Flat feet is a condition that affects nearly 8 million adults in the US, and is characterized by an elimination of the arch in your foot.
Many young americans suffering from this condition wonder if it will ruin their chances of enlisting in the military.
So can you join the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines if you have flat feet?
The short answer is yes, you can.
Flat feet is no longer a disqualifying condition for military enlistment, provided that the enlistee does not show symptomatic flat feet. In short, this essentially means that if you are showing detrimental symptoms, you could be barred from enlisting in the military. These symptoms include pain in the arch or heel area, as well as swelling of the ankles. (1)
Here’s the long answer:
A Short History Of Flat Feet In The Military
While I couldn’t find any specific info on when it no longer became a disqualifying condition, several sources noted that it likely started sometime between World War 2 and the beginning of the Vietnam war. (2, 3)
Later in the Vietnam War, the condition was no longer disqualifying. (4)
Flat feet is exactly what it sounds like….
It’s a condition where, instead of having a normal arch in your feet, this arch is eliminated.
This gives it a flat appearance.
While most individuals don’t display any symptoms, certain types of this condition (most notably symptomatic) can cause a wide variety of pain, particularly in the heel or arch area. (5)
Why was it a disqualifying condition?
During World War 1 and 2, flat feet was seen as a disqualifying condition for 2 reasons:
- It was see as a sign of low class and poor health, and
- High arches were seen as high class and full of vigor
This myth was perpetuated by the fact that many doctors believed it would cause disadvantages for the individual while hiking on long marches.
While this is true to a certain extent, it’s only really applicable to those with symptoms.
So what changed?
Due to the massive unpopularity of the Vietnam war, the military was short on enlistees.
It was so bad that doctors and other medical professionals were inundated with requests by family members to be diagnosed with any and all conditions that might disqualify them from the draft.
As a way to garner more troops, prior medical conditions that were previously a “way out” were no longer a reason for disqualification.
More recently, a study conducted on 449 trainees in US Naval Special Warfare training noted no major differences in risk of stress fracture in those with low, medium, and high arch feet. (7)
In fact, those with flat feet had a lower propensity for injury.
Asymptomatic Vs. Symptomatic Flat Feet
Asymptomatic flat feet is a condition where you can perform daily physical activities without any pain or discomfort.
Symptomatic flat feet, on the other hand, is a condition characterized by physical pain caused specifically by your flat feet.
If you have been diagnosed with chronic pain whose root cause is from symptomatic flat feet, you cannot serve in the US military.
As mentioned earlier, symptoms include pain the arch area of your foot, as well as swelling in your heel.
Symptomatic flat feet can also cause secondary conditions, including:
- Obesity: Since you have pain in your feet, you may be less able to exercise and keep a healthy weight.
- Knee problems: Flat feet has been known to cause knee problems due to misalignment in the lower body. (8)
Can I get a waiver if I have symptomatic flat feet?
You can submit a waiver, but it’s not always a guarantee that it will be approved.
Medical waivers in the military are determined on a case-by-case basis.
Just like with several other medical conditions (like ADHD), military service with flat feet is contingent upon the individual.
Having flat feet is a perfectly normal condition that only becomes a problem if you’re suffering from foot pain as a result of it.
In reality, it would not be a good idea to join the military if you suffer from chronic foot pain.
Army / Marine boot camp can be very physically demanding, and just getting through it without any additional disadvantages can be difficult enough.
If you’re concerned about whether or not your flat feet will disqualify you from military service, visit your doctor.
He or she will know your condition best, and will be able to answer any questions you have.
Medical Disclaimer: All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only, and is not intended as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.