The benefits of orthotics include correcting abnormal pronation and reducing foot pain during running — these are however, the ‘supposed’ benefits of orthotics. But are there any real, actual benefits of running with orthotics?
Benefits of Orthotics for Running
Sinclair et al.  found that orthotics did not reduce plantar fascia strain and they significantly reduced midfoot range of motion, suggesting that orthotics not only fail to deflect stress away from the plantar fascia, but they restrict the foot’s normal motions and may encourage abnormal foot/ankle mechanics during running.
The runners in the study were heel strikers and the problem with heel striking is that the plantar fascia is subjected to significant traction when the body weight transfers over the arch onto the front of the foot during the later half of the single limb support phase .
The foot rollover mechanism after touchdown in heel strike running (shown above) ‘squashes’ the arch which challenges the arch muscles to manage greater loading –this is how the plantar fascia suffers.
However, heel strike runners may seek plantar fascia strain relief by switching to forefoot running because the loading phase in forefoot running is less extensive on the arch.
Why Forefoot Runners Don’t Need Orthotic Therapy
In forefoot running, the discrete loading mechanism on the arch coupled with a reduction in hindfoot loading allows forefoot runners to spearhead the risk of plantar fasciitis (shown below) , suggesting that adopting a forefoot strike is a better intervention for plantar fasciitis as compared with orthotic therapy.
Because of the way the arch loads in forefoot running, the arch increases in stiffness and becomes stronger relative to the arches in a heel strike runner.
- Arch weakness and poor arch stiffness is indicative of plantar fasciitis.
- Runners with weak arches often have lower arches and are highly susceptible to plantar fasciitis.
The good news is, forefoot running promotes foot actions that improve plantar fascia strength, therefore orthotics can be avoided just by running with a forefoot strike. Additionally, running in a barefoot-like minimalist shoe forces the feet to acquire the means to become stronger on their own, thereby slashing the risk of developing plantar fasciitis.
Ultimately, the feet are highly adaptable and are perfectly capable of developing their own strength and becoming true contributors to healthy running, something that cannot be done with orthotics.
Click here to read more on how foot strike affects arch function and health in runners.
More on Forefoot Running:
. Sinclair, J., Isherwood, J and Taylor, PJ. The Effects of Orthotic Intervention on Multi-Segment Foot Kinematics and PlantarFascia Strain in Recreational Runners. J Appl Biomech, 2014; [Epub ahead of print]
. Perry, J. Anatomy and biomechanics of the hindfoot. Clin Orthop Relat Res, 1983:9-15.
. Pearl, DP., Daoud, AL., Lieberman, DE. Effects of footwear and strike type on running economy. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2012; 44:1335-43.
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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