To date, there’s just not enough evidence to prove that arch support is a promising way to support the arch in order to prevent abnormal foot postures and motions and reduce pain during running. In fact, several studies reveal that arch support is a serious impediment that harms the arch and drains running economy.
The arch is the foot’s most important elastic structure as it provides up to 8% – 17% of the mechanical energy that can improve your running economy. This is because when there’s efficient storage of elastic energy in the arch, your stride becomes significantly more spring-enabled which allows the muscles to perform less mechanical work and expend less metabolic energy to move the body forward.
However, emerging evidence suggests that arch support causes the arch to rapidly lose energy by acting as a barrier that prevents arch compression (the elastic energy storage phase) during initial stance of running.
Normally, the arch stretches passively (shown above) when the apex of the arch pushes downward during the stance phase of running, however the apex cannot push downwards when arch support is worn. In this way, elastic energy cannot load through the arch and causes the arch to lose most of its spring-properties needed to help spring the body forward into flight.
The research that affirms this came from a 2016 study in Scientific Reports which discovered that running shoes with arch support prevented the arch from acting as an energy-saving spring by restricting arch compression. This caused running to be more energy-intensive because greater muscular effort and muscle force generation was needed to compensate for the loss of foot-spring needed to accelerate the body forward.
Another study found that arch inserts restricted maximum arch compression by 70% during running, resulting in lower elastic strain energy values throughout the entire stance phase when compared to unrestricted shod running and barefoot running.
By and large, arch support is an imperfect solution that comes with a heavy burden for runners. Luckily, the arch can fully regain its economical spring properties when running barefoot or in minimalist running shoes. In the first study mentioned above, the researchers also found that barefoot running was associated with the highest peak spring value in the arch. This means barefoot running enabled more efficient storage of elastic energy in the arch which produced more efficient propulsion with less energy requirements from the muscles. This is also because barefoot running engages a forefoot strike landing which was found to be the best foot strike pattern to power the arch as an optimized effectual spring. More on that here!
The Take Home Message
These findings are pretty straightforward in that running with arch support suspends the arch in ways that you will highly unlikely benefit from, and that you stand to gain economically without it!
The best long-term solution to keep your arches healthy and strong is by allowing them to work independently, especially under barefoot conditions because it provides the most opportunities to correct any weakness your arches, and your overall feet may have.
If you’ve enjoyed my blog post on the damaging effects of arch support, you’ll love my YouTube channel, here, where I talk more on the health and performance benefits of barefoot and minimalist running as well as why forefoot running is safer and more efficient than heel strike running!
McDonald et al. The Role of Arch Compression and Metatarsophalangeal Joint Dynamics in Modulating Plantar Fascia Strain in Running. PLOS One, 2016; DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0152602 .
Stearne SM, McDonald KA, Alderson JA, North I, Oxnard CE, Rubenson J. The foot’s arch and the energetics of human locomotion. Scientific Reports. 2016; 6:19403. doi: 10.1038/srep19403 PMID: 26783259
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BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
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