Flat feet get a bad rap. They are the scapegoat of many aches and pains throughout the body, from the feet themselves to the knees, hips, back, and even the neck.  But, what is rarely ever talked about is that your feet HAVE to flatten.

Your feet have to flatten for two very important reasons.  First, your feet have to flatten in order for them to be healthy. Second, your feet have to flatten in order for the rest of your body to be healthy.  If your feet cannot flatten, there may be unintended orthopedic consequences that are suffered.

Let’s discuss these two reasons.  The health of your feet is dependent on them being able to flatten because the joints of your feet are lined with something called hyaline cartilage.  Hyaline cartilage is a tissue that lines almost all the joints you can think of in your body – your knees, your hips, your shoulders, your spine.

Hyaline cartilage is an important tissue to the overall health of the joint because it provides a low-friction surface for your bones to move on each other as well as some shock absorption for when you are walking, jumping, etc.  Loss of hyaline cartilage can be a major issue, too. If the health of the hyaline cartilage deteriorates enough, we call that arthritis.

Now, in order for hyaline cartilage to remain healthy, it needs two things – 1) force and 2) motion. It needs force going through it so it can release its waste products and it needs motion in order to stay hydrated and keep its low-friction property.  The force part typically comes from your muscles pulling on your bones, from standing, and from being physically active. And the motion part comes from getting up and moving around.

If your hyaline cartilage does not receive adequate amounts of force of motion, it can start to deteriorate over time, which brings me back to the health of your feet.  In order for your feet to stay healthy, they HAVE to be able to move, and this includes being able to flatten every time you take a step.

See, every time you take a step, there are specific motions that happen throughout your feet, ankles, knees, hips, and spine, and shoulders.  In the feet, one of those motions is flattening, which means if your feet cannot flatten for whatever reason, that will start to negatively affect all of the other joints in your body.  This leads me to reason number two – your feet have to be able to flatten for the health of the rest of your body.

If your feet do not flatten, that will require other joints within your body to have to pick up more motion.  Now, as stated above, motion is a critical component of joint health. But, too much motion repeated over an extended period of time can be stressful to joints, as well.  Unfortunately, this is often what happens when your feet cannot flatten – you may start to feel symptomatic in other areas of your body. Your knees may ache or your back may tighten up.  These are signs that those areas are stressed, but the question that remains is, “Why are they stressed?” If your feet cannot flatten, that may be a likely culprit.

So here’s the thing, flat feet are NOT the issue.  Your feet HAVE to be flat at certain times, and they have to be arched at other times. Feet that are ALWAYS flat may be an issue, and feet that are ALWAYS arched may be an issue, too.  But, your feet must flatten in order to keep up their own health as well as the health of the rest of your joints.

But if flat feet aren’t the issue, what is?  More often than not, I see the bigger issue being feet that are not strong and stable. In fact, this is a MAJOR issue when many clients when they first come in.  Nearly 20% of your skeletal muscles are responsible for controlling your feet, and yet we hardly pay any attention to them. In fact, we tend to do the exact opposite – cover them up with shoes.

Now, not all shoes are awful, but many are.  That will be a post for another week, though.  In the mean time, you can show your feet muscles some love by doing two things.  First, go get your feet evaluated by a certified Muscle Activation Techniques® (MAT®) practitioner.  You can find one in your area here. They will be able to assess the function of all of the muscles in your feet and figure out which ones are not working well.  Then, they will be able to improve each of those muscles’ function one by one.

Second, start incorporating some strength training for your feet on a regular basis.  Just like you would work your biceps or your glutes at the gym, you need to work the muscles of your feet, too.  Because it is uncommon to see exercises for your feet on Instagram, I have dedicated an entire post to describing five exercises you can anywhere (literally anywhere!) to strengthen your feet.  You can check that out here.

Your feet may be one of the most overlooked parts of your body in terms of their strength and function. If you are suffering from foot issues or have been told you have flat feet, understand that it is not a death sentence.  Your feet have to be able to flatten. While they need to be able to arch up, too, having feet that flatten is not a bad thing. What can be an issue over the long term is having feet that are weak, unstable, and unable to move how they are designed.  Fortunately, there are methods to help you with all of that through MAT® and strengthening exercises.

Charlie Cates

Charlie Cates is the leading consultant to high-level professional, college, & high school basketball players in the Chicagoland area for injury prevention, recovery, & muscle performance. As a certified Muscle Activation Techniques® MATRx practitioner & former college basketball player, he uses his personal experience & understanding of the game & player demands to create customized exercise options for his clients to recover faster & perform their best. He is certified in the highest levels of MAT®, including MATRx, MATRx Stim, and MAT® Athlete. Follow him on Instagram @CharlieCates!