Running With Flat Feet: Everything You Need To Know | Rockay

Running With Flat Feet: Everything You Need To Know

At one point, running with flat feet was just not doable.

Given that between 20% to 25% of the population is classified as flatfooted, this is a huge swath of the population who simply couldn’t run.

And why couldn’t they run?

Because being flatfooted causes pain in the feet, legs, and back of the runner. While that kind of discomfort is normal for any runner, the pain for flatfooted people was too intense and would make them too prone to injury for running to be a real workout option for them.

However, things change. And sometimes things change for the better.

These days, a combination of vigilant care, doctor’s assistance, and the right footwear can make it possible for the flatfooted to run like anyone else.

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Why is Running with Flat Feet Difficult?

To be flatfooted means that the arches of the feet–including ligaments, tendons, and the tiny bones on the underside of the foot have collapsed, making the arch of the foot sit lower or flat against the ground. This compression causes pain for flatfooted people to walk; running, especially as a workout, would seem more like a cruel joke than anything else.

The arches of the feet act as shock absorbers, distributing the impact of your foot-to-ground strikes, reducing pressure on bones, joints, and muscles over a longer period of time. Without those shock absorbers, the feet are taking the full force of the impact, rather than spreading it out. This can further increase foot injuries to a condition that already makes those experiencing it heavily prone.

When flatfooted people run, they are prone not only to injury but also to overpronation. Think about the way your foot moves when you walk. The foot normally rolls in with every step to absorb and distribute the impact. Flatfooted people overpronate, rolling too far inward to absorb the shock. This causes the joints of the ankle to extend, along with the bones of the upper and lower legs to rotate inward as well. Over time, this causes pain (and potentially heavy damage) along the foot and legs, and eventually, to the hip and back as well. This can lead to injuries like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, shin splints, which are all particularly painful.

However, not every flatfooted person overpronates. The rule that everyone’s walking/running form is different still applies here. There are flatfooted people out there who don’t realize they’re flatfooted and have been running for years with no problems simply because they don’t overpronate. That said, it’s believed that 90% of flatfooted people automatically overpronate, so the Vegas odds aren’t great.

Running with Flat Feet: The Right Shoes, Collapsed Arches, and Anatomically Flat Feet

But not everything is doom and gloom. There are running shoes out there that can realign your feet, allowing you to run normally. However, picking the right shoes depends on the two possible types of flat fleet.

Collapsed arches are due to muscle weaknesses in the foot. There are Stability Shoes made for flatfooted people. They’re made with layers of polyurethane materials to provide arch support until you can build your arches back up again (more on that later).

If you have anatomically flat feet (born flatfooted), arch support will end up stressing the knees. There are what are known as Motion Control Shoes that will help you keep proper form and stop you from overpronation.

While many popular shoe brands offer running shoes with flatfooted people in mind, one size doesn’t fit all. What works for you may not work for someone else. Seek out specialty running stores that can determine your type of flatfootedness, analyze your running form, and make suggestions on what support–shoes (Brooks, Adidas, and New Balance make popular, strong flatfooted running shoes), braces, orthotics, or something as simple as orthotics/insoles–you may need to get you running safely and comfortably.

NOTE:

If you happen to be one of the rare flatfooted runners who don’t overpronate, you probably don’t need to go out and buy specialty running shoes. Just keep the ones you have. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re flatfooted, running, and in no significant pain, you don’t need new shoes. It’s an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it type of thing.

But if a new pair of shoes are indeed the answer–and, honestly, is there a problem out there they can’t fix?–these are some rules of them you should look out for, whether you have collapsed arches or anatomically flat fleet. Indeed, this, for once, actually is a one size fits all situation.

Make sure the shoe’s outer sole bends at the toe and not at the middle arch. As strange as it sounds, it increases your arch support. Next, for heel support, the heel of the shoe needs to be rigid and almost completely unbending. Finally, test out the toe-box (the top of the shoe where your toes are protected). Flatfooted people sometimes have wider toe-width. Most shoes account for it, but make sure the size you choose is actually comfortable.

In some cases, orthotics and braces may be necessary to help you realign your feet and make it possible for you to run without a high risk of injury. Consult a podiatrist for the right kind of support. Depending on your condition, you may need insoles that are either soft or rigid. Your podiatrist will take all of these factors into account and have customized orthotics made specifically for your foot.  

 

Running with Flat Feet: Barefoot Running

There are remedies for your flat feet. We’ll go into some exercises that can build muscles back up, but first, we’ll suggest something a little more experimental: barefoot running. You’ve probably heard about it. Possibly from a crazy person. However, there are proven benefits to barefoot running that may help those with flat feet. Without a shoe affecting your footfalls, barefoot running allows your feet to run in their natural form. When we run barefoot, we tend to land on our mid- or forefoot. For flatfooted runners, the occasional barefoot runs can strengthen muscles and tendons and improve shock absorption on impact.

However, given the weaker nature of your feet, we would suggest barefoot runs on more forgiving terrains, such as fields and beaches. Check out the video below for an in-depth look.

Rebuilding the Arches (Exercises for the Flatfooted)

Like the Six Million Dollar man, your arches can be rebuilt. We’ll focus on the problem area: the ankle. Before running, you should always do 5 to 10 minutes of stretching. Some of the examples below are not only good for rebuilding your fallen arches, but also a good way to prepare your body for a run. Do these exercises 3 times a week. As your feet get stronger, increase the sets or reps, and look around for more feet and ankle strengthening exercises.

Arch Strength Building

  1. Sit on a chair with your left foot crossed over your right thigh.
  2. Wrap a towel around your left foot and step on the other end of the towel with your right foot. Make sure the towel is pulled taut.
  3. Use your hands to bring your left foot up toward your body until you feel a pull.
  4. Return to a starting position. Do 2 sets of 10 reps.
  5. Switch feet.

Arch Lifts

  1. Stand with your feet aligned beneath your hips.
  2. Keep your toes on the floor, and roll your weight to the outer frame of your feet.
  3. While doing that, lift your arches as far as possible.
  4. Return to your starting position
  5. Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Toe Curls

Your feet touched the towel. You’re going to have to clean it anyway. Might as well use it for another exercise. Sit back in your chair and lay the towel ahead of you like you’re at a picnic. Place your bare feet on the towel. Try to align your knees at 90 degrees. Curl your toes so that the towel gathers in their grasp, pulling it toward you. Repeat 10 times or until the towel has been completely pulled. Then, reversing the motion, use your toes to push the towel away.

As time goes on, this might become easy. Put a brick or a textbook at the far end of the towel to add resistance. That’ll humble you again (and keep your gains from plateauing).

Standing Squat Jumps

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lower yourself into the squat position (knees behind toes).
  3. Use your heels to launch you into jumping as high as you can.
  4. Land directly back into the squat position.
  5. Repeat. Do 2 sets of 10 reps.

Plantar Fascia Stretch

We mentioned earlier that flatfooted runners are prone to plantar fascia injuries, which can hurt like hell. Rather than avoid the issue, dive right into it. Take that weakness and turn it into a strength. All you need is a wall.

  1. While standing, extend your toes against the wall.
  2. Bring your knee toward the wall slowly until you feel a stretch from under your foot.
  3. Hold that position for 10 seconds.
  4. Switch feet and repeat.
  5. Do 2 sets of 10 reps.

Roll a Tennis Ball

This one’s pretty boring, go ahead and hunker down on the couch and marathon something. You have our permission. And do this barefoot. While you’re hopefully enjoying a show (perhaps Deadwood, Doom Patrol, or the first season of Bloodline), roll a tennis ball under the arch of your foot. Your back should be resting straight against your chair and the unbusy foot should be kept mostly relaxed, but with a minor arch to it as well. Do this for 2 minutes, then switch feet. Again, this will help develop your plantar fascia ligaments. 

Calf Raises

If you overpronate, your knees are going to feel like hell. Doing calf-strengthening exercises can help build some muscle and offset the damage from your flatfootedness.

  1. If you need help with your balance, put your hands on a wall or chair.
  2. While standing, use both feet to lift your heels as high as possible.
  3. Hold that maximum position for 5 to 10 seconds
  4. Return to a starting position
  5. Do 2 sets of 20 reps.

Calf Raises (Advanced)

  1. If you need help with your balance, put your hands on a wall or chair.
  2. While standing, use both feet to lift your heels as high as possible.
  3. Quickly move up and down as fast as possible for 30 seconds.

Heel Stretch

  1. Rest your hands on a wall like you’re being patted down. Look, it’s happened to a lot of us. Don’t judge. Anyway, put your hands on the wall at shoulder or eye level.
  2. Put one leg ahead of you and the other extended behind, almost like you’re the Heisman trophy.
  3. Press both heels into the floor for balance.
  4. While keeping your spine straight, bend your front leg even more forward, toward the wall. You’ll feel a stretch in the hamstrings or quads.
  5. When you feel the stretch, hold the position for 30 seconds.
  6. Return to your starting position. Switch.
  7. Do 5 sets each leg.

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Running with Flat Feet: Terrain

We mentioned earlier that if you’re going to run barefoot, do it on forgiving terrain. However, if you have flat feet, you’re going to want forgiving terrain, even when you’re wearing shoes. The flatter the terrain the better. Not inclines or declines–hills can increase the stress on your body, as well as your overpronation. While access to beaches, fields, and running tracks are easy for some, city-dwellers are sometimes stuck. In that case, run on asphalt when you can. It seems arbitrary, but it’s “softer” and usually flatter than concrete.

And that’s all you need to know! So be safe, be smart, and have fun! And make sure to leave a comment below.

Sources

  1. Live Strong
  2. Runners Blueprint
  3. Run Society

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