Running with Flat Feet

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Got low arches? Run with a flatter foot than other people? Don’t worry. Running with flat feet doesn’t have to be difficult if you take some precautions before heading out for a run.

You can still run as efficiently as anyone else with a neutral foot. It may require changes to your current running setup, but trust us—once you do these things, you’ll find that your performance is better than ever.

How Do Flat Feet Affect Running?

If you’re flat-footed, your foot lacks an arch that exists on people with neutral feet. This means your feet lie flat on the floor when you are standing.

In some cases, you’re born with flat feet; in others, they develop as the arch collapses.

The arch is the foot’s shock absorber. When you have a very low arch or no arch at all, the tissues of your feet take on the shock of every step, making flat-footed much more prone to injury if their feet aren’t cushioned.

When running, flat feet often lead to overpronation—the foot rolling inwards on each step. This leads to the ankle, knee, and even the hip joint following the rolling motion, which can cause damage to the joints and alter your running form.

Ultimately, being flat-footed means you’re more likely to suffer from foot problems as a runner if you aren’t wearing the right shoes for your feet. You might also have reduced performance until you get your feet in a pair of cushioned stability shoes.

The Different Types of Flat Feet

There are two types of flat feet, flexible and rigid. It’s important to identify which type you have because this makes a difference in the steps you can take to support your feet.

Note that these two are separate from a collapsed arch, which is when the tendons and ligaments holding the arch collapse and can’t hold the arch shape.

Flexible Flat Feet

In this case, an arch appears in your foot when you sit or lift your foot, reducing the pressure on it. But when you stand on the foot, the arch flattens. This usually develops in childhood. The foot maintains a little flexibility.

Rigid Flat Feet

With rigid flat feet, there’s no visible arch when sitting or standing. You can see at a glance that the foot is very flat underneath, which makes it much less flexible.

What Are the Risks of Running With Flat Feet?

Running with flattened arches carries some risks. When the feet aren’t properly supported, the rolling motion with flat feet can strain the entire lower kinetic chain.

Aside from the joint issues mentioned above, you may be more prone to foot issues and conditions like:

  • Arch pain: The arch may become inflamed or overstretched.
  • Heel pain: Plantar fasciitis can lead to pain in the heel.
  • Shin splints: The rolling of the foot can aggravate the muscles in the front of the leg, causing pain in the shin.
  • Bunions: The unusual rotation of the foot can cause the big toe to move out of place, leading to bunions and calluses.
  • Hammertoes: As the foot rolls, the toes may be pressed into the ground or may try to grip harder. This could lead to hammertoes over time.
  • Numbness: As the tissues become inflamed, nerves may become compressed, leading to numbness.
  • Inflexibility: The arch can become stiff and inflexible over time.
  • Foot fatigue: The muscles in the foot may tire out faster than usual.

Tips for Running With Flat Feet

Got flat feet and want to run safely and effectively? Here are our best tips to help you run with ease.

See a Podiatrist or Foot and Ankle Specialist

Getting a professional opinion on your feet and what would be best for you is always a good idea.

A podiatrist or foot specialist will be able to analyze your gait and your feet and will be able to give you some excellent advice on how to run as safely as possible based on your unique stride.

Use Orthotics or Insoles

If you’re a mild overpronator, you might be able to find the support you need by adding a pair of insoles or custom-made orthotics to your shoes. Store-bought insoles can provide extra support to keep your arch from falling over. Custom orthotics are unique to your feet; however, they usually cost more unless your insurance covers them.

A podiatrist will measure and take a mold of your feet to create these so they’re custom-fitted to every curve in your feet. It’s a great investment if you want something you can move from shoe to shoe—athletic footwear, dress shoes, etc—rather than buying an entirely new shoe collection to suit your arch.

Choose the Right Shoes

If your flat feet are severe, you might need to invest in a pair of stability shoes or motion control shoes. Motion control shoes provide stronger support and stability, so it is best to get advice from a foot doctor on which one is best for you.

These shoes come with extra support built into the midsole of the shoe. Most of them have strong arch support, designed to lift the arch and keep it in a “neutral position,” which takes the strain off the joints and tissues.

But many of them also come with extra support features that help to stop the foot from rolling or moving out of the natural neutral range of motion.

Strengthen Your Feet

Building strength in your feet can help reduce pain and inflammation during and after physical activity. Here are a few exercises you can do daily in order to build strength in your foot muscles.

Arch Lifts

You can sit or stand for this exercise. Keep your feet parallel to one another and roll your weight onto the side of one foot, lifting the arch as you do so and holding it for a few seconds.

Make sure to keep your toes and your heel on the floor throughout the movement. You can alternate from one side to the next to work on both arches. Do this 5 to 10 times on each foot.

Towel Stretch

This helps to release tension in the Achilles tendon, which can reduce pull on the plantar fascia. Sit flat on the floor and loop the towel around your feet, as your toes are pointing to the ceiling.

Keep your posture, with your chest up and your back straight. Pull the towel towards you without bending your knees until you can feel the stretch in your calf and Achilles tendon.

You should hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 10 times. You can also do this stretch with each foot separately if you prefer. Do it daily for the best results.

Heel Raises

You can do this easy exercise anywhere and at any time. Plant your feet on the floor and slowly raise your heels. Hold for a few seconds, and then release. If your balance isn’t the best, you can stand next to a wall or hold onto the back of a chair to steady yourself.

Don’t just bounce during this exercise. The lift and lowering of the heel should be a low, controlled movement, and you should feel it in your calves as well as your arch. You can do it on the edge of a step for an extra stretch.

Plantar Fasciitis Stretch

Stand in front of the wall, with the toes on one foot touching the wall. Move it forward slightly so that the underside of your toes are now resting against the wall, with the ball of your foot and heel still flat on the floor.

You should feel the stretch in the arch. Hold it for 10 seconds, and then switch feet. You can do this 10 times on each foot, 3 to 4 times daily.

Massage Your Foot With a Tennis Ball

Giving your foot a good massage will help release tight muscles and tissues, increase circulation, and alleviate any pain in your foot. You can massage it with your hands or ask someone else to do it for you, but it’s easy to simply roll your foot over a tennis ball for a firm but not too-hard massage.

If you want to mix massage with cold therapy, freeze a bottle of water overnight. Take it out of the freezer and place it on a towel on the floor. Roll your foot over the bottle for soothing cold therapy and a nice massage.

Have Your Gait Analyzed

It’s a great idea to get your gait professionally analyzed. You should be able to do this at a sports store or shoe store near you. The analysis will give you the information you need on what kind of gait you have and what shoes would be best for you.

Run With the Correct Technique

Poor form can place stress on various parts of your feet, exacerbating the problem that flat-footed runners have. It’s in your best interest to work on improving your form so that you’re running in the safest way possible.

This will work better when you’re wearing the right shoes, as your feet will be supported in all the right places.

Run On Softer Surfaces

The harder the surface, the higher the impact on the joints. While there will always be some impact, you can alleviate some of it by choosing to run on a softer surface. The concrete sidewalk might not be optimal for shock absorption, so look for alternate options near you.

A running track is an excellent choice, as it’s soft and bouncy. You can also choose grass, or move to running trails, although some of that ground can also be hard.

If you don’t want to give up running on the road/sidewalk, you can alternate between softer and harder surfaces to give your feet a bit of a break from the hard, unforgiving surfaces they’re used to.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

When you run, your feet take on 3 to 4 times your body weight! When your feet are flat, there’s little shock absorption, so this can place an enormous amount of pressure on the tissues of the feet.

Maintaining a healthy weight for your height will help to reduce strain on your feet. Eating a healthy, calorie-controlled diet and exercising regularly will help you shed extra pounds.

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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.