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What happens when you play sports with flat feet


I'd just started training harder for my basketball team, attending an extra two training sessions a week so I could improve my game.


Suddenly, I started getting cramps in my feet. My calves ached intensely. Thinking it was just the result of the extra training, I simply stretched more and trained all the harder. I could do this!


The pain got worse. Eventually, I was hobbling around day and night. Finally - on the advice of a friend -  I went to see a podiatrist.


"You already had flat feet," she said. "With all that extra battering, you've now turned it into plantar fasciitis."


"How is that possible?" I asked. "I'm only nineteen - aren't foot problems just for old people?"


Apparently not. My podiatrist explained how flat feet can create balance issues that are particularly problematic for avid sportspeople.


What are flat feet?

We're all born with flat feet. Most of us develop arches as we age. Some do not, for genetic reasons (like me) or because they've injured the tendons and muscles of their feet, whether through sport, poor balance or bad footwear choices. Some people suffer fallen arches as they get older.


Your foot arch is your body's shock absorber. It can distribute 150 per cent of the force of your body weight while you move. When the arch falls, the pain is real. It can even extend to your hips and back. And it seriously compromises your natural balance.


This makes walking difficult. Running is far worse. Keep pounding your poor feet and you'll likely develop plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the fascia that runs along the bottom of your foot and connects your heelbone to the ball of your foot) or heel spurs (nasty calcium deposits on the underside of your heelbone).


Why is this important for playing sport?

Footwork and balance are a key part of mastering any sport - whether it's basketball, tennis, footy or track and field. Having flat feet makes your balance more unstable and therefore more prone to fatigue and lack of power. And when you're not properly supporting your body weight in your lower half, your upper body gets a less effective workout - in short, you become a less successful athlete.


When you overwork flat feet, foot problems like plantar fasciitis, muscle spasms and calf fatigue can rear their ugly heads. In my circumstances, plantar fasciitis resulted in excruciating pain from my sole to my heel that seriously compromised my ability to walk properly, let alone train and perform on the court.


Until the worst happened, I had no idea that playing sport hard on my genetically inherited flat feet could cause these problems. I didn't know it affected my balance every time I was playing a game. And I'd never been told that the solution was relatively simple - adding arch supports that stabilised my foot mechanics and fit perfectly to my trainers would clear up the plantar fasciitis faster and improve my overall balance while playing sport. 


Thankfully, in my case, the eventual outcome was good. My podiatrist custom made me some orthotics to add to my shoes and I was soon able to play again without pain. But it's safe to say I'll never disregard the wellbeing of my flat feet again.