You’ve probably heard of “flat feet” and maybe even worried about it after looking at your baby’s feet, which probably look suspiciously flat. First, don’t worry. All babies are born with naturally “flat” feet, and this is no cause for concern. Babies have flexible bones and joints and a pad of fat on the bottom of their feet, causing them to look flat. True arches don’t develop until around 6 years old, when the feet become less flexible.
After the age of six, however, some children retain flat feet (which are sometimes also called fallen arches), causing parents to become concerned. Flat feet may not bother your child at all, but they can cause foot pain, as well as pain in the legs. Contrary to popular belief, however, arch supports are not recommended. They do not help your child develop an arch and, in the long run, may end up causing more harm than good. Having flat feet does not mean your child cannot run barefoot or spend time in sandals.
There are multiple reasons your child may have flat feet. The Achilles tendon may be tight, so the foot is not able to move properly. This can be helped by stretching exercises to lengthen the tendon but sometimes requires casting of both feet, and occasionally surgery may need to lengthen the tendon.
Rarely, your child may have a form of flat feet called “rigid” flat feet. Affecting about 1 percent of the population, rigid flat feet is a genetic condition in which bones in the foot fuse together. In this condition, the foot cannot properly move up and down or side to side. Children with rigid flat feet should be followed closely by an orthopedic surgeon, because if they are left untreated they could lead to arthritis.
Fortunately, though, these problems are rare. In most cases, a baby’s “flat feet” will develop arches naturally during childhood.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, December 2018
- Flat feet in infants is normal.
- Arch supports are not recommended for flat feet.
- Children develop arches in their feet by age 6.
- For some kids, tight achilles tendons can cause feet to appear flat.