We like to start our days with good news, so we’ll start this blog the same way. Yes, you can still be a happy, healthy, long-distance runner even with flat feet!
There are thousands (if not millions) of avid runners across the country who have low-to-no arches in their feet and are able to manage just fine. In fact, some of the world’s most elite runners have flat feet, too.
If you aren’t getting proper support from your arches, you may find that distance running becomes more difficult, more painful, and more likely to result in an injury.
That doesn’t mean you can’t run, though—it just means you need to make smart, healthy choices about your equipment and training.
Why Flat Feet Can Be Bad for Running
Before we get into the big tips for flat-footed running, let’s take a step back and take a quick look at the biomechanics behind it.
Your arches are supposed to act like a natural shock absorber. They are supposed to flex and roll slightly at impact, to spread your weight over a larger area and a longer period of time. This reduces strain and stress on muscles, bones, and joints.
Flat arches, however, can reduce the efficiency of your running stride in a couple of different ways.
For starters, you may not be getting enough shock absorption, especially if the flat foot is fairly rigid. This means the impact forces can’t dissipate properly and more stress gets transferred to bones and muscles over the feet and legs.
(Flat feet are actually a lot better at shock absorption than high arches since there’s more surface area in contact with the ground, but it can still be an issue.)
Second, runners with flat feet are much more likely that other runners to overpronate. In other words, instead of rolling inward just a little bit when transferring weight—which is normal and healthy—the foot rolls inward a lot.
If you look at the feet of someone who overpronates, you won’t see a “straight line” between the ankle, heel, and front of the foot when they’re bearing weight. The ankle will look a little buckled in, while the front of the foot may point outward instead of straight ahead.
Like we said, a little pronation is normal, but excessive pronation forces the feet and legs to over-rotate as well, in order to compensate for the misalignment. As you can imagine, this greatly increases the amount of stress, wear, and tear throughout your feet and legs.
How To Keep Running (Even With Flat Feet)
So now you know the potential risks and pitfalls. But how do you manage them? Follow these tips, of course!
Get the Right Pair of Running Shoes …
If you’ve spent any time in a running specialty store—or just chatting with runners in general—you know that people take their shoes very seriously.
And there’s a good reason for that! Feet and gait patterns come in all shapes and sizes, which means every set of feet has a unique set of needs when it comes to support, cushioning, and stability. It’s important to find a pair of running shoes that fit what you need.
That doesn’t mean you need to spend a zillion dollars on a new pair of shoes, of course! It just means you need to find a style that works.
All that being said, though, don’t create problems for yourself where they don’t exist! If you’re wearing normal running shoes and you’re not experiencing any pain as a result of your running, there’s probably no need for a special type of shoe—even if your feet are flat.
If your flat arches and overpronation are causing pain, however, you will probably benefit from a pair of running shoes specifically designed to counteract this. “Stability” shoes are ideal for mild to moderate overpronation, while severe overpronators might require “motion control” shoes instead.
Many running specialty stores have trained staff that can help you find an ideal shoe for your foot type and pronation style. We can also evaluate your gait at our office and give you some pointers, too.
… and Replace Them Before They Wear Out
Running shoes have a shelf life. And they don’t have to have holes worn through the sole before they should be replaced!
Like any other athletic footwear, the midsole of your running shoe (a layer between the insole and the bottom of the shoe) provides the majority of the shock absorption. It’s also responsible for most of the stability and motion control features if you need help with your overpronation.
Unfortunately, even high-quality midsoles will compress and wear down over time from use. As a result, they won’t provide the same level of stability, and more impact force will get transferred to your body instead of dissipated in the shoe.
The general rule of thumb is that running shoes will need to be replaced roughly every 300-500 miles, depending on factors like your weight, running style, terrain, and the quality of the shoe itself. If you know you’ve logged a lot of miles and you notice your feet starting to hurt during or after your run, it might be time to replace them.
Do You Need Orthotics?
Another way to address structural flaws in your feet, such as low arches, is through custom orthotics. These are special inserts that replace the ordinary insoles in your shoes.
This really might be the best choice for severe flat feet that are still causing problems even in stability or motion control shoes. That’s because you’ll get exactly the support, cushioning, and stability you need, rather than trying to find an approximate fit from something off the shelf.
Custom orthotics are made from a precise impression of your feet, after an extensive evaluation from our staff. When they come back from the lab, we’ll make any final adjustments that may be needed so you get a perfect fit.
Remember that if you do wear custom orthotics for your flat feet, you should get a “neutral” pair of running shoes without stability features for your overpronation. The orthotics will provide the stability and correction you need, rather than the shoe.
Change Your Terrain
Now, if you’re entering races you might not have a whole lot of control over the route you take on race day.
But if you’re training or you just run for fun—and your feet are hurting—you might consider choosing terrain that’s easier for your feet and legs to handle comfortably. You might not even have to cut mileage if you choose a better route.
Flat arches love flat terrain. Climbing and descending lots of hills can exaggerate the degree of your overpronation and increase the stress on your feet, ankles, and legs.
Softer surfaces are also recommended, as long as they aren’t too uneven. Asphalt is better than concrete; a track or flat grass field are also good options.
Don’t Forget to Stretch!
If you run with flat feet, it’s important to keep your calves, ankles, and arches strong, flexible, and properly stretched. Try to stretch regularly for at least a few minutes every day, and again after your run.
In addition to standard calf and ankle stretches, make sure you get a good stretch for the plantar fascia and arch. Many good stretches can be performed from a seated position. Try crossing one foot over the other knee and gently pulling your big toe toward you, or even rolling a tennis ball or water bottle under your arch as you watch TV.
Don’t Ignore Pain
The most important lesson when it comes to running with flat feet, or really any kind of activity causing foot and ankle discomfort? Don’t wait to get help.
For one, pain that keeps you from doing what you love should always be addressed as quickly as possible.
Two, stubbornly running through pain anyway will only cause more pain and increase your risk of a serious injury.
And three, there is a great chance that we will be able to help you, usually with proactive and conservative care options.
So don’t wait! Give Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates a call if your feet are hurting. We are happy to help! Just dial (309) 661-9975 or contact us online to request an appointment today.