Are Cushioned Running Shoes Bad for Your Arches?

Cushioned running shoes have been the standard method to reduce injury, but decades of research show these shoes severely fall short in safeguarding you from getting hurt. This is because many of the components of the conventional running shoe was found to be unergonomic by directly impeding key components of the foot, namely the arch, that accounts for a higher risk of injury vs running barefoot and in minimalist (barefoot-like) shoes.

SAre Cushioned Running Shoes Bad for Your Arches?
Improvements in foot strength can only go so far if you continuously lock your feet into a stiff, narrow running shoe because the feet aren’t even engaged at a basic physical level, while toe splay is sharply limited. For that matter, any form of injury is an inescapable consequence because anyone with weak feet will have a very weak bond with the ground, no matter how dependable your running cushioned stability running shoes are marketed for.

Case in point, the toe spring (shown below) is a common feature of most standard running shoes that was found to injure the arch by impeding the natural bending motions of the arch that is normally required for enhanced foot-step stability and loading energy-saving spring power into the arch.

  • The more spring-energy loaded into the arch of the foot, the less muscle effort, and therefore, less muscle energy is needed to thrust the body forward. This alone can make a runner up to 25% more efficient, however restricted arch function is a well-known side-effect of the standard running shoe. This is the primary reason shoe manufacturers install the toe spring in the toe-box to compensate for the loss of natural spring at the arch!
Are Cushioned Running Shoes Bad for Your Arches?
Most running shoes have a toe spring near the front of the shoe to add more propulsion to your stride. However, this feature comes with a painful consequence by impairing the natural bending and extension motions of the arch that are proven to make you at least 25% more economical.

In addition to inhibiting the natural bending motions of the arch, the toe spring also impaired the moderate bending stiffness of the arch when running on hard surfaces, whereby limited bending stiffness of the arch is related to arch pain, and even ankle injury in runners. In other words, when the arch is offline, running on harder surfaces becomes even harder because the arch is altered from contributing to impact absorption and foot-step stability, resulting in foot over-pronation (the heel shifts into extreme, over-straining positions during stance).

These defections really point out how conventional running shoes are largely ineffective for foot health because these shoes don’t do what they are supposed to do. What they do is disrupt key mechanics, while weakening the foot by a lack of engaging involvement of the foot’s muscles and arch. 

One example of an approach that has been widely successful is to run in minimalist shoes or even better run barefoot, but most of us have weak feet which is why its important to begin with walking barefoot, especially on uneven surfaces before you run barefoot. How does minimalist shoes and being barefoot strengthen your foot, especially your arch? Here’s how: 

Is Barefoot Running Better for Your Arches?
Running barefoot, or in a barefoot-inspired shoe, while landing with a forefoot strike does a better job at strengthening the plantar-flexing muscle-tendon units in the lower leg to produce softer, more stable foot-falls, while increasing elastic energy return, adding more springiness to your stride.

TerraFlex trail running shoe

A pioneering study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise discovered that subjects who spent 4 months performing barefoot activities, from walking barefoot to doing chores barefoot to doing weight bearing activities barefoot to running barefoot, showed an increase in arch height!

This is because when the feet are able to fully engage, like they do when barefoot or in a minimalist shoe, the arches are destined to become stronger and better at supplying and recovering energy-saving elastic power needed to give your muscles a break.

Even better, the more you run barefoot, the more it helps you build up the muscle memory for more efficient and safe forefoot running mechanics at every level. Read more here on that!

If you like my post, you’ll LOVE my YouTube channel, here, where I show why forefoot running works better than heel strike running.

Run forefoot because you are faster than you think!

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Bruggemann et al., Effect of increased mechanical stimuli on foot muscle functional capacity. ABS 29th Annual Meeting.

Miller et al., 2014. The effect of minimal shoes on arch structure and intrinsic foot muscle strength.  J Sport Health Sci, 3(2): 74-85.

Robbins, SE & Hanna, AM. 1987. Running-related injury prevention through barefoot adaptations. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 19(2):148-56.

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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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