In a recent study, researchers found that women who have flat feet, a common condition, are 50 percent more likely to have pain in their lower back as opposed to those with normal or high arches. This study is the first of its kind to make a significant connection between low back pain and flat feet.
Published in the journal Rheumatology, the study examined both men and women, measuring each subject’s arch in the standing position and how pressure was distributed on the foot while walking. To confirm and expand the findings, future studies will likely follow participants with different types of arches for a significant period of time, and will attempt to determine what effect interventions such as orthotics may have on the development of back pain.
So why are women more affected by walking with flat feet than men? Marian Hannan, senior author of the study, and her team were not able to determine exact causes but suggested a few possible reasons. For example, pelvic bones in women are wider than and not as flexible as those in men, and women tend to rotate their hips and move their upper bodies more as they walk.
In addition to lower back pain, flat feet, can lead to conditions such as plantar fasciitis and heel spurs, metatarsalgia, tendonitis, bunions, and more. If you have flat feet, there are conservative, non-surgical treatments you can try. You may want to purchase over-the-counter inserts designed for appropriate arch support, or you may decide to take it a step further and see an expert to be fitted for custom orthotics.
Another option, covered in a Reuters article about the study, is to strengthen muscles in the feet by laying a towel on a flat surface, then scrunching the toes together in order to pick up the towel and lower it back down. Feet are the first and only point of contact with the ground; maintaining a strong foundation will ensure stability in your body.
If you’re experiencing back pain as a result of flat feet, I recommend seeing a physician. But don’t lose hope: flat feet can be strengthened to relieve and avoid lower back pain.