What if we told you your feet AREN’T flat?

At the beach, your footsteps look like little oval ponds, and they’re far from the traces left behind by a healthy foot. The diagnosis is easy: flat feet. But before you accept the diagnosis and forever start slipping uncomfortable insoles into your shoes, you might want to wait a minute. Maybe things aren’t exactly as they seem.

man and woman wearing ankle Ahinsa shoes are walking along a forest road

You might not actually have flat feet. They’re just trapped and dissatisfied.

How many types of arches do we actually have?

You can commonly encounter divisions into longitudinal and transverse arches. In reality, however, you should imagine one continuous arch that has an indispensable function: shock absorption, which allows us to step softly while preventing injury at every step. 

The arch of the foot (plantar arch) is a natural thing. Three elements are responsible for its shape and function: Bones, muscles and brain. You’re probably saying “The brain? Really?” Yes. Bones give the arch its wedge-like shape, and the muscles adjust the arch as they contract. But the brain decides to make these contractions.

When the brain doesn’t know you have feet

The problem is that the brain can only control what it’s aware of. It could control the muscles of the foot, but we humans have taught it not to. From a young age, we wear stiff, narrow shoes that don’t correspond to the shape of our feet. The muscles of a laced-in foot weaken, and over time the brain receives a clear message: “There’s no sense in even trying here.” 

Therefore, it creates a new movement program – a new way to walk, stand and move around.

A bare foot holding onto the edge of a chair using its toes.

The brain can control the foot muscles very precisely – if we let it, that is.

So how do “flat feet” happen?

As the founder of Ahinsa shoes, physiotherapist Lukáš Klimpera claims: “People often visit their physiotherapist or orthopedist to have their flat feet treated. But, in 70% of the cases, they only have the so-called “talipes valgus” – i.e. their ankle is everted inwards.”

The hips, knees, ankles and feet should be in one line. The moment the ankle “collapses” inwards, it causes the longitudinal arch to “fall”. In reality, however, the problem itself is not in the arch. Once you put the ankle into the proper position, the arch will regenerate.

centered ankle vs. collapsed ankle

Can you recognize whether your arch is really OK? Straighten your ankle and the arch will regenerate.

This collapsing of the ankle is often due to – drum roll please…  – you guessed it, the wrong shoes. If you’re putting on shoes that are squeezing your toes, you’re losing support. The foot isn’t stabilized, and it’s collapsing inwardly at the ankle under the weight of your body. The result can be reflected in your whole body, and it manifests itself in pain in the knees, hips, back, cervical vertebrae and head.

The transverse arch is created by the toes

So what’s the deal with the transverse arch? This arch is naturally created by the toe joints whenever they’re activated. Just try stretching your toes out and then balling them back up. See? An arch is being created. 

That’s why problems with a collapsed arch often don’t arise from the arch itself. If you’ve been constricting your feet in classic shoes since childhood, you’re depriving yourself of the strength in your toes, which weaken while remaining inactive. How could an arch form like this?

a woman picking up a tissue with her bare foot

The transverse arch is created by active toes.

A flat foot is not always bad

Maybe you’ve got the wrong diagnosis. You walk healthily in healthy shoes, your ankles are centered with the whole foot and your toes are engaging. But despite all this, your footprint on the beach looks like an oval. What now? 

A flat footprint doesn’t necessarily have to mean that something is wrong. The function of the arch, not the shape, is essential.

Lukáš Klimpera gives an example from his practice as a physiotherapist. “I had a patient who appeared to be fully flat-footed after a podoscope examination. However, the top-down examination showed that his foot had a great shape and the arch was very nicely adjusted and functional. The patient was a professional slackliner and his foot had become so muscular that the site where we commonly have an arch was covered with bulky muscle.”

Not sure if your feet are in proper shape? Are they the cause of problems or pain? Visit a physiotherapist, who can tell you with certainty where the problem lies and how to deal with it.

Don’t expect insoles to work miracles

Many orthopedists continue to deal with flat feet with a simple but dysfunctional solution: They prescribe orthopedic insoles. You put them into your shoes and expect a miracle to happen. But none comes. Why? 

Because passively adjusting the arch isn’t enough. Once you take your shoes off, the weak foot collapses again. You need to activate and strengthen it to have a truly healthy arch. What can help you do this? 

  • Regular exercises
  • Healthy walking in the right shoes

We’ll be dealing with exercising in one of our next articles. You can also find some exercises for activating the foot in the Step by Step to a Healthy Stride e-book.

a woman in red barefoot ballet flats walking up stairs

The healthiest exercise for flat feet is exercise. But you also have to put on the right healthy shoes.

According to Lukáš Klimpera, the orthopedic insole can help you, but you shouldn’t rely on just the insole alone: “If you’re really exercising, the insole can be helpful because it will guide you. But it should be used in a shoe that allows your foot to fully function.”

Reading tip: How to walk healthy: 5+ tips from physiotherapists

Good shoes are ones that free you

So what are the right shoes? They’re ones that allow you to walk just as if you were walking barefoot. They have to have the following characteristics: 

  • a wide toe box that frees your toes
  • a flexible and thin sole that your foot can feel through
  • flexible materials in the whole shoe that adapt to your stride
  • light weight so your shoes don’t weigh you down

A woman throwing light barefoot shoes into the air

The right shoes are light, spacious and flexible.

Simply put: Common sneakers aren’t going to do it, no less heels or narrow walking shoes. If you wear shoes like this, even daily exercise won’t necessarily help. When you exercise and then put these shoes on, you’re “turning off” your foot. The brain continues to ignore the necessary muscles and doesn’t know how to adjust them. 

Learn how to be aware of your foot

Start from scratch. Walk barefoot over a soft surface. Be aware of the world beneath you. Get a pair of shoes that free you and focus mainly on healthy walking. We’ll be happy to teach you how in the Step by Step to a Healthy Stride e-book. 

Maybe you – just like 70% of physiotherapists’ patients – don’t have flat feet. You’ve just forgotten how to properly engage them and activate your natural arch after years of walking in narrow shoes. 

Free your feet. Find yourself a pair of healthy shoes and discover the magic of natural walking.