How to fix Flat Feet (Rebuild the Arch!)

What is Flat feet?

how to fix flat feet

It is a type of foot posture which involves the collapse of the inner arch of the foot.

As a result – the bottom of the foot is in complete contact with the floor.

(Also referred to as: Pes Planus, Fallen arches, Overpronated feet.)

Note: It is completely normal for the foot’s arch to collapse.

Problems occur when this movement is either excessive, uncontrolled and/or when your foot gets stuck in this position.


What causes flat feet?

1. Genetic factors

Genetic features are inherited from your parents… and that includes Flat Feet!

This is referred to as Structural Flat Feet.

This is where the formation of the bone/joint results in the foot arch being physically flat.

Unfortunately in this situation, your foot posture can not be changed through conservative means. 

Note: If your foot arch is present when you are sitting/lying down but disappears when you are standing on it, then you DO NOT have structural Flat Feet.


2. Poor foot muscle mechanics

This is referred to as Functional Flat Feet.

This is where the vast majority of you will fall under.

You may have:

  • Poor control of your ankle/feet/toes and/or,
  • Weak or tight foot muscles

(… both of which can result in the collapse of the foot arch.)

3. Other factors that may contribute:

  • Increase in body weight
  • Improper shoe wear
  • Ineffective posture
  • Incorrect techniques in sport

The content presented on this blog post is not medical advice and should not be treated as such. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. For more information: Medical disclaimer.


Test for Flat feet

test for flat feet (pes planus)

a) Whilst standing

  • Stand upright as you normally would.
  • Observe your feet.
  • There should be an obvious arch on the inside of your foot.
  • As a rough guideline: You should be able to fit the tips of your fingers underneath the arch of your foot.
  • (Check your foot arch whilst standing on one foot as well!)

Results: If there is no gap between the bottom of your foot and the floor, then you likely have Flat Feet.

b) Whilst walking:

Check out your foot print at the beach.

(Similarly – you can just wet your feet and observe the foot prints you make on the cement floor.)

Results: If your foot print leaves a wide imprint (indicating that the arch is touching the floor), then you likely have Flat Feet.

problems with Flat Feet

Flat Feet may eventually lead to:

  • Plantarfasciitis
  • Big toe bunion
  • Heel spur
  • Lower back/Hip/Knee problems

Interested in fixing your posture?

.. then come join me on the Facebook page!

I share all of my best posture tips there.


How to fix Flat Feet


“So… how do you get an arch in your foot?”

1. Releases

a) Plantarfascia

plantarfascia release

Instructions:

  • Place your foot on a massage ball.
  • Apply pressure on the ball.
  • Roll your foot up/down
  • Duration: 1-3 minutes.

b) Achilles tendon

releases for flat feet

Instructions:

  • Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you.
  • Place the back of your Achilles tendon on a ball.
  • Apply a downward pressure.
  • Rock your foot from side to side.
  • Duration: 1-3 minutes

c) Peroneals

The peroneal muscles are located on the outside of your lower leg. If tight, this muscle can cause your arches to collapse.

peroneal release

Instructions:

  • Place the outside of your lower leg on a massage ball.
    • (If you unsure of the location of the muscle, check on Google)
  • Apply pressure over the ball.
  • Make sure to cover the whole outer side of the lower leg.
  • Draw circles with your ankle to increase release.
  • Duration: 1-3 minutes

d) Calf muscles

calf releases

Instructions:

  • Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you.
  • Place one leg over the other.
  • Place the calf of the bottom leg on a foam roller.
  • Apply a downward pressure.
  • Roll your leg up/down the entire calf.
  • Duration: 1-2 minutes

2. Stretches

The calf:

Tight calf muscles (Gastrocnemius and Soleus) will limit the amount of movement that the ankle can bend.

This will impact how you walk, run, squat etc.

Without full ankle movements, the foot will compensate with overpronation (collapsing of the foot arch) during movement.

Quick assessment: How to test your ankle flexibility

ankle dorsiflexion test

  • Face a wall.
  • Perform a lunge.
  • Whilst keeping your knee in contact with the wall, aim to get the front of your foot furthest away from the wall.
    • (Don’t cheat! Make sure the back of your heel does not lift off!)
  • Do not let your foot arch collapse as you bend your knee forwards!
  • Measure the distance between the tip of your big toe and the wall.

What should you aim for:

My recommendation: Aim to get your toe approximately >8cm from the wall with your knee still in contact with the wall.

If you have tight ankles, check out this blog: Improve your Ankle mobility.

a) Gastrocnemius

gastrocnemius stretch for flat feet

Instructions:

  • Stand on the edge of a step with your heels off the edge.
  • Whilst keeping your knees completely straight, lower both of your heels towards the ground.
  • Aim to feel a superficial stretch in your calf muscle.
  • Hold this stretch for at least 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

b) Soleus

calf stretch for flat feet

Instructions:

  • Assume the lunge position.
  • Bend the ankle at the front as much as you can by lunging forward.
  • Aim to feel a deep stretch in your calf muscle.
  • Hold this stretch for at least 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.
  • Note: This will also help loosen up any stiffness in the ankle joint.

c) Lateral structures

(Peroneals, Extensor digitorum, Lateral ligaments)

lateral ankle stretch

Instructions:

  • Whilst sitting, place your ankle on top of your other knee.
  • Place one hand on top of the ankle and the other on the forefoot.
  • Whilst anchoring the ankle joint down, pull the fore foot towards you.
    • (Include the toes!)
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the out side of the ankle.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.


3. Joint mobilisations

a) Traction

ankle traction

Instructions:

  • (To perform this exercise, you will need assistance. So – go grab a friend!)
  • Lie on the floor.
  • Instruct your friendly helper to firmly grasp your ankle below the bony bits on the side. (see above)
  • Relax your leg as your assistant pulls your foot away from you.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

b) Dorsiflexion with band

exercises for flat feet

Instructions:

  • Attach a resistance band to a stationary object behind you.
  • Lace the band around your ankle.
    • The band should be below the Malleoli (bumps on sides of the ankle).
  • Assume a lunge position with your ankle on a bench. (see above)
  • Make sure that there is a firm amount of tension in the band.
    • To increase tension, move forward so that you are further away from the anchor point of the band.
  • Lunge forward.
  • Do not let your arch collapse as you bend your knee forwards!
  • You may feel a:
    • Blocking sensation at the front of the ankle joint and/or
    • Stretch at the back of the heel/calf region
  • Repeat 30 times.

c) Sub-talar

Instructions:

  • Whilst sitting, place your ankle on top of your other knee.
  • Cup the heel with one hand, and place the other hand on top of the ankle.
  • Perform a wiggle motion on your heel bone in a up/down direction.
  • Continue for 30 seconds.

d) Mid foot mobility

Instructions:

  • Whilst sitting, place your ankle on top of your other knee.
  • Hold onto the front half of the foot with both hands.
  • Proceed to twist the front half of the foot clockwise/anti-clockwise.
  • Continue for 30 repetitions.

4. The importance of the big toe

Your big toe is more important than you think… especially when it comes to fixing Flat Feet (Pes Planus) during walking.

It is CRUCIAL that your big toe has:

  1. The ability to extend
  2. Adequate strength

The combination of these 2 factors will help engage and lift of the medial arch of the foot.

Without sufficient big toe function, the foot is forced to compensate with overpronation (rolling inwards)… resulting in Flat Feet.

a) Stretch for big toe

big toe stretch

Instructions:

  • Place the big toe onto a door frame. (see above)
  • Lean your foot into the wall to create a stretch of the big toe.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

b) Big toe activation

big toe strengthening exercise

Instructions:

  • Assume a lunge position. (see above)
    • The foot at the back will be the side targeted.
    • Make sure that your big toe is extended back as far as possible without compromising the alignment of your foot.
  • Push the tip of your big toe into the ground as you point your foot against the ground.
    • Place as much of your body weight onto the back leg that you can comfortably tolerate.
  • Return your weight back to the ball of the foot.
  • Repeat 20 times.


4. Strengthening

How to rebuild arches in flat feet: We need to strengthen the muscles that will encourage the arch in your feet.

This is namely the action of the Tibialis Posterior, Tibials Anterior and plantar foot muscles.

The Short foot exercise

The MOST important exercise to fix Flat Feet


I call this the “king” of all foot exercises.

It is the fundamental exercise that all other exercises are based on.

You need to learn how to do this correctly! Don’t rush it.

short foot exercise to rebuild arches of flat feet

Instructions:

  • Stand with your feet facing forwards and shoulder width apart.
  • Whilst keeping your toes relaxed, proceed to scrunch the under-surface of your foot.
    • Drag the base of your big toe backwards towards the heel.
  • Keep the base of the big toe in contact with the ground to prevent this area from lifting.
  • Gently push the tip of your big toe down onto the ground.
  • If performed correctly, you should be able to feel the strong contraction of the muscles underneath your foot.
    • Does it feel like it’s going to cramp? THAT’S GREAT! You are recruiting the right muscles.
  • Hold this for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 20 times.

Note: It is called the Short foot exercise because it actually makes you drop a shoe size.

Progressions:

a) Heel raise/drop with ball

strengthening arch

Instructions:

  • Stand on the edge of a step.
  • Place a small ball between your ankles. (see above)
  • Perform the Short foot activation.
  • Squeeze the ball between your ankles throughout all movement.
  • Perform a heel raise and drop.
  • Do not let your ankles roll out.
    • Aim to keep the achilles tendon vertical throughout the exercise.
  • Repeat 30 times.

b) Step through

 how to fix flat feet exercises

Instructions:

  • Have your feet in a staggered position.
  • Activate short foot in your leading leg. (See position 1)
  • Whilst maintaining short foot on the leading leg, step forward with the back leg.
  • As the swinging leg is about to land on the ground, push off from the big toe.
  • You should feel a contraction in your arch through movement.
  • Return to starting point.
  • Repeat 30 times.
  • Progression: Instead of stepping to the front, try stepping in different directions whilst maintaining a strong short foot contraction.

c) Single leg balance

balance exercise for flat feet

Instructions:

  • Balance on one leg.
  • Activate the short foot.
  • Gently tap your other foot on the ground around your body whilst maintaining the short foot contraction
    • Pretend that you are tapping an ant on the head. Don’t squash it!
  • Keep your pelvis level
    • Only your leg should be moving
  • Continue for 1 minute.
  • To progress: Reach and tap your foot further away from you.

d) The “Michael Jackson” lean

foot strengthening exercise

Instructions:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
  • Activate short foot throughout exercise. (see above)
  • Keeping your legs straight, lean your whole body forwards from the ankles.
    • You will need to dig your toes into the ground to prevent you from falling forward.
    • You can do this in front of a wall if you feel you are going to fall forward.
  • Use your feet/toe muscles to prevent yourself from falling and return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times.

5. Improve your toe control

The entire human race has forgotten how to use their foot muscles!

We have absolutely no idea how to properly co-ordinate, control and move our feet.

This is a big problem for Flat Feet!

Why?… Because the muscles that control your feet also play a huge role in the support of the foot arch.

Try out these 2 exercises to get your brain connecting to your foot again.

a) Alternate toe lift

intrinsic foot controlintrinsic toe control

Instructions:

  • Position 1: Lift up only your big toe whilst pushing the other 4 toes into the ground.
  • Position 2: Push your big toe into the ground whilst lifting the other 4 toes.
  • Transition smoothly between these 2 positions.
    • Keep your foot still. Your toes should be the only thing that is moving.
  • Repeat 30 times.
    • (… or as many times it takes to get the movement happening)
    • It’s harder than it looks!

b) Toe spread/squeeze

toe spread exerciselumbrical strengthening

Instructions:

  • Position 1: Spread all of your toes. (without bending your toes or moving your foot)
  • Position 2: Squeeze all of your toes together. (without bending your toes or moving your foot)
  • Transition between these 2 positions.
  • Repeat 30 times.

6. Flat feet brace

flat feet brace

If you are experiencing any pain in the hip, knee and/or foot as a result of the fallen arches in you Flat feet, you can use a foot brace to help reduce your symptoms.

These braces provide external support to help lift your foot arch.

Keep in mind – I recommend to only use them for a short period of time so that your foot muscles do not become dependent on it.

(Note: The end goal will always be to rely on your own muscles to support your foot arch.)


7. Orthotics for Flat feet: Good or bad?

Orthotics are inserts which are placed in your shoe.

It’s function is to provide an external support to lift up your fallen arches.

… Sounds good, right?

However… The main issue I have with orthotics is that it makes your already weak foot muscles even weaker.

You become reliant on the orthotic without giving your muscles any real chance to self-correct the problem.

If you are considering getting an orthotic for your Flat Feet, please consider doing the exercises FIRST.


8. Other areas to consider:

But wait!… there’s more!

Although the exercises mentioned post will definitely help you regain your arch, I would also recommend that you address other areas of your posture that may be the ROOT CAUSE of your Flat Feet.

Check out these blog posts to find out more:

a) Anterior Pelvic Tilt

anterior pelvic tilt flat feet pes planus

An Anterior Pelvic Tilt can orientate the whole leg in a position of internal rotation.

This collapse of the entire leg can lead to Flat Feet.

Check out this blog post: How to fix Anterior Pelvic Tilt

b) Knee Valgus

knee valgus flat feet

This is where the knee collapses inwards which then leads to overpronation of the foot.

Check out this blog post: How to fix Knee Valgus

Remember:

Do your exercises… every day!

Try to incorporate the short foot activation in everything that you do!

The more you do it, the better you will get!


what to do next:

Any questions?… Leave me a comment down below.

– Follow me on Facebook. (Let’s keep in touch!)

– Do the exercises!

317 thoughts on “How to fix Flat Feet (Rebuild the Arch!)”

  1. Thanks for your reply Mark. One thing I am really struggling with is just activating my arch muscles alone. Is there anything that I could be possibly preventing me from activating my arch?

    Reply
    • Hey Chris,

      If you can’t do the short foot exercise, you might need to work on exercises such as toe scrunches and heel raises.

      Tight muscles (as indicated in the blog post) will likely be making it more difficult to engage your arches. In this case, you might need to work on your foot mobility before strengthening the arch.

      Mark

      Reply
  2. Hi and thanks for the great info.
    I have a low arch and a mild-moderate bunion. When doing the short foot exercise, my big toe insists on going towards my other toes when I activate my arch. How can I get it to cooperate?

    Reply
    • Hi Chris,

      Sounds like you might be activating your toes to engage your arch.

      Try to keep the toes as relaxed as possible and direct your contraction to the arch ONLY.

      If you have difficulty relaxing the those, you might need to stretch them out and/or do specific exercise for it.

      I have some exercises for big toe bunion as well! See post: 40 tips for Big Toe Bunion.

      Mark

      Reply
  3. Every time I point my left foot big toe(Hallux) or far as possible I get this cramp near my abductor hallucis. I feel the cramp in the side and in the bottom of my medial plantar nerve. after I point my big toe or reach far as possible for a while. I get this small sore pain in the side and bottom of my left foot What could this be? Can you help me out?

    Reply
    • Hi Osvaldo,

      Perhaps your big toe is not used to this position. If you force a muscle into a position that it is not used to, it can certainly cramp up.

      If you would like to improve your ability to point your foot, you might need to gradually increase the intensity over time. Let the body become accustomed.

      Mark

      Reply
  4. Hi Mark,
    I just wanted to know how often one should do these exercises (daily, weekly?) and if all above exercises are done daily – how soon should you notice a change in the in the arch?

    Reply
    • Hey Ari,

      Daily would be ideal if your foot can tolerate it.

      In terms of when you would notice change? This really depends on how weak you are, how tight you are, how good your foot control is etc.

      If there is absolutely no change in 6 weeks, you might need to delve a bit deeper as to why.

      Mark

      Reply
  5. Hey Mark, I would really love to be a boxer but having flat feet makes it very hard to even become one because I heard flat feet also affects your hips and spine. I was born with flat feet and I really want to fix it, should I do surgery and if not why do most people try to avoid flat feet surgery. I only get pain once a while, but I used to wear orthotics 2 years ago and I would get pain after taking them off. After I stopped, I only get pain once a while but I’d really love to find a way to fix my flat feet.

    Reply
    • Hey Ameer,

      Generally speaking – I would try to avoid any surgery. (Especially since there is no guaranty that the surgery will help you functionally)

      If you have structural feet, I would encourage you to get your feet (and toes!) as strong as possible.

      Orthotics are fine to use, but make sure they are used in conjunction with a foot strengthening program. (like the exercises mentioned on this blog post)

      Mark

      Reply
  6. Is there anyway to an anatomically flat arch? I think I was born with flat feet I believe, and i don’t think there is much of an arch even when I’m not standing on my foot. If you have any advice I would love to hear it. Thank you! :)

    Reply
    • I’m also a dancer so it makesit hard to balance en pointe or even on flat shoe. I have bunions on both feet as well, I have like the worst feet for a dancer..sad…

      Reply
    • Hi Lily,

      Yes – it is possible to have anatomically flat feet.

      Although there may be a limit to how much you might be able to correct your arch, I would still encourage you to continue to strengthen your feet/toes as much as possible.

      Mark

      Reply
  7. hello mark,

    This is Nishant,24 yrs and me having a flexible flat foot.i have my selections for army in a gap of 5 months from today.will this be really effective?
    please help me..

    yours sincerely
    NIshant das

    Reply
  8. I need a fix that doesn’t revolve around feet workouts!

    I have orthotics but, they don’t work or reduce the throbbing pain to a manageable level.

    I’m 27 years old and feel like a 70 year old man!. Like, I can’t even go walking for 3 hours without having to take breaks like sitting down for 10+ minutes even with the breaks the pain ramps back up when i start walking again.

    I been soooo depressed because i’m unable to work like this its pure suffering and agony have to find a solution to the pain or will have to collect welfare and not work. Imagine knowing your able to work hard with your upper body but then your feet give out 3 hours into work you know how embarrassing that is?.

    I been so many doctors about my feet condition, got it x-rayed, got orthotics , been giving pills and nothing works.

    I don’t know what too do…..

    Reply
    • I just saw Hyprocure, which is extremely promising. High success rate, minimay invasive, reversable and short recovery time due to minimal invasive.
      Just a stent that lodges…no drilling or anything. And insurance should cover it. Check it out.

      Reply
  9. Hi Mark,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this blog, I really appreciate all you are doing.
    I have a couple of questions if that is ok?
    I have gradually developed a worsening pronation throughout the teenage years. My feet are functionally flat (ie.. the arch only collapses when I stand). I have been prescribed orthotics which are half shoe ones that have been moulded to my feet by the physio department at my local hospital. As a young adult, I now experience increasing knee and hip clicking (most of the time), lower back ache and stiff knee joints. I am wondering what do now as I believe this is due to my overpronating feet. Which particular exercises would you recommend in my case? Would you recommend any other intervention ie… splints/ surgery?
    Many thanks!

    Reply
    • Hey Nia,

      If your flat foot is completely functional, then I would encourage you to start the exercises mentioned on this blog post.

      Foot orthotics are fine in the short term. Don’t become reliant on them though.

      If you have knee and lower back problems as well, addressing the feet may help. However- you may also need to address these said areas specifically as well.

      Mark

      Reply
  10. Hi mark

    Was wondering your thoughts on strengthening exercises for the tibialis anterior. Presumably as it is attached to the arch strengthening it should also help. Would you advocate such exercises as well as the ones shown here, or could strengthening this muscle have the opposite affect? I’d appreciate your opinion on this. Thanks

    Reply
  11. Hi Mark,

    Thank you for this site. I made a terrible mistake of having a bone spur shaved on my left big toe. Since then, the mechanics of my feet changed, my arch dropped and my foot became flatter. It’s so flat that I can not walk barefoot anymore. The two joints jam against the arthritis which causes pain. My orthotic is not helping much. Do you think there is hope with exercise to regain my arch, even if it’s just enough where I can walk without pain or barefoot?

    Reply
    • Hey Joanne,

      Definitely give the exercises a try.

      It sounds like you had an arch previously. There shouldn’t be a reason why you can not reclaim it!

      Mark

      Reply
  12. Hello ,
    I’m 21 years old and I have very flat feet. I’ve had this since primary school but noticed it massively when I was in high school. When I place my feet flat on the ground my foot just overpronates and there is no arch. I’m able to stop my foot from overpronating when still but as soon as I walk it just goes straight back to being flat on the floor. When I flex my foot an arch is visible. Could it be because I have a weak joint in my foot ?.

    Is there specific exercises I should Just mainly focus on or do I need to do them all.

    Thank you

    Reply
  13. Hi Mark,

    I came accross your website when trying to find some information about helping my 10yo daughter with her flat feet. shes been in orthotics for years and has pain without them.

    her feet are flexible flat – an arch forms when she goes up on her toes. But her feet are so badly pronated and flat.

    Since she is only ten – and her capacity to do all these exercises all the time is really limited – could you recomment which are most critical and how often she should aim for to be able to see a real improvement?

    How long will it take before we see improvement?

    Thank you

    Reply
    • Hey Dee,

      The short foot exercise is the main one I would focus on.

      Perhaps you can make it in some sort of game to keep her compliant with it.

      Mark

      Reply
  14. Hi Mark,

    I’m a big fan of your blog, I found it a year ago and began a journey of fixing my posture through ant. Pelvic tilt, rounded shoulders, and forward head exercises you recomended.

    Three months ago I developed pain in my ankle after running, which didn’t go away from resting. After a couple weeks I saw a foot Dr. who said I had anterior tibia tendonitis, and that I had to wear a CAM boot for 4 weeks, then start physical therapy. It ended up being 6 weeks before therapy started. It’s been about 10 weeks now and I am still in a lot of pain when I try to walk. I have developed a lot of other pain due to the immobilization and am having trouble spending time out of the boot. I realize I’ve developed posterior tibia tendonitis aswell, and the arch on my foot has collapsed, which has created a lot of pain in my arch (along with other posrural isssues). I know I need to spend time walking out of the boot, but it is difficult because of the amount of discomfort, and I feel the the therapists I’ve been working with don’t have a good grasp of what kind of rehabilitation I need.

    I really respect your opinion, and was wondering if you had some insight into how to get out of a boot.

    Thank you, I’d be happy to provide any more details if it would be helpful

    Reply
    • Hi Maxwell,

      That seems like a long time to be in a camboot for a tendonitis! Immobilization tends to cause a whole lot of other issues which seems is what you are going through.

      I’m not likely to be able to give you specific recommendations as I have not assessed you, but the main thing you need is PROGRESSIVE LOADING of the tendons in your foot.

      You need to be able to do an exercise where you are able to progress every week. If there is that much discomfort, chances are that the prescribed exercise/s is too much load for the time being.

      Decrease it to a level where you can tolerate: (eg. instead of walking 10 minutes: try walking 5 minutes in 2 lots, use a walking aid to take some pressure off, reduce the speed, wear supportive shoes, walk on flat ground etc)

      If you have tib post tendon, you can focus on the short foot exercise and that should help out quite a lot. If it is too hard, perform it sitting down.

      Mark

      Reply

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