…..with regard to flat feet, etc., she (Ida Rolf) talks a lot about this (obviously considering that Rolfing sessions typically start at the foot/ankle) and she says that people always come in and say “My feet are flat. This is how I was born, so nothing can be done.” She then replies, “Why can’t anything be done? Everyone is born with flat feet and the arches and intrinsic muscles of the foot develop in response to stresses that we place on them as we begin to walk and then age.”
We should start with the question of can someone be born with structurally flat feet.
I think the answer is yes. Can someone be born with a bony abnormality via genetic variation or mutation? That’s an easy yes. I was born with a bony boutonniere deformity in my pinkies. My pinky’s look like a point guard’s that’s played 20 years in the League. Basically, my PIP joints on both sides have a flexion contracture around 40 degrees with a bony end feel. So is it reasonable that someone can be born with something similar in the feet?
Bony variations in general are innate. That’s what makes us tall or short, or wide or narrow. These variations are not considered damning, but they occur for accepted reasons.
So it is definitely confusing as to why Rolf would be so definitive, but perhaps her quotes from her book are presented in limited context.
Something deeper to consider is the relatively misunderstood or under-understood concept of Postural Ontology. Ontology by definition is the study of an existence of reality. Basically it is trying to explain something that we know is happening, but can not explain. In this case, through months 1-14 and well beyond, the parameters of physical development are the same for any individual considered normal by those parameters. We all develop the same exact way as long as it’s normal. But the ontology is the attempt to explain how this happens with seemingly no instruction. No one tells Baby to oblique sit at 6 months. No one tells Baby to breath diaphragmatically. How do we all know how to go through the motions of development without someone or something coaching and directing the movement?
Well part of the answer, of which we will never know as is the nature of an Ontology, is that as we develop, there is constant interaction with the floor and the world around it. Yes, there is definitely an underlying tone of metaphysical bullshit here – some connection of man and Earth or nature. The interactions of the body in contact with the floor are consistently through specific bony contacts. Again, where and which these contacts are into a parameter of normal for everybody. The belief is that the reaction of the loading into the floor signals bone growth and potential change. We know this very scientifically grounded as Wolf’s Law in regards to bone density. There is clear radiological evidence demonstrating the shape of the femoral neck changing as we develop. Femoral and humeral retroversion can clearly be developed during the first few months of development when wrong or out of order loading is permitted. Do such baby toys as Jumpers and assisted standing devices influence bony structure? Yes, they definitely do.
So refocusing back to the feet, if initial loading to the feet is with aberrantly developed hips or poorly stabilized ribs, the feet will develop inappropriately. This would tend to support Rolf’s suggestion. And this is indeed what happens in my opinion more times than not. The question is how often the development yields a bony flat foot vs. structural flat foot.
I think it clearly can work both ways, but in more times than not, it works through the formative years of development.
So then the question becomes, can Wolf’s Law apply to the point of meaningful bony changes in an adult? Kolar would suggest yes. I am not in any position to support yes or no, but if you hold a gun to my head, I would say no. I recently gave my opinion on this in a recent response to working through a supinated foot, which is typically a structural issue.
What I can speak to with strong confidence is the use of manual therapy and/or corrective exercise to change a flat foot to one with a very appropriate arch. And this is where I think Rolf is coming from, and it’s because this is where most people are. The have what they think are flat feet, which is simply a natural shift to bony stability in the lack of presence of dynamic stability. This change can be made via joint mobilization, stability training, and/or bodywork.
Are there structurally flat feet? YES.
Does the neurodevelopmental process irrevocably influence bone and joint formation? YES
Are most people’s feet really flat? Absolutely NO