When athletes first come in to SPARTA there are a lot of things they can’t do, or at least that’s what they’ve been told. Most athletes who come in have had someone tell them that they are unable to perform some physical movements because of a “defect” in their physical structure. “I can’t squat deep because I had knee surgery two years ago.” “I can’t lift weights because it will deform my growth plates.” One we’ve been hearing recently is, “ I can’t do (insert your favorite activity), because I have flat feet.” A lot of athletes are getting a lot of bad information out there, but most of it is just people being cautious, which isn’t always a bad idea. However, the flat foot myth is exactly that, a myth.
According to the UCSF Children’s hospital, almost all babies are born with flat feet, and the arch of the foot does not fully develop until age 10 or so. But, in about 20% of children an arch never fully develops. Elective surgery is needed to create an arch. Without it, these flat-footed children become flat-footed adults. Things like shoe inserts and special exercises usually fail to create a long term solution.
Luckily, most flat feet do not need treatment. In fact, the percentage of professional athletes with flat feet mirrors that of the general population (so, about 20%). As long as you have a supple (or flexible) flat foot, you’re fine. A supple flat foot is one that looks flat when the person stands on the whole foot, but an arch develops when the foot is unloaded or when the person stands on their toes. A supple flat foot is the result of having adequate flexibility in the heel chord (Achilles tendon). An over-tight heel chord may require surgery but is very rare.
According to UCSF, flexible flat feet don’t need any treatment, nor do they cause pain or arthritis in adulthood. In a study from The School of Kinesiology at the University of Zagreb, 218 children (age 11-15) with varying degrees of flat feet were tested in flexibility, balance and force production. Children with flat and “normal” feet showed no differences in performing the sports related tests. Researchers concluded that flat-footed athletes have no disadvantage, and that no treatment is necessary for the condition.
One problem in the field of strength and conditioning is that trainers treat athletes like there is something wrong with them, everyone has something that needs “fixing”. At SPARTA, we like to look at athletes as having very distinct strengths and weaknesses, which can both be improved with precise scientific training. Athletes, and especially kids, are far more resilient and capable than most people give them credit for. Before you label yourself as having a “defect,” train to improve your weaknesses, they might become strengths.