Flat Feet Vs High Arches – How To Determine Your Arch Type


Have you ever wondered what types of arches you have?

Understanding your arch type can help you to make better choices when buying shoes. It can also tell you the types of injuries you could be prone to.

In this article, we’ll be discussing flat feet and high arches – two common arch types for many people.

Why Your Arches Are Important

The type of arch you have determines how your body weight is distributed. This, in turn, determines where pressure is placed on certain parts of your feet when standing, walking and running. It may even provide insight as to why and when your feet hurt and feel fatigued.

The shape of your arch can influence your gait—the way in which you move. How your feet move, and absorb impact, has effects all up and down your legs and core. Stress can be placed differently on your legs, resulting in tight calves, hamstrings, and glutes. It will also affect how your pelvis tilts, which then places stress on your lower back and affects your posture. All of this can put you at a greater risk of injury.

Properly fitting shoes – length, width, and arch support – reduces the likehood of foot and leg injury.

Common foot problems include plantar fasciitis, metatarsalgia, hammer toe, bunions or even neuropathy. People who suffer from poor circulation or diabetes are at a higher risk of neuropathy, especially if they don’t look after their feet.

Knowing what your arch type is can help you choose the right pair of shoes—like running shoes—or insoles that support your feet and distribute your body weight evenly. This will help to reduce the risk of injury and can help prevent some of these foot conditions.

What are flat feet?

The best way to describe flat feet is when the entire sole of your foot makes contact with the ground. Some people may just have a very low arch, which means that there’s a smaller portion of the foot that isn’t in full contact with the ground.

If your foot has an arch when you’re not standing—for example, feet up on the sofa—then this is known as flexible flatfoot. Having no arch whether you’re standing or have your feet up is known as rigid flatfoot.

A flexible flat foot is more common. The condition is hereditary, and is often the result of lax ligaments. People with this type of arch won’t often experience pain, but can suffer from aches after running or other sports.

Rigid flatfoot is often caused by abnormal foot structure or by genetics. However, a rigid flatfoot can also be caused by traumatic injuries like stretched or torn tendons, broken bones, or dislocation of foot bones in the medial bridge.

Arthritis in the feet can lead to rigid flat feet. It can also develop in adults who are overweight and/or sedentary. Rigid flat foot is also often developed over time.

What are high arches?

With high arches, the foot is curved—raised higher than normal—between the ball of your forefoot and heel. When you have a high arch and you’re standing, the outside middle of your foot will have space between it and the floor. Some space is normal. The arch is necessary for your foot to absorb impacts. But an arch that is too high can decrease the foot’s flexibility.

High arches can be hereditary, but they can also be developed due to neurological or neuromuscular conditions.

Conditions that can lead to a person developing high arches include stroke, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, or even Charcot Marie Tooth Syndrome. High arches that develop due to medical conditions are generally rigid.

High arches can develop in both feet or just in one. And they can develop at any age.

A person with high arches can experience pain in the ball of the foot when standing, walking, and running. The high arch places stress on the midfoot and ball of the foot.

This pain can extend to the ankles, knees, hips, and lower back. This is due to the fact that the foot has uneven weight distribution and doesn’t have the flexibility to absorb the impact of foot strikes.

Possible running injuries with flat feet

The arches of your feet are like natural shock absorbers, reducing stress on the joints, bones, and muscles.

While flat feet may be better at absorbing shock than high-arched feet, they may not disperse the force evenly and properly.

Every time the foot comes into contact with the ground, more stress is transferred to the muscles and bones in the feet and legs. This reduces the efficiency of a runner’s stride.

A runner with flat feet is more likely to overpronate—when the foot rolls inwards quite a bit as it makes contact with the ground—which affects how your feet absorb the shock of impact. It’s the overpronation that can lead to injuries like knee tendonitis, knee pain, shin splints, ankle pain, and lower back pain.

When we look at the biomechanics of runners with flat feet, we know that the feet and legs have to over-rotate to compensate for the excessive pronation. This places a huge amount of strain, wear, and tear on muscles, ligaments, and bones throughout the feet and legs.

That being said, it’s important to note that not all runners with flat feet are going to overpronate. There are flat-footed runners who have run for years without experiencing any pain.

If you do have flat feet, it would be best to check if you overpronate, and how much. This will then allow you to take preventative measures that could keep you pain-free in the future.

Possible running injuries with high arches

Runners with high arches may find that they modify their footstrike, alternating between landing on the forefoot and heel. Whether you’re a heel striker or running on the forefoot, this will lead to problematic load distribution.

The arch of high-arched runners is stiffer. When you run, this transfers the force of the foot strike more quickly to the ground. That force gets directed up the leg on the lateral side.

This is due to the fact that runners with high arches have “stiff” legs when running. You’ll often find that their knees don’t bend as much, and have a less up-and-down motion with each stride.

High-arched runners also tend to supinate—when the foot doesn’t roll inward enough—which places strain on the ankle. This strain can lead to sprains, as the foot is unstable. But runners with high arches can also experience more stress fractures, shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, and joint pain in the ankles, knees, and hips.

With the sole of the foot being placed under tremendous stress each time the foot strikes the ground, high-arched runner are more prone to developing plantar fasciitis. If you’re running on the forefoot, the pressure that’s placed there can lead to metatarsalgia.

How do you know if you have flat feet, high arches, or something in-between?

One of the best ways to find out what type of foot arch you have is to do the wet footprint test. Lay a piece of paper or cardboard on the floor. Wet the bottom of your feet, and then stand on the paper, making sure to put all your weight on it.

You can tell your arch type—arch height—by the footprint on the paper. If you have flat feet, the footprint will look like a complete foot.

If you have high arches, you may only see the imprint of your toes, forefoot, and heel.

Normal arches show a print where the middle part of your arch is filled in halfway. It will also have a noticeable curve along the arch.

How to prevent injuries with flat feet

One of the best ways to run with flat feet and prevent injuries is to get the right pair of running shoes. It’s best to go down to your specialist running store and get fitted.

They might recommend stability or motion control shoes, depending on how excessive your overpronation is. These shoes tend to have firmer midsoles.

When you have flat feet, the foot tends to be flexible, and often flat-footed runners don’t get rigid for the push-off. A firm midsole will help provide the rigidity needed for pushing off.

Orthotic insoles are an option. They’ll help to maintain the proper foot alignment and provide additional stability and support. It’s important to note that when your shoes have reached the end of their lifespan, they should be replaced. The first thing to go is usually their support and stability.

When you go out for your run, start out slow and build yourself up to increasing your speed. Try and run on surfaces that are even—this will reduce the risk of overpronation— and that are softer than running on concrete, as this can help reduce the risk of shin splints and other injuries.

How to prevent injuries with high arches

When it comes to running shoes for high-arched runners, there are two things to look for. The first is adequate arch support. The second is that it has a curved or semi-curved last.

The reason behind getting shoes that have a curved or semi-curved last is that they provide better structure and support. They will literally hug into the arch of the foot!

The shoes should also have excellent cushioning as this will help to absorb the impact of foot strikes. Less flex with high arches means you don’t require a lot of support, like what a stability shoe offers.

You can always add an insole to your running shoes that will provide additional cushioning and arch support.

As the shoes near the end of their lifespan, you’ll start to notice that the cushioning has worn down. This is a good indicator that the shoes need to be replaced.

Photo of author


Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.