How Runners Can Avoid Collapsed Arches

When a runner has collapsed aches, they may have a harder time controlling inappropriate movements (pronation) of the foot during running. In most cases, collapsed arches are due to running shoes with strong arch support, which affects the arches ability to function naturally. And, loads of statistics suggest that you are more likely to develop flat arches if you run in traditional running shoes than if you were to run barefoot.

Collapsed Arches and Running

How Runners Can Avoid Collapsed Arches

One of the major health benefits of forefoot running is that it reverses flat arches of the feet. Another way a forefoot runner can easily avoid getting low arches is by not wearing stability, cushioned running shoes. A study by Cowely and Marsden reported that runners who wore stability running shoes showed reduced arch height after a prolonged run.

The stability footwear contained arch support, yet most of the runners ended up with lower arches. So, what was the exact mechanism that reduced their arch height and what were the injury implications?

No Proprioception, No Arches = Abnormal Foot Movements

Low arches stem from intrinsic muscle weakness. The association between stability running shoes and foot weakness is also well established.

The cushioning in most stability running shoes results in low arches and muscle weakness by reducing proprioception. Remember, proprioception plays a key role in foot muscle health and good arch height, but when proprioception is reduced, a whole string of problems arise:

  • The researchers reasoned that a runner with compromised foot strength is more likely to experience frequent changes in arch profile upon weight-bearing activities, thereby resulting in poor weight-bearing responses of the foot.
  • When the muscles of the arch become weak, anti-pronatory muscles become vulnerable to fatigue during long distance runs.
  • The researchers affirmed that the change from high to low arch height may increase the risk of bone, joint and soft tissue damages if running were to continue.

Low arches due to stability footwear also seem to induce other impairments of the foot during running in that the runners had greater forefoot abduction relative to the heel.

  • Forefoot abduction is indicative of under-active or fatigued medial foot soft tissues.
  • According to the researchers, the medial foot soft tissues act as stabilizers of the tarsus, suggesting that conditioning the soft tissues of the foot would depress abnormal forefoot motions.

So what can a forefoot runner do to prevent getting low arches?

Never Support Your Arches!

Researchers have documented the benefits of barefoot and minimalist running on strengthening soft tissues responsible for upholding the arch.

Collapsed Arches and Running

  • Barefoot and minimalist conditions dramatically increase proprioception which governs both increased muscle tone and arch height.

Collapsed Arches and Running

Because shod-induced foot weakness stems from disrupted proprioception, going more minimal ameliorates arch profile. When the sensory feedback system is receiving normal proprioception, this in turn leads to changes in soft tissue and muscle strength that regulate arch function.

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References:

Cowely E and Marsden J.The effects of prolonged running on foot posture: a repeated measures study of half-marathon runners using the foot posture index and navicular height. J Foot Ankle Res, 2013; 6(20):2-6.

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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