How can we cure flat feet? Shoes will help, but insoles won’t always do the trick

Good news: In most cases, flat feet can be remedied

So how do you cure flat feet? Exercising will help, but the most important thing is to give your foot the space it needs to move freely. That’s why barefoot shoes can be more effective than orthopedic insoles, which only passively support the foot.


Read below to find out why. And don’t forget to try the simple exercises for flat feet that we’ve added at the end of this article. 

What are flat feet?

The human foot has a natural shock-absorbing mechanism in the transverse and longitudinal arches, which act as springs to soften every step. They accumulate the energy that you use while rebounding. 

The foot arches are created by small wedge-shaped bones, muscles and the brain. We all have a similar bone shape – the problem lies in controlling the muscles. When we continually constrict our feet in the wrong shoes, the brain loses the ability to control them. The muscles weaken and the arch collapses.

A sketch of the bones that make up the curve of the foot’s arch

The arch is created by bones and foot muscles. Image source:

But, as physiotherapist Lukáš Klimpera points out, the problem for many of us is in the arch: “70% of people think they have flat feet, but in reality they often have an everted ankle. Once we align it with the whole limb, the longitudinal arch will be restored.

What are the causes of flat feet? 

There can be more than one reason, but the most common are: 

  • genetics
  • the wrong shoes
  • a poor stride

We can’t choose our genes, but we can pick which shoes to wear. Imagine someone locking you into a room where you can’t move for a whole month. What would happen? Your muscles would weaken and you’d forget how to control them

This is exactly what happens with the feet in normal shoes. The narrow tip binds the toes, and the thick sole prevents the foot from moving. The foot doesn’t move, and the brain forgets how to properly control it. Either your arch sags or the ankle becomes everted. The result: Flat feet, i.e. a collapsed arch.

A woman picking up a cloth with her toes – she has a distinct foot arch.

Active foot muscles naturally create an arch.

The foot needs space

Your feet are the happiest when they’re bare. But, if you want to allow them to move freely in shoes too, select footwear with the following characteristics: 

  • a wide toe box (ample room for the toes)
  • a soft and pliant sole
  • flexible materials
  • light in weight

a foot with toes spread out in a healthy, centered position

Why a wide toe box? Because your toes need space to be in this position.

Ones like these are good barefoot shoes. Here we could conclude the article by saying: Yes, barefoot shoes are good for flat feet. But it’s not that simple. 

Not all barefoot shoes are the same. The strength of the sole doesn’t matter so much; it‘s the flexibility and space in the shoe that counts. That’s why you should be careful not to believe every barefoot label. Look for shoes that are truly barefoot, i.e. ones that are spacious and flexible.

Walking healthily without healthy shoes is impossible. But shoes themselves won’t teach you how to walk healthily. Learn how in the e-book Step by Step to a Healthy Stride.

Did you know that even socks affect your feet? Ideal socks for flat feet are ones that give your foot freedom without the stretchy elastane material and constricting elastic at the ankle.

Insoles help, but they’re not enough

If your doctor has prescribed orthopedic insoles to you, you might be surprised at how stiff they are. They won’t free your foot – they only work as a passive support for the longitudinal and transverse arches

According to Lukáš Klimpera, insoles can help, but they won’t remedy flat feet: “Insoles are a suitable solution for some special diagnoses. They also help alleviate the patient’s pain. But, they’re not enough on their own, because they only passively support the foot.”

When you support the arch with an insole, you won’t learn how to use it. You’re not strengthening the muscles or learning how to utilize them, and therefore you’re not dealing with the source of the problem. The brain always looks for the easiest path – so why would it try to activate the arch when you’re passively supporting it? 

An insole can act as temporary relief. But don’t forget to strengthen the muscles of the arch by exercising and walking healthily with bare feet or in spacious shoes. 

Reading tip: Have you already read through the e-book Step by Step to a Healthy Stride? It was written by physiotherapist Lukáš Klimpera and can be downloaded for free.

How to deal with flat feet in children 

Children’s feet are still developing, and that’s why it’s even more important to give them room. Don’t put your children’s feet into hard, narrow shoes. Let them run barefoot or in shoes that don’t constrict them. 

Just like adults, an insole can temporarily help, but it won’t deal with the causes of flat feet in children. 

“Children have to learn natural muscle coordination and activation. An insole will take this away from them completely,” says Lukáš Klimpera.

Exercises for flat feet

👉 When the feet are tired, rubbing will help

We’re not joking. Even such a common thing like rubbing can wake up weakened muscles. The brain doesn’t sense that it has these muscles or can use them, so touch acts as a reminder. 

Rub the bottoms of the feet, instep, ankle and crus.

a woman rubbing her foot and instep

By rubbing, you’re telling the brain it can use these muscles too.

You might be thinking: What? Rubbing isn’t an exercise! You might be surprised that it’s actually a verified physiotherapeutic method. The scientific term for it is exteroceptive stimulation, and it helps stimulate a certain part of the body.

👉 Your new friend the balance trainer

The round shape of this exercise aid, which we call a balance trainer, helps form the arch of the foot. Here’s how to exercise on it: 

Try this exercise on both the round and flat side:

  1. Stand up on the balance trainer. 
  2. Situate the arch, position of the ankle and the whole lower limb so they’re all in one line. 
  3. Put your weight on one foot and start by gently taking your weight off the other. Once you’ve done this, stand on just one foot. 
  4. Try keeping the proper position (the foot, ankle and whole leg in one line).
  5. Later, you can close your eyes, do a knee-bend or walk forwards and backwards over the balance trainer.

With this exercise, you’ll be exercising not only your muscles, but also mainly your brain, which you’re providing with a movement pattern. This pattern should remain in place while you’re standing and walking.

A woman exercising on the balance trainer exercise aid.

By walking along the balance trainer, you’re activating your foot and practicing your balance.

👉 Engage the toes and ankles

These simple exercises will help awaken weakened muscles in the toes and ankle. 

  1. Stretch out the toes and relax them again. 
  2. Curl your toes into a ball. 
  3. Make circles with the ankles from side to side.

Exercise helps. But first you need to free your feet.

Walk barefoot. Or get a pair of shoes that will liberate your feet. In Ahinsa shoes, you’ll be walking just as if you were barefoot – this has even been verified by a study at Masaryk University.

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