Running with Flat Feet : How to Improve Arch Height

Running with flat feet isn’t a bad thing, if you are a forefoot runner because landing with a forefoot strike improves arch height.

When landing on the forefoot during running, the foot arch undergoes 3-point bending during landing, which improves arch height. Sadly however, there are many runners with flat feet struggling with arch pain when running and other foot injuries from running, but fortunately help is on the way!

Running with Flat Feet

The myth is, running shoes with arch support helps reduce pain in a runner with flat feet. The truth is, the most fast-acting intervention for improving arch height is by walking barefoot on uneven surfaces. In addition, running barefoot for just 2-3 minutes a day is also enough to strengthen the muscle groups that support the arch of the foot.

  • Robbins and Hanna found that outdoor barefoot activity bolstered intrinsic foot muscle tone, helping to raise the main longitudinal arch as compared with indoor barefoot activity.
  • They discovered that natural surfaces with protruding irregularities acted faster on improving arch height than barefoot walking on smoother surfaces.
Running with Flat Feet
Above, a figure from the study, showing the relative improvements in arch height with various barefoot activities. As you can see, within 2 months of barefoot activity, arch height increased as a function of decreased total area of the plantar surface. Subjects were instructed to increase weight-bearing activity barefooted as much as possible both indoors (i.e. at home) and outdoors (i.e. gardening, washing your car etc). Barefoot running and walking was also encouraged and the duration of these activities increased gradually over several weeks. Productively, moderation is key. SOURCE: Robbins and Hanna, Med Sci Sports Exerc,1987; 19(2):148-156

The researchers also reasoned that running shoes with arch support reduces support functionality of the main arch, thereby forcing more load on the plantar fasica –hence why plantar facsciitis is very common among habitually shod joggers. This also confirms that these shoes push runners more towards arch dysfunction and poor foot health.

The researchers also wrote about how barefoot runners use the 4 muscle groups that support the arch instead of the plantar fascia which is why plantar fasciitis as well as collapsed arches are a rarity in habitual barefoot populations.

The Take Home Message

The hallmark intervention strategy for flat feet sufferers is by mechanically stimulating the nerve cells that line the bottoms of the feet since muscular degeneration surrounding the arch is linked to low sensory traffic.

For one thing, walking barefoot on an uneven surface shoots enough pulses through the proprioceptors to improve arch height, but weight-barefoot activities, such as walking barefoot wearing a weighted vest or performing your routine strength training regiment barefoot, accelerates arch height enhancement. It really is as simple as that.

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References:

Robbins SE and Hanna AM. Running-related injury prevention through barefoot adaptations. Med Sci Sports Exerc,1987; 19(2):148-156.

Bretta Riches

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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