What are flat feet?
Most children have an arch on the inside of each foot. However, some children have flat feet, also known as 'fallen arches'. Nearly all toddlers are flat footed. This is because the foot arch develops as your child grows. The foot arch should be developed by age 10.
What causes flat feet?
Most children with flat feet have what is called ‘flexible flat feet’. This is caused by the softening of the ligaments that hold the bones in their feet together.
Sometimes, flat feet are caused by neurodevelopmental disorders. This may need extra therapy.
What are the symptoms of flat feet?
Flexible flat feet usually don’t cause symptoms or foot problems.
Flat feet that are stiff, instead of being flexible, can be more painful and need treatment.
If painful flat feet are uncorrected, it can affect your child’s development. This can cause difficulty walking, and pain in their:
- lower back
How are flat feet diagnosed?
Most children with flat feet don’t need treatment. But see your doctor if:
- your child has pain
- it affects their activity
Your doctor will diagnose flat feet by:
- asking some questions about your child’s development
- examining your child’s feet and shoes
- assessing your child’s gait (the way they walk)
If needed, your doctor can refer your child for treatment with:
- a podiatrist
- a physiotherapist
- a rheumatologist (a doctor who looks after bones, joints and muscles)
FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.
How are flat feet treated?
Treatment for flat feet focuses on preventing any pain as your child grows. Treatment doesn’t try and fix their fallen arches.
Orthotics (a custom-made insert worn in the shoes) are sometimes used in older children who have foot pain. However, these children tend to have other problems besides flat feet.
Orthotics are not necessary for children with flexible flat feet and no other foot problems. Your child's foot development will be the same whether arch supports are worn or not.
The type of shoe your child wears can also help their feet to develop properly.
It’s important that your child’s shoes fit properly. They should not be too tight. Ideally, your child's shoe should support their arch.
Your child can visit a physiotherapist about their flat feet. The physiotherapist can suggest exercises to strengthen the muscles in the arch of their foot. This will not make an arch develop, but will help prevent problems.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: November 2022