Plenty of Pain, No Gain
Flat feet occur when the arches of your feet lose their curve and fall level to the ground. The condition is painful. Your arches ache, heels throb, ankles feel tender and shins smart. Your ankles will look swollen and turn inward as they work without the aid of your arches to help support your weight.
Does Your Gait Pronate
When you walk, your outer heel makes contact with the ground and rotates toward the instep just a little to distribute your weight. In people who pronate, the rotation toward the instep is exaggerated, and this causes the arch to flatten. Flat feet can also occur when the tendons and muscles that control the arches become stressed or inflamed as a result of prolonged standing, wearing flat-soled shoes or going bare foot for long periods of time. In these cases, the muscles that control the arch must work overtime, and eventually these muscles tire, resulting in flat feet. Rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes can weaken the muscles and nerves of the feet and contribute to flat feet. Obesity can also be a factor, because to distribute the additional weight, the arches lower to spread more surface area of the feet across the ground.
Get Your Feet Wet
If you think you might have flat feet, use some simple techniques to confirm your suspicions. When you remove your shoes, look at the heels. The inner edges will show more wear than the outer edges. Dip your feet in water. Then stand on a bare floor and examine your footprints. Normal footprints curve inward at the arch. Flat feet produce fully outlined footprints with minimal curve.
Shop, Don't Drop
To prevent arches from dropping, buy shoes with adequate support. Inside any shoes, you should be able to feel a raised area which provides support to the arches. For additional support, you can find insoles in the foot care section of your drugstore. While there, purchase a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen or naproxen to reduce pain and swelling. If you are allergic to aspirin, use acetaminophen instead. Try to stay off your feet and rest, but after a week, if you do not feel any improvement, it's time to see an orthopedic physician or podiatrist. The doctor may arrange for custom arch supports and prescribe additional medications to reduce inflammation, or even recommend an ankle brace or walking boot.
Sometimes, a permanent solution to flat feet requires a lifestyle change. You may need to lose weight to ease the load on the arches. If you pronate, running on uneven ground will aggravate the problem. Runners may need to change to a more level surface, or even need to transition to an exercise that isn't weight-bearing, such as swimming and bicycling. If your job requires you to stand for long periods of time, train yourself to put your weight on the outer edges of your feet. This will relax the muscles that support your arches.