Minimalist Shoes and Flat Feet: Not Always the Best Pair
Being flat footed isn’t the end of the world. There have been many successful athletes who have had missing arches in their feet. In fact, there’s ongoing research based on the thought that flat footed sprinters might actually be faster than their counterparts who have normal feet. No matter the level of success, it is necessary for the flat footed to be mindful when it comes to the care of their feet.
There are different types of flat feet. For the purpose of this article, we’ll define flat feet as a medical condition in which the arch of the foot has fallen. When standing, the entire foot of someone who is flat footed would either be in near or complete contact with the ground. If studying the footprints that are left behind near a swimming pool, a footprint that lacks an arch might be found by searching for an entire footprint.
With flat feet, the tendency is for the foot to turn inward or to become pronated. When running, people with flat feet generally overpronate. This puts extra stress on the joints of the ankles, knees, hips and the back. The feet should be viewed as the base of the body. If the foundation is crumbling, everything on top of the base has the potential to become unstable as well. Proper shoes and orthotics have the potential to prevent injuries by alleviating the tendency for the feet to pronate. Without proper support, injuries may occur.
Over recent years, minimalist shoes and barefoot running have increased in popularity. There’s an ongoing debate as to whether or not these shoes, or lack thereof, are worth the rage they’ve become. On one side of the debate: minimalist shoes do have their benefits in athletics. They weigh less and they require less metabolic work while running. Dr. Kelsey Armstrong, DPM, Athletic Lab’s podiatrist, offers the following insight: “Recent studies, most notably Lieberman’s 2010 study (1), have talked about the benefits of minimalist/barefoot running. Minimalist/barefoot running has a lower ground impact, decreased stride length, decreased ground contact time, decreased flight time and less movement of an individual’s center of mass (2,3,4,5). In addition, minimalist/barefoot running requires less oxygen consumption (6).”
On the other side of the debate, minimalist/barefoot running is seen as a source of running-related injuries for some individuals as it offers very little to no support for the feet. Are minimalist shoes the best choice for flat footed people? Depending on the individual, probably not. According to Dr. Armstrong, “Unfortunately in many cases, the risks outweigh its rewards.” In the case of people with flat feet who are interested in minimalist shoes, Dr. Armstrong points out the following regarding minimalist/barefoot running for those with existing medical conditions: ” The Achilles tendon is placed under a large amount of stress during minimalist/barefoot running, which could lead to Achilles tendonitis; and the lower ground impact places increased stress upon the ball of the foot, which could lead to stress fractures. Because of these risks, certain individuals may not be good candidates, i.e., limb length discrepancy, hip musculature weakness/dysfunction, rigid flat and high arched feet, osteopenia.” He concludes with the following list of injuries that individuals with the aforementioned medical conditions may encounter as a result of minimalist/barefoot running:
“Limb length discrepancy: Potential of stress fracture of the longer limb if the deformity is structural. If the discrepancy is functional, then it can be corrected.
Hip musculature weakness/dysfunction: Flexible flat feet usually is due to dysfunction/weakness of the gluteus medius and maximus. If this can not be or is not corrected, it will suffer the same fate as rigid flat feet.
Rigid high arched feet: Obvious potential for stress fracture due to the high impact caused by this foot type.
Rigid flat feet: Places increased stress upon an already tight Achilles tendon complex and by flat feet’s tendency to have prolonged midstance stance during gait/running, the plantar fascia is more likely to be overloaded.”
Minimalist/barefoot running can be beneficial for some people. However, proper preparations should be taken before jumping into minimalist/barefoot running. In his blog, ” Running shoes Are useful,” Dr. Armstrong recommends a protocol of biomechanical examination, stretching and strengthening before reaping the benefits minimalist/barefoot running can provide.
A special thanks to Dr. Armstrong for his contribution to this article. He comes highly recommended by Athletic Lab for the needs of our clients and athletes. His website can be viewed here. His blog may be viewed here.
[This article was written by Cate Young. Cate has been a lead instructor at Athletic Lab since its inception. She is a former collegiate athlete and holds certifications from USAW and USATF]
- 1) Lieberman DE, Venkadesan M, Werbel WA, Daoud AI, D’Andrea S, Davis IS, Mang’eni RO, and Pitsiladis Y, Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature 463: 531-535, 2010.
- 2) Braunstein B, Arampatzis A, Eysel P, and Bruggemann GP. Footwear affects the gearing at the ankle and knee joints during running. J. Biomechanics 43: 2120-2125, 2010.
- 3) De Wit B, De Clercq D, and Aerts P. Biomechanical analysis of the stance phase during barefoot and shod running. J. Biomechanics 33: 269-278, 2000.
- 4) Heiderscheit BC, Chumanov ES, Michalski MP, Wille CM, and Ryan MB. Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Med Sci Sports Exerc 43: 296-302, 2011.
- 5) Squadrone R and Gallozzi C. Biomechanical and physiological comparison of barefoot and two shod conditions in experienced barefoot runners. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 49: 6-13, 2009.
- 6) Hanson NJ, Berg K, Deka P, Meendering JR, and Ryan C. Oxygen cost of running barefoot vs. running shod. Int J Sports Med 32L 401-406, 2011.
Athletic Lab is the top Sports Performance Training Center in NC. Located in Cary, Athletic Lab offers sport performance training, professional and Olympic athlete development, and performance fitness for adults looking to get in the best shape of their lives.