Why Barefoot Running is Ideal Physical Therapy for Fallen Arches

The best orthopedic flat feet treatment for runners is to run barefoot or in barefoot style running shoes, and here’s why. Running barefoot or in barefoot-like shoes improve arch mobility, which in turn, helps reduce loading on the body.

Why Barefoot Running is Excellent Physical Therapy for Fallen Arches

Why Barefoot Running is Ideal Physical Therapy for Fallen Arches

Most standard running shoes have arch support which restricts arch mobility which in turn increases arch rigidity during running. Arch rigidity prevents arch compression, which prevents the arch from deflecting impact during running.

  • When arch compression is compromised, compensatory eversion excursion of the foot may result to help absorb impact (Williams et al. 2014).

From this, Williams et al. (2014) concluded that arch mobility is a critical component in prevent running-related injury because of its effects on both eversion and tibial internal rotation excursion during running.

In the past, research has focused intensively on the role of arch height in elevated injury risk in runners. However, new reports have found that arch mobility is equally important.

In the same study, Williams et al. (2014) purported that a more mobile foot might lower components of the vertical ground reaction force. A mobile foot might also reduce the need for compliance at other lower extremity joints, such as the knee. What is more is that the researchers found that runners with greater arch mobility showed reduced loading rates compared to runners with greater arch rigidity.

Barefoot and Minimalist Turns the Thumbscrews on Better Arch Function

Arch structure influences arch mobility and constant use of standard running shoes inadvertently reduces arch mobility by making the arch more rigid. Exacerbating these concerns is the increased risk of injury.

Barefoot/Minimalist Running and Arch Mobility

By seeking to fend off the risk of poor arch mobility, barefoot running or minimalist shod running (shown above) deploys a defense shield against injury by improving the range of motion of the foot. Moreover, arch mobility evoked by barefoot and minimalist running may allow more energy to be dissipated in the forefoot, rather than the tibia. Why? Because shod runners with rigid arches process more torsion in the lower leg which increases the risk of a tibial stress fracture (Lees et al. 2005; Nachbauer and Nigg, 1992).

The Take Home Message

Wearing less protective materials on the foot during running seems to be the answer for enabling arch mobility, reducing loading and impact forces. Conversely, a rigid arch is an inherent shortcoming of the standard running shoe. Because the foot is completely immobilized in standard footwear, it’s pretty unlikely that you can expect to reliably sustain adequate arch function.

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Nachbauer, W; Nigg, BM: Effects of arch height of the foot on ground reaction forces in running. Med. Sci. Sports Exercise 24:1264–1269, 1992.

Lees at el. Shock absorption during forefoot running and its relationship to medial longitudinal arch height. Foot & Ankle Inter, 2005;26(12) 1080-1088.

Willams et al. Increased medial longitudinal arch mobility, lower extremity kinematics, and ground reaction forces in high-arched runners. J Athl Train, 2014; 49(3):290-296.

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

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.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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