My Arch Hurts! Here’s Why Traditional Running Shoes Are The Problem

Running shoes with a toe spring are supposed to help runners propel forward, but it turns out that this toe spring makes the foot arch less capable of naturally lowering and rising and you might end up with the endless struggle of painful arches.  Perhaps because the toe spring is an unnatural construct to the human foot, making it difficult for the human foot to co-evolve in such a shoe.

In some cases, running in a running shoe with a toe spring may cause inside arch pain because the toe spring may interfere with how the longitudinal arch bends.  

My Arch Hurts

  • Most running shoes contain a toe spring near the front of the shoe. The purpose of this feature is to add more propulsion to your stride when running. However, this feature comes with a painful consequence in that it impairs the function of the arch.

My Arch Hurts! Here’s Why Traditional Running Shoes Are The Problem

Previous studies have shown that toe springs weaken the feet by inhibiting bending of the longitudinal arch — an anatomical area of the foot that has spring-like properties which supply’s elastic power during running. This elastic power makes a positively sizable impact on running performance as well.

  • The toe spring impairs 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.

Minimalist Footwear and Barefoot Running is Better for the Arch

In forefoot running, the balls of the foot under the 5th and 4th metatarsal heads make initial ground-contact followed by the heel lowering to the ground (shown below). Therefore, heel-toe rollover does not occur in forefoot running.

My Arch Hurts

  • Shown above a foot strike pattern in forefoot strike running. The outer-side of the forefoot, under the toes, makes initial contact with the ground, then the rest of the foot flattens down to the ground.
  • This movement path of the foot in forefoot running greatly reduces deceleration and the effective mass at impact. Thus, less load is essentially borne on the arch in forefoot running.
  • In heel striking however, deceleration is much higher and the body mass rolls over the arch, from heel to the toes, which may cause it to lower if the mass exceeds weight baring capacity of the arch musculature.

Moreover, a 1987 study by Robbins and Hanna found that subjects who spent 4 months performing barefoot activities showed an increase in arch height.

Running in a minimalist shoe, or running barefoot with a forefoot strike may provide optimal conditions for the plantar flexing muscle tendon units to produce more elastic energy, adding that springiness to your stride as well.

Take Home Message

The toe spring robs the natural, spring functionality of the longitudinal arch, causing  it to progressively weaken and atrophy. It seems as if the arch’s bending elasticity is superior to any toe-spring, given the lack of evidence supporting the efficacy of the toe-spring in running.

More Great Reads From Run Forefoot:

Run forefoot because you are faster than you think!


References: 

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.

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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