How To Tell If You Have Flat Feet and Fallen Arches

Disabling Pain Due to Fallen Arches Should Be the Exception, Not the Rule

Senior and Nurse with Walking Frame
Tomas Rodriguez/Getty Images

Flat feet, or fallen arches, is a common foot abnormality caused by loose tendons. In fact, 25-percent of Americans have this condition. Most people with flat feet don't experience serious problems related to their condition. Unfortunately, for some, it can cause disabling foot pain, as well as

Some people who have good arches develop flat feet because aging, an injury or an illness, damages the foot's tendons.

How to Tell If You Have Flat Feet

If you have foot pain, you need to know if it's related to having flat feet so you can rule that out or address the problem it's causing.

The following tests can help you determine if you have flat feet.

The Footprint Test

The next time you get out of a swimming pool, look at your footprint on the concrete. 

If you have normal or high arches, the front of the foot, the ball and toes, will be joined to the heel by a strip that should appear on the outer edge of your foot. With a normal arch, the strip is about half the width of the front of the foot. If you have a high arch, only a thin strip connects the front of the foot with the heel.

If you have fallen arches, then the strip is the same width as the front of the foot, creating a footprint that looks like a stretched out pancake. 

Shoe Evaluation

Put your shoes on a flat table and view them at eye level from behind.

See if the sole is worn evenly.

A flat foot will cause more wear on the inside of the sole, especially in the heel area, causing wear that will make it easy for the shoe to rock from side to side. This condition will also cause the shoe's upper to lean inward over the sole. 

Too Many Toes

Stand with your feet parallel.

Have someone stand behind you and look at your feet from behind. If you're alone, you can stand with your back to a mirror.

Normally, only the pinky toe is visible from behind. If one foot is flatter than the other, you can sometimes see the 4th and sometimes the 3rd toe, too.  

Tiptoes Test

Once you've determined if one or both of your feet are flat, it's time for the tiptoes test. This assessment will determine if you have flexible flat feet, which typically cause fewer problems.

To perform the tiptoes test, stand on your toes like a ballerina. If a visible arch forms, you have flexible flat feet.

Medical Tests

If you've determined one or both of your feet are rigid, meaning not flexible, your health care provider may recommend a CT scan to examine the bones, an MRI scan to check out your tendons or an x-ray of your foot.

Treatment for Flat Feet

If you're in the majority, you have flexible flat feet, no pain and probably don't need medical treatment.

If you're in the minority and have foot pain related to fallen arches, you may need to take an over-the-counter pain reliever and, if that doesn't work, have surgery.

However, the procedure might not relieve your pain and can cause complications, including loss of ankle movement and sometimes the bones fused together during surgery don't heal properly.


Medline Plus: Flat Feet (2015).

Continue Reading