You’ve probably heard about the different types of feet that individuals have and how that can impact your running. In this article, we’ll talk about one type in particular—flat feet—and give you all the information you need to know if you have flat feet.
What does it mean to have flat feet?
“Flat feet” occurs when the medial longitudinal arch of an individual’s foot flattens. Not surprisingly, when viewed from the side, the foot looks flat. Unlike normal feet, there is very little or even no arch on a flat foot.
Medically known as “pes planus” and also referred to as “fallen” or “low” arches, flat feet tend to affect about 20-25 percent of the general population, and particularly impacts Asians, so you’re definitely not alone if you have flat feet!
Because the arch is flattened, individuals with flat feet are more susceptible to problems like bunions, heel pain, knee pain, ankle pain, and lower area back pain. This is especially true for runners with flat feet because the foot arch acts as a natural shock absorber.
With less arch support for those with flat feet, there is greater stress on the foot striking the ground and it can impact not only the feet but the legs as well, increasing your chance for injury.
Although flat feet can be genetic and occur at birth, many people get flat feet over time as they get older. Wearing improper shoes, just getting older, suffering injuries, being obese, having diabetes, having a baby, and using improper training form are some of the reasons people can experience flat feet.
What types of flat feet do runners have?
Runners (and the general population) can have one of two different types of flat feet: flexible flat feet or rigid flat feet. Typically, most people have flexible flat feet.
For those with flexible flat feet, you can see an arch, but that arch flattens when weight is placed on it. Flexible flat feet tend to be heredity and tend to be caused by lax ligaments in your foot.
By contrast, you cannot see a visible arch on those with rigid flat feet. And rigid flat feet can be due to lifestyle choices in addition to inheriting it. As we mentioned before, some of the things that can cause rigid flat feet include being sedentary and selecting poor footwear.
For rigid flat feet, the foot is flat because of bone structure, not because of the arch tendons.
How do I know if I have flat feet?
You have a couple options to figure out if you have flat feet. The first is pretty simple. Have someone look at your foot from the side or look at your foot from the side in the mirror.
Individuals who have an arch in their feet can typically easily see them from the side. If you have flat feet, however, you will have a very slight or even nonexistent arch.
Another option—and typically the most common method for determining if you have flat feet—is the wet foot test.
You simply wet the sole of one of your feet in water, then step onto a heavy piece of water, paper grocery bag, or paper towel on a flat surface where your footprint will show. You need to make sure that you place the necessary weight on that foot in order to leave an imprint. Finally, step off and assess what type of foot you have.
If you see about half of your arch, then you probably have a normal arch. If you see just the heel and ball of your foot, you probably have a high arch. But if you can see almost your entire footprint, then you likely have flat feet.
Of course, you can always go to a podiatrist to confirm your findings at home and let him or her determine your arch height.
Why does it hurt when I go running?
It can hurt more to go running with flat feet because you don’t have as much support from your arches, so we’ll cover some basic questions about foot pain that comes from flat feet.
Why does being flat footed lead to foot pain?
Most of the time it’s not the fact that you’re flat footed that leads to foot pain, but that you overpronate, which causes the pain. Because overpronation occurs when the feet roll inwards excessively, you’ll experience more stress in the lower leg muscles, knees, hips, and ankles.
Is there a way to treat pain from flat feet?
In addition to choosing supportive shoes and inserts, which we’ll discuss below, you can actually do exercises that will help you strengthen your feet and the surrounding areas like your ankles.
Exercises like toe curls can help you rebuild your arches. Sit in a chair and place a towel on the front in front of you. Make sure that your knees are at a 90-degree angle and put your feet flat on the towel. Then curl your toes, using all of them to scrunch the towel toward you. Do this 10 times and then reverse the motion by pushing the ridges of the towel away from you for 10 times.
Similarly, if you strengthen your ankles, you’ll be less prone to the pain of overpronation. Some exercises include arch muscle strength exercise, scissor hops, and standing squat jumps.
Also, don’t forget that choosing a good running surface can help with pain. If you run on flat, level ground, you’ll minimize overpronate and experience less pain. So the track is probably a good option for you if you suffer from pain from your flat feet.
You might even want to try barefoot running because it encourages as a mid-foot or forefoot strike. Research suggests that this can help strengthen your foot’s muscles and tendons, which is exactly what you need as a flat footed runner. Just make sure to do it on a softer surface like a beach or on grass.
Finally, massaging your feet with a tennis ball and using hot water foot baths might also be good ways of alleviating arch pain and soreness.
Can running with flat feet lead to injury?
Yes, but no more than running with any other type of feet. A study by Lees and Klenerman found no conclusive evidence that correlated foot type and running injuries, particularly for those with flat feet.
Thus, runners who have flat feet can get injured, but the very fact of having flat feet isn’t going to lead to more injuries or getting injured more quickly.
Do I overpronate if I have flat feet?
Most likely. Roughly 90 percent of people with flat feet tend to overpronate, so while there’s a chance that you’re in that 10 percent, it’s unlikely. Runners who overpronate tend to experience more pain and injuries like back problems, shin splints, and tendonitis in the knee.
However, if you’re in that 10 percent of people who have flat feet and don’t overpronate, there’s a good chance that you won’t experience the pain from running with flat feet that many runners do.
Other estimates suggest that as many as 20 percent of people without a proper arch can run and workout with no pain. It is believed that these people may still have a small arch that hasn’t collapsed.
Are there shoes designed for flat feet?
Not exactly. There are shoes designed for those who overpronate, and as 90 percent of individuals with flat feet overpronate, most flat footed runners may find that support or stability shoes are helpful in making their runs more comfortable. So yes and no!
Running Shoe Construction for Support/Stability Shoes
No matter what brand you select, the basic design principle of many motion control and stability shoes is the same. There is a firm midsole that prevents overpronation. You’ll see different technology in different brands, but it’s the same principle.
For example, most running shoes use a medial post while Brooks shoes have a guide rail. Some individuals with flat feet really prefer Brooks shoes, perhaps due to the different construction.
While stability shoes and motion control shoes are similar in trying to control overpronation, they do so in different degrees. Stability shoes are for those with mild to moderate overpronation while motion control shoes are designed with severe overpronators in mind.
Overview on Shoe Categories for Flat Feet
As a flat footed runner, there are several types of shoes that will likely be a good fit for you. However, you likely want to avoid running shoes that have little to no support or that have lots of extra cushioning.
What you do want to look for, though, is a shoe with a stiff midsole that isn’t going to twist when you run. The shoes should bend near the toes but not in the middle. The middle is where you need the greatest support.
It’s probably a good idea for you to go into a running store and look at the guidance, stability, and motion control shoes to see what type of shoe is going to be best for you.
Will inserts help my flat feet?
Those with flat feet need support outside the shoe and within the shoe. For this reason, yes, inserts can help your flat feet. Typically, the insole that comes with a running shoe has little to no support and tends to be a thin piece made of a foam material.
If you replace those flimsy insoles with a good pair of inserts, you’ll be providing more support for your heel and arch. This will help your gait to be more aligned and thus avoid causing unnecessary stress on the lower body.
Depending on how severe your flat feet are, you have several different options for orthotic inserts. You’ll likely want to work with a podiatrist to make sure that you’re getting an insole that will give you the arch support that you need, as insoles can range from soft to rigid support.
Most people can purchase insoles that are generic and designed for anyone with fallen arches and flat feet, but if your condition is severe enough, you may want to look into getting a pair from a podiatrist that are designed and made specifically for your feet.
As a runner with flat feet, you have some unique things to keep in mind. If you make sure that you have the support you need, whether it’s new shoes or inserts, take the time to help rebuild your arches through exercises like toe curls, run on flat and softer surfaces, and massage your feet with a tennis ball or a hot water bath when you experience arch pain, you’ll start to notice that you really aren’t that different from other runners.