Arch Development and the Fallen Arch

Part 2 of this 3-part post series discusses the development of the arch and the importance of bare feet for babies and toddlers. We go on to discuss reasons for a weak or fallen arch and the possible consequences on one’s health and well-being. Enjoy!

The Development of the Arch
We are born with flat feet and develop arches throughout childhood. Research suggests that the optimal age range for arch development is 4-6 years old and that arches are usually formed completely by age 8. It is important to note that in our civilized shoe wearing, concrete living society – proper arch development has actually become a major health issue for many children. Wearing shoes at too young an age can impede the tactile ability of feet and also limit proper growth of muscles and tendons needed for proper arch development to occur. Shoes are not the only culprit. Toddlers absolutely need time barefoot, especially when learning to crawl and walk. However, even infants need time to spread their toes, invert and evert their feet, and stretch. Tight fitted sock or tightly wrapped blankets can prevent a baby from moving their feet as needed.
The best form of foot covering for infants and toddles are wool socks or soft booties that will conform to the natural shape of the foot and allow natural movement of the feet and toes. “Infants’ feet do not have to be protected from the cold nearly as much as some adults think. Babies need no more protection for their feet when crawling on a cold floor than they do for their hands.”[1] Infants thrive on bare feet and overwhelming research suggests that children will have better posture and stronger arches if they are allowed to go barefoot as often as it is safe and possible, especially during the crucial ages of 0-6 years.

Lynn Staheli, MD – quoted form NY Times Aug 14, 1994:
“Children with the healthiest and most supple feet are those who habitually go barefoot, according to Dr. Lynn T. Staheli and a growing number of other pediatric orthopedists. His studies of developing nations show that non- shoe-wearers have better flexibility and mobility, stronger feet, fewer deformities, and less complaints than those who wear shoes regularly. He says that, when a child must wear a shoe, it should be lightweight, flexible, shaped more or less quadrangularly, and above all, should not have the arch supports and stiff sides once deemed necessary to give the foot support.”

What causes a Fallen Arch?
As already mentioned, the arch will not develop properly in childhood if feet are bound and proper movement, stretching and strengthening is not allowed by shoes, tight socks, etc. In adulthood, arches can actually weaken and fall due to strain caused by wearing high heels, poorly fitted shoes, walking on concrete and hard surfaces constantly, and becoming overweight. If the arches of the feet are responsible for proper weight bearing, too much body weight can place an enormous strain on them and eventually wear them down. Wearing ill fitted shoes or high heel that don’t allow the arches to do what they are intended to do can also weaken them from lack of use and improper posture and alignment.

Results of a Weak or Fallen Arch

“With every step we take, we load our body weight through our feet,’ explains Rina Bimbashi, a podiatrist at the London Foot & Ankle Centre. ‘If you have flat feet, you are likely to be rolling in with each step, so your muscles are working harder and longer to keep your body stable. ‘This can set off a chain reaction, from the calf muscles up the leg to the knee and thigh, through to the abdomen and lower back. Consequently, you have poor posture and very tight, over-worked muscles.’”[2]

If the feet are flat, when weight is placed to stand and walk, the feet will generally tend to pronate or evert, which places extra strain on the extensors like the peronial muscles and stretches the flexors like the tibialis. Without arches to properly support and disperse the weight of the body, the tibiofibular joint and tibiofemoral joint will have to help support the body’s weight. Since these joints are not meant to do this, they will wear down easily and will be susceptible to injury. If these joints are vulnerable, the next to be affected are the coxal joint and the spine. In a relatively sort period of time, if nothing is done to correct the problem, inflammation will build up and cause chronic pain and in most cases, headaches.



Stay tuned for Part 3: Re-building the Arch

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