Flat feet is a condition that affects nearly 8 million adults in the US (Reference: 1), and is characterized by the 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.
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Here’s the long answer:
What Are Flat Feet?
Before getting into the whether or not it’s a military disqualification, let’s first discuss the specifics of the ailment.
Flat Feet (Pes planus) is a condition characterized by a postural deformity where the arches of the foot are collapsed. (Reference: 2)
It is estimated that about 25% of the general population suffer from this condition, however, it is not considered life-threatening.
What Causes Flat Feet?
Flat Feet normally develops in the infant stage of growth and is considered a completely normal condition that doesn’t require surgery or medical intervention.
In fact, most infants start off with flat feet, and then gradually develop an arch by the age of 4 – 5. (Reference: 3)
Other causes include:
- Genetics: If one (or both) of your parents had flat feet, then there’s a good chance you will develop them as well.
- Weak Arches: In a weakened arch, flat feet will show while the patient is standing, but arches will show when he/she is sitting.
- Adult Acquired Flatfoot (PTTD): Fallen arches can also be caused by obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, or surgery of the posterior tibial tendon. (Reference: 4)
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Flat Feet Symptoms
The vast majority of people suffering from this condition do not display any adverse symptoms.
However, a small percentage of the population do have symptoms which may affect their quality of life.
These include things like:
- Painful / Achy Feet
- Back and leg pain
- Pain in the foot after running or walking
- Decreased foot movement
- Tire easily
These are actually some of the main reasons why flat feet used to be (and still is, in some cases) a disqualifying condition in the military.
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How Can I Tell If I Have Flat Feet?
As a medical condition, flat feet is a condition diagnosed by a podiatrist. It typically involves a medical exam that will include things like a visual examination, x-rays, and possibly even an MRI.
You can also check for yourself at home using the following tests:
The best way to discover what type of arch you have is to do a footprint test. It works like this:
Step 1: Fill a baking dish or a cookie sheet with about a half an inch of water.
Step 2: Take off your shoes and socks, and place your feet into the water.
Step 3: Place the foot on a white piece of paper, and then step off of it.
If you see a foot that’s completely connected, then that means you have a very low arch.
The Tiptoes test simply involves standing on your tiptoes and observing whether or not a visible arch forms.
Step 1: Remove your shoes and socks, and stand on a firm floor surface.
Step 2: Place both hands against the wall for stability.
Step 3: Slowly stand on your tiptoes on both feet.
If you observe no noticeable arch, then you likely have flat feet.
You may also notice that you have difficulty standing on your tiptoes for long periods of time.
This may indicate a very low arch.
Keep in mind that neither of these tests is an official diagnosis.
If you’re already in the process of joining the military, they will officially test for flat feet at your Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).
Is There A Cure For Flat Feet?
Despite the notion that flat feet is a fairly benign condition, there are some instances where it can be detrimental.
Some known cures and treatments include:
- Heel Cord stretching
- Golf ball roll
- Well fitted shoes
- Fitted insoles
- Ankle braces
- Weight loss (if condition is caused by obesity)
All of these treatment options would be discussed with your doctor.
A Short History Of Flat Feet In The Military
While I couldn’t find any specific information 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.
Later in the Vietnam War, the condition was no longer disqualifying. (Reference: 5)
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. (Reference: 6)
Why was flat feet a disqualifying condition?
During World War 1 and 2, flat feet was seen as a disqualifying condition for 2 reasons:
- It was seen 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. (Reference: 8)
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 the symptomatic type, you cannot serve in the US military.
As mentioned earlier, symptoms include pain in 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: It has been known to cause knee problems due to misalignment in the lower body. (Reference: 9)
US Navy’s Policy On Flat Feet
If you’ve ever dreamed of becoming a US Navy SEAL, pilot, or even a Seebee, you’re in luck.
With the right waiver, you can join the Navy with no issues.
It is true that a doctor will examine your feet at MEPS before enlisting in the Navy.
With that said, unless you have symptomatic flat feet, it is completely waiver-able.
Keep in mind that, while you can submit a waiver, it’s not always a guarantee that it will be approved.
Medical waivers in the military are determined on a case-by-case basis.
However, I’ve read plenty of stories of men and women joining the US Navy with flat feet and having no issues.
We spoke with Officer Mendoza, a Navy recruiter out of Atlanta, Georgia, to get an official answer.
Here’s what he had to say:
The Navy’s policy is that they must go see a foot specialist. With the Navy’s policy, there are waivers, but the best way to get a personal answer would be to visit your local recruiter.
You can read the official policy here: https://www.va.gov/vetapp12/files5/1233545.txt
US Army Policy On Flat Feet
Just like with the other 5 branches of the military, flat feet is not a disqualifying condition for the US Army.
However, you should exercise caution.
Army training consists of running long distances, balancing on obstacles, and other instances where you’re on your feet for a long duration.
You may be able to join the US Army, but it could be a very painful experience if you have flat feet.
For example, you may show asymptomatic signs when you initially enlist and begin recruit training.
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But over time, you may start to develop symptoms that could cause you to become ineffective at your MOS.
OMK spoke with Sergeant Hewitt, an Army recruiter stationed in Atlanta, GA to get a definitive answer.
Here’s what he had to say:
With the Army, it is possible that Flat feet is an issue. The sergeant has seen people turned away for the condition, and the Army will send you to an orthopedic doctor to get it checked out.
The doctor will decide based on standard and expertise. With the Army, it is possible to get corrective surgery base on policies, but I’ve never heard of this before.
US Marines Policy On Flat Feet
While it is true that Marine recruit training can be the toughest out of all 5 branches of the military, you can still join the Marines if you’re flat-footed.
The only time it would become a problem would be if you’re showing signs of foot pain.
Just like with the Army and Navy, this question will be answered at MEPS.
If you do show symptoms that cause pain, or you’ve been prescribed treatments for flat feet in the past, it could present a problem for Marine enlistment.
Again, this condition is completely waiver-able but will depend on the individual recruit.
OMK spoke with Captain Sabia, a Marine recruiter stationed in Norcross, GA to get a definitive answer.
Here’s what he had to say:
Yeah it’s definitely possible to join the Marines if you have flat feet. What will happen is the potential recruit will complete what’s known as a “duck walk” at MEPS.
If it hurts when you do the duck walk, then you won’t be able to serve in the Marines.
With the Marines, due to nature and boots, the condition can prevent Marines from serving a role. If you’re already serving in the Marines, if you have foot issues, you will go see the medical board.
US Air Force Policy On Flat Feet
The Air Force is probably one of the best branches of the military to join if you have flat feet.
There are plenty of jobs in the Air Force that do not require you to stand for long periods of time.
Again, while flat feet is not a disqualifying condition, certain jobs could prove problematic if you have negative symptoms.
For example, if you ever thought about becoming a Pararescue (PJ), Combat Controller, or any other Special Operations job in the Air Force, you may want to reconsider.
Just like with the Marines, it could prove to be very problematic while you’re going through training or in certain MOS’.
We spoke with Staff Sergeant Socha, an Air Force recruiter stationed out of Staunton, Virginia, to get a definitive answer.
Here’s what he had to say:
With the Air Force, it’s up to the Chief Medical Officer and or the Surgeon General of the Air Force. With the Air Force, recruits are basically approved on a case by case basis.
I’m not aware of any problem getting VA benefits if you develop flat feet after service.
What we would do is just send the service person to a primary physician to figure out what the problem is and if it will be detrimental to their service.
Coast Guard Policy On Flat Feet
There’s a lot of misinformation about this on the internet.
I read through dozens of forum posts, with many of them saying that flat feet will disqualify you from serving in the Coast Guard.
It got to the point where I decided to ask my neighbor, who served in the Coast Guard reserves for nearly 20 years.
Here’s what he had to say via text:
“As far as I’m aware, having flat feet is not a disqualifying condition. Now keep in mind that things may have changed since I was in, so it’s definitely something you’ll want to double-check.
In any event, they will tell you at MEPS whether or not you are good to go.”
This last part makes total sense, mainly because everything I’m reading says the same thing about all 5 branches of the military.
To get a more concrete answer, we spoke with Petty Officer Devoir, who’s a Coast Guard recruiter stationed out of Sandy Springs, GA.
Here’s what he had to say:
Yeah we’ve had plenty of people with flat feet join the Coast Guard. What would happen is we would send them to see a doctor.
It really depends on the severity of the condition, which will be predicated on the doctors visit.
If the problem is severe enough, there are surgical operations that are available.
If the service member is already on active duty in the Coast Guard, then they shouldn’t have any problems staying in and completing their service.
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.
As we discussed earlier, the Army and Marine boot camps can be very physically demanding.
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.
Additionally, speak to a recruiter.
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They will be able to tell you what’s possible and what’s not.
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.
Featured Image: defense.gov
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