On the March: The Surprising Truth About Soldiers and Flat Feet
Posted by Jenn F. on Wednesday, December 26th, 2012
America’s finest are subject to some of the most strenuous and dangerous conditions of any professional anywhere. They race through deserts with hundreds of pounds on their backs, climb mountains under fire, and slog through feet of frigid water deep in enemy territory. Of course, healthy feet are a critical part of a soldier’s arsenal. Injury can compound quickly, worsening over days and weeks of steady punishment. And, when the smallest distraction can cause a slow-down or hesitation, even mild foot pain can become life threatening. It makes sense then that the low arches on some soldiers’ feet have been a consistent source of concern in the military.
Conventional podiatric wisdom has always held that people with flat feet are at increased risk of injury. This assumption stood for many years without any significant testing. In science, assumptions are always suspect, and when this particular question was put to the test, the results told a new story.
246 US Army Infantry trainees were followed over the course of a rigorous 12-week training program. Each subject was evaluated before training, an evaluation that included detailed photographs of the right, weight-bearing foot. The photos were digitized and researchers made several measurements of arch height. The participants were young, healthy men (median age 20.3) and there were no criteria for exclusion based on physical stature, lifestyle, or health history.
The study found no correlation between flat feet and injury. In fact, the 20% with the flattest feet were at the lowest risk! Higher arches did seem to correlate with increased risk, though further testing of a larger sample set is needed to make a definitive determination.
I think there are two important lessons we can learn from this study. First, while the arch is undoubtedly critical for proper foot functioning (it provides stability and flexibility and its coiling spring-like action helps propel the body forward efficiently) the physics of walking and running are complex. Completely flat feet are clearly a problem, as are overly high arches (Cavus foot). But this study illustrates that a wide range of arches are healthy. It all depends on the individual. For podiatrists this means it’s important to study pathology. Is there pain? Is there a pronation or a problem with the patient’s gait? If not, correcting a low arch may not be warranted.
Second, we should always remember that if something hasn’t been carefully tested, it isn’t science. Conventional wisdom is wonderful: it’s an important starting point for further investigation. But treatments based on untested hypotheses may do more harm than good.
If you’re concerned about your arch, visit The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900).
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.