Wearable smart devices and mobile apps that track fitness performance are becoming more popular thanks to features such as the pedometer functionality that counts the steps you take throughout the day. There is a good chance that you have heard about the health benefits of walking at least 10,000 steps per day; this is an incentive benchmark to keep you active, but it should come with a few warnings for those who live with the condition known as pes planus.
If the anatomical structure of your feet denotes fallen arches or compromised plantar fascia, taking those 10,000 steps on a daily basis could be a nightmare. We are talking about a number of steps equivalent to almost five miles, and your feet are in direct contact with the walking surface, absorbing each step and taking most of the brunt of this physical activity. It may take just over a thousand steps for you to feel your feet and ankles begin to throb, ache or hurt. As a flat-footed individual, the discomfort will naturally make you tired, which in turn will get in the way of achieving your fitness goal.
Walking is a physical activity that inherently features repetitive strain. Thanks to our anatomy, we are able to deal with the repetitive strain of walking long distances without having to worry about injury, but this assumes the absence of conditions such as pes planus.
For many people who live with flat feet, the thought of walking 10,000 daily steps is probably unnerving, but it does not have to be. It hasn’t been for Olympic track legend Usain Bolt, an athlete who broke quite a few sprinting records prior to retirement. It is estimated that pes planus is prevalent in more than 20% of the global population, and this percentage can also be found among professional athletes. Less than 2% of these individuals suffer from extreme and crippling flat feet conditions, which are known as rigid pes planus, and which can be more problematic for athletes, but all degrees of pes planus can be treated and improved through orthotics, physical therapy, and chiropractic treatment.
Understanding Flat Feet
Flat feet are most often caused by fallen arches, a condition that causes the foot to sink inward when you stand. The arch of your foot is made up of a combination of four distinct elements that when working together help distribute your weight across the plantar surface of the foot, allowing you to balance and move. The arch is comprised of four major components: The transverse arch, the anterior and posterior longitudinal arches, and the deltoid ligament.
The transverse arch is designed to help absorb shock; it does this by increasing the amount of stress applied to the metatarsal heads. The metatarsal heads are the bones that sit at the bottom of the foot. When under the weight of your body, they serve as fulcrums to help the foot distribute its weight to the outer regions of the foot. The metatarsal heads are also known as the ball of the foot.
The anterior longitudinal arch is designed to provide support. The support provided by this structure allows you to balance properly while you are walking. The posterior longitudinal arch is designed to assist with this balance by supporting your body’s weight. However, this structure is mostly ignored, leaving the plantar fascia, the primary support for the foot, to do all the work. This can be a recipe for injury, particularly if your feet are under a lot of stress.
The deltoid ligament serves as a natural shock absorber. It is a structure that is designed to absorb impact and prevent damage. In its absence, we are left to take care of the shock absorption ourselves, which in the case of flat-footed individuals results in injury. In these instances, our bodies rely on their natural shock absorbers such as the knees, elbows, and shoulders. These parts are designed to reduce impact, but we still don’t go out of our way to prevent them from bending in situations where we know impact is inevitable.
Living the Flat-Footed Life
Pes planus can occur in children and adults of any age group and affects the entire body including the hips, knees, ankles, shins, toes, and feet. Foot problems are quite common these days due to the fact that we are spending so much time on our computers and other devices, which may lead to posture problems. A good pair of shoes and chiropractic care can go a long way in fixing flat feet.
Assuming that your pes planus condition is flexible or supple, your feet will pretty much look normal when sitting down; once you stand up, however, your anatomical weight will bear down on your feet, and you will not be able to slide your index finger under the arches. As can be imagined, and from a body mechanics perspective, this is not an ideal situation. Over time, flat-footed people may develop the following:
- Shin splints
- Plantar fasciitis
- Lower back pain
- Sore leg muscles
Depending on your lifestyle, the symptoms listed above may be mild and manageable, but you will always be at risk of the symptoms becoming aggravated and turning into secondary conditions that can interfere with overall health and quality of life.
The symptoms of pes planus can be effectively alleviated with conservative measures. There are various methods of treating flat feet, and some of them are quite simple. Wearing comfortable, supportive shoes is a good way to reduce foot pain caused by this condition.
Another important aspect of treating pes planus is to limit aggravating activities, such as running and high-impact exercises. Maintaining a healthy diet, along with a regular exercise routine is also recommended.
If severe pes planus suffering is a result of your occupation, chiropractic care can be of great assistance in helping you identify the cause of your flat feet and advising you on work-related accommodations that will allow you to do your job comfortably and more effectively. To a certain extent, this is an occupational health matter that can be easily corrected with appropriate footwear, corrective gait exercises, posture counseling, mobility exercises, and chiropractic adjustments.
Assessing Your Pes Planus Condition
As previously mentioned, you can determine if your arch height and curvature are adequate on your own. All you have to do is stand on your bare feet and try to slide a pencil under the arch from the inside of each foot, which is the side of your big toe. If you are able to slide half of the pencil, your pes planus is moderate, and nothing much to worry about unless you experience the aforementioned symptoms. If only a quarter or less of the pencil can slide between the floor and the arch, chances are that this condition will eventually bother you.
Shoes can be a big deal when it comes to pes planus because it is the sole that actually contacts the ground, and most likely causes the arch of the foot to flatten if it does not provide adequate support.
It is generally advisable that you avoid wearing high-heeled shoes or any shoe that is very tight in the back. This type of footwear can cause your foot to be misaligned, which increases the pressure on the plantar fascia. As a result, you can experience pain because your arch height will be decreased.
With regard to chiropractic diagnosis and assessment, you can expect the following:
- Questions about your general health and medical history.
- Your gait and posture will be observed and measured in terms of position, body mechanics, muscle strength, joint mobility, and flexibility.
- Questions about your work routine.
- An assessment of spinal health in case a subluxation is exacerbating your flat feet condition.
Depending on the chiropractic assessment, the treatment plan may include the following:
- A prescription for orthotic devices, which can be as simple as shoe inserts or wedges.
- Guided exercises and physical therapy focused on the flexing and strengthening of key muscles to alleviate strain and overload.
- A plan to consciously adjust gait for maximum efficiency; this is a long-term aspect of treatment that eventually becomes second nature.
- Joint and spinal adjustments as needed.
In the end, chiropractic therapy can be just what you need to help you with pes planus. Chiropractic care is well-suited for flat feet and other foot conditions, particularly those that are related to subluxations of the spine.
With this treatment plan, your body’s internal skeletal system will ultimately be strengthened and your muscles will be trained to support the function of your feet and lower legs. This helps the natural musculoskeletal system to stabilize itself and be free of pain. All of this can potentially decrease the number of times you suffer from foot conditions and improve your overall level of health.