What is the “arch”?
Your foot’s arch is the supportive ridge that stems from the inside of your soles. It’s outlined two main foot bones (the tarsals and metatarsals), and held together by a complex web of strong, flexible, tendons and ligaments. The arch’s height varies from person to person. In some, they can span nearly the whole width of the foot. In others, they can be so low as to be rendered virtually nonexistent or undetectable. The condition associated with this is commonly referred to as having “flat feet.”
The arch plays a vital role in our design as runners. It’s there, essentially, for shock absorption. Ancient humans didn’t have the luxury of donning fancy cushioned zero drop shoes. As a result, their arches were rigid yet elastic, and perfectly developed.
It is true that genetics have a lot to do with having low arches. However, it’s also known that most people today spend their entire lives in shoes, and low arches are becoming increasingly common.
What does it mean to be flat-footed?
The degree of your arch’s severity affects not just your feet, but the arrangement of many other skeletal systems. For centuries, arch severity has been thought to determine one’s posture and aptitude for athletic ability. In fact, at one point the United States Armed Forces would turn away young men who were discovered to have flat feet at their military physical.
While it’s now been proven that the flat of feet can be just as good of athletes and runners as those with normal or high arches, they do have to approach the activity a little differently. Low arches can cause you to overpronate (or turn your feet in too much) while running, causing weight to be distributed unhealthily among less equipped parts of the body. Overpronation puts you at a significantly higher risk of injuring the feet, ankles, knees, hips, and even back.
Running with flat feet means having to be a little more prepared than most. And the biggest part of this preparedness lies in ensuring that you pick the right running shoe.
How do you know that shoes are a good match for flat feet?
The primary characteristic of a running shoe compatible with flat feet is the presence of a high central arch. This fills in the area over which the flat foot would normally collapse into, to ensure that the arch stays present and ready to absorb impact.
Shoes made especially for people with flat feet will often be advertised by a few key phrases. Often, they are: “motion control,” “arch support,” and “stability.” Shoes that bear these labels have benefits in store for everyone, especially those with flat feet.
Shoes labeled “arch-supporting” are essentially just running shoes with a markedly higher arch. If your arches are only moderately low (or you have regular arches and just want a little more support), these may be a good option. But if your arches are extremely low, they may not be enough.
“Stability” and “motion control” shoes are actually physically different in terms of how the shoe wraps around the foot. They are often made of less flexible material and extend higher up on the ankle than typical running shoes.
These are, of course, just some basic guidelines to picking proper shoes. There is no replacement to consulting the infinite wisdom of a certified foot professional at your nearest sporting goods store.