worn in all your shoes, forever…and then you are told that you should never go barefoot again! Very rarely are you told to use the orthotics during certain times and then to wean yourself off it as you strengthen your foot.
If you spend the time doing the necessary and correct things to strengthen your foot, it will respond just like any other part of your body – it will get stronger and it will support itself (and the rest of your body) better.
I have known people who had ‘flat feet’, started working on foot strength, and not only formed an arch that they could control but also went down two full shoe sizes because the arch came up and naturally shortened the foot in the process. It is not an instant process by any means, as that happened over the span of years, but the important thing is it happened. Which means it is possible for you!
Want somewhere simple to start? Start with these and see how it goes for you:
Written by Brianne Showman. Brianne is a physical therapist and running coach with Get Your Fix Physical Therapy And Performance. Her focus is on helping athletes resolve injuries in less time by getting to the root of the problem, improving movement patterns, and incorporating proper training to help the body to move more efficiently, more powerfully, and in less injury-prone ways.