High foot arches have gained a bad repetition in running because if your arches are too high, you are a high injury risk, but this is only the case if you land with a heel strike.
In runners, high arches aren’t a risk factor for injury if you run with a forefoot strike as doing so helps the feet absorb impact better as compared with heel strike running.
High Foot Arches Doesn’t Always Mean Running Injuries
Many heel strike runners with high arches also have arches that are rigid, less mobile and generate higher initial loading rates and peak impact during stance .
Past studies have also reported that runners with high arches were more likely to suffer heel pain and stress fracture because higher arches are inflexible and absorb less shock in the foot [2, 3], suggesting that the high impact nature of heel strike running is too much for the arch to handle.
Although arch height is an important factor to investigate, the fact that most of these runners in these studies were heel strikers, makes it more likely that the most effective approach to treat injury in high arched runners will be to adopt the forefoot running technique.
Why Run Forefoot
Runners with high arches may seek relief from injury by switching to forefoot running because in forefoot running, arch compression is different than in heel strike running.
In general, one function of the arch in running is to absorb impact via arch compression .
In forefoot running (shown above), the forefoot strikes first at touchdown, where the arch is better able to deliver faster, more robust impact absorption to the foot and lower extremity, regardless of arch height.
Conversely, heel strike running involves more arch deformation which can be forbiddingly tough on a runner with high arches because at heel strike, a vertical impact peak is produced which cannot be absorbed by the arch since the forefoot is not in contact with the ground at touchdown .
- Arch deformation is more extensive in heel strike running due to foot rollover after heel strike whereby the arch, high or low, is more likely to deform under weight compared with forefoot running where foot rollover does not occur.
- Because high arch runners are known to have less arch mobility, arch deformation under force may result in different midfoot and rearfoot pronation patterns that have implications to knee injury.
High arches are also associated with greater knee stiffness which increases average loading rates compared to runners with low arches, suggesting that forefoot running may be better for runners with high arches simply because less impact is involved and also, knee stiffness tends to be lower because the knee is more flexed upon and at foot strike.
Again, forefoot running offers some protection against loading-related injury in high arched runners because the knees are more flexed and less stiff.
The Take Home Message
In forefoot running, vertical impact peak is eliminated, the lower extremity joints are more flexed, helping absorb a huge amount of impact. From this alone, the relation between high arches and high impact peak production can no longer be substantiated .
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Protecting Your Joints – Discover how the best joint protection technique for running is to avoid heel strike.
Born to Run…Forefoot? Here I talk about why humans are anatomically suited for forefoot running, and not heel strike running.
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The Neuroscience of Running….Barefoot – An overview of how barefoot running boosts motor coordination patterns in the brain, helping you run with better mechanics.
Shoes for Forefoot Strikers – Read about the barefoot-inspired running shoes that help avoid heel strike.
. 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.
. Lees at el. Shock absorption during forefoot running and its relationship to medial longitudinal arch height. Foot & Ankle Inter, 2005;26(12) 1080-1088.
. Mølgaard C, Lundbye-Christensen S, Simonsen O. High prevalence of foot problems in the Danish population: a survey of causes and associations. Foot (Edinb). 2010;20(1):7–11.
. Lieberman et al. Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature, 2010; 463:531-5.
. Williams, DS; McClay-Davies, I; Scholz, JP; Hamill, J; Buchanan, TS: High-arched runners exhibit increased leg stiffness compared to low-arched runners. Gait Posture,
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.