Runners Seek Flat Foot Relief in Barefoot Shoes

Flat foot relief can be improved by running in barefoot-style running shoes (zero-drop minimalist shoes without cushioning) because these shoes have positive effects on arch height.

effect of minimalist shoes on arch height in runners
Walking, and running in the Vibram Five Fingersis an effective way to improve arch strength for those who prefer not to go barefoot.

Runners Seek Flat Foot Relief in Barefoot Shoes

Running in minimalist shoes was found to increase foot strength because muscles that were ‘dormant’ while running in a conventional running shoe are more activated in a minimalist shoe.  Yet, speculation swirls around the effect of minimalist shoes on arch height.

What influences arch height in runners?

Surely genetics, and running shoes with built-in arch support which may interfere with the normal function of the foot as well as arch development.

Many experts think that a global reduction in foot strength may cause low, or collapsed arches. But, will running in minimalist shoes reverse the negative effects of a conventional running shoe on arch height?

Many runners of the barefoot and minimalist community have reported an increase in foot strength, which may influence an increase in arch height, which in turn, may result in a reduction in knee and soft tissue injuries.

Before jumping to any conclusions, a recent study by Sarah Ridge, Ph.D., of Brigham Young University, found that participants showed no change in arch height when running in minimalist shoes after 10 weeks. However, the researchers reasoned that it may take longer than 10 weeks of running in a minimalist shoe before an effect on arch height would occur.

Yet it is possible that just like the protective elements in a heeled running shoe, there is no question that arch support, or orthotics, may cause atrophy of the arch muscles and tissues. And, since foot and arch weakness is caused by conventional running shoes, it seems fitting that a minimalist shoe would reverse foot ailments related to supportive footwear.

  • a study by Miller et al. (2014) found that runners who transitioned to minimalist footwear had an increase in muscle volume of the foot, an indicator of increased foot strength
  • however, the goal of the study was to investigate the effects of minimalist footwear on arch height, but found no significant change in arch height

Interestingly, most of the runners in the study maintained a heel strike landing, despite running in a minimalist shoe. Could the mechanics of a heel strike landing prevent an increase in arch height since the arch bares the entire mass of the body during foot rollover?

Is the workload on the arch exceeded in a heel strike running style compared to a forefoot strike running style? Does the mechanics of a heel strike running style lessen or impair the arch to act as a spring and shock absorber?

In addition to running in minimalist footwear, a forefoot strike landing may produce greater changes in arch height compared to heel striking in a minimalist shoe, which is just wrong.

Such questions not only hint strongly at a relationship between heel striking and arch height, and possibly arch strength,  but may lead to new clues to the exact origins of collapsed, and weakened arches in runners.

More From Run Forefoot:

Best Barefoot Running Books for Beginners

One of the Thinnest Barefoot Running Shoes Out There

How Forefoot Running Fixes IT Band Syndrome

What Causes Braking Forces in Running


Miller et al. (2014). The effect of minimalist shoes on arch structure and intrinsic foot muscles strength. Journal of Sport and Health Science 3, 74-85.

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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