Flat Feet, High Arches, and Running Barefoot - Xero Shoes

Not infrequently, when the topic of barefoot running comes up, or someone takes a look at my Xero Shoes, whomever I’m speaking with will say:

I can’t do that. I need support.

Oh? I’ll respond. Why do you need support?

Then something happens that I love. I get one of two seemingly contradictory answers. Either:

  1. “I have flat feet!”
  2. “I have high arches!”

They usually like to add to their proclamation some form of external validation. Like, “I’ve seen one of the best podiatrists in the world and he agrees that I need orthotics.”

Oh? He agrees that you need to spend an additional $300-1,000 with him? What a shock.

From the perspective of barefoot runners and researchers, high arches and flat feet are not a problem.

First of all, the height of your arch is largely genetically determined.

Secondly, the problem isn’t your arch height, or lack thereof, but whether your arches are STRONG.

That is, the “cure” for the problem is not putting your foot in a cast (which is essentially what an orthotic is), it’s using it, working on strengthening it.

One reason that running in bare feet could help strengthen your feet and arches is that landing with a mid-foot or forefoot strike can actually engage the muscles in your feet.

Think about it: When does immobilizing something make it stronger? Never!

Personally, I had flat feet my whole life. If I stepped out of a pool, my footprint looked like an oval. After a few months of running and walking barefoot, I started developing arches! I ruined all the family jokes about the flippers I had at the end of my legs.

Now, I get out of the water, step on the ground, and you see the outline of a FOOT. Granted, I don’t have drive-a-bus-under-them arches but, again, that’s genes. All I know is that I haven’t used my expensive shoe inserts in years and my feet haven’t had problem in all that time.

  • Mike

    You guys are awesome. I have flat feet, I’m eager to see the results from running.

  • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

    Hi Tammy… you’re talking to someone who had life-long flat feet and who has had a broken spine for 30 years… check this out: http://xeroshoes.com/flat-feet-high-arches-and-running-barefoot/ and also: http://xeroshoes.com/barefoot-info/why-barefoot-running/ (I know that says “running” but it’s just as true for walking)

  • http://www.facebook.com/rachel.a.chase Rachel Anne Chase

    Could this help people with shin splints? I have extremly bad shin splints but I dont have enough money to buy custom shoes. I think these would be a great fit and I really am intrested in buying from you but I need to really know the honest truth if they will help me with my shin splints. By the way I saw you on shark tank and I really loved your presentation. :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.prather.56 Christopher Prather

      Engineered running shoes and improper conditioning increasingly catch the blame for shin splints, new research suggests that running barefoot (Lieberman) — if done correctly — assists a runner in moving form away from the gait that is in effect the injury mechanism.
      If you got to WebMD and such, you will see that shin splints are separated into four distinct categories. Medial tibial stress syndrome, the most common form, results from pain along the posterior tibial muscle along the inner part of the lower leg. Tibial periostitis occurs when the front of the shin bone, the periosteum, is injured. Anterior compartment syndrome occurs when the muscles along the front of the lower leg swell and build pressure against the membranous walls that cover them. Finally, stress fractures result from small cracks in the lower leg bone. All of these injuries result from excessive and repeated impact on hard surfaces.
      Shin splints result from the way your feet make contact with the ground. The support from running shoes tends to force runners to land on the heels of their feet. Over time, this type of impact can lead to shin splints and other injuries. Barefoot running, however, more likely results in a runner landing on the balls of his feet. This shifts stress away from the shins and to the Achilles tendon and calf muscle. The key is take it slowly, though, since over-worked Achilles and calf muscles fail just as easily (although can heal much quicker) as tibial stress. In short, if done right, barefoot form can not only help people with shin splints, it can eliminate them altogether (that’s what happened with me).

      • http://www.facebook.com/rachel.a.chase Rachel Anne Chase

        Yeah. I dont run anymore. I dont really like running yet I STILL have terrible shin splints. So I am really looking forward to ordering my pair and learning if they help.

        • http://www.facebook.com/Blipe27 Michele G Rogers

          Barefoot running alone won’t fix the problem, and could potentially make it worse if you do too much too quickly. Tight calves are responsible for foot instability and need to be addressed. With self myofascial releases techniques (check YouTube), proper stretching, and barefoot training (walk and workout barefoot, don’t just run) shin splints will resolve permanently.

      • http://www.facebook.com/rebecca.ward.94695 Rebecca Ward

        hi chris!

    • chris m

      I ran on the cross country team in college for two years and had shin splints on several times a year. I switched to vibram five fingers and aqua shocks. In the last two years i have had no injuries and a lot stronger / healthier feet.

      • lynn

        I live in Indiana….FLAT land…I walk daily but it did not prepare me to climbing and hiking in Hawaii. The second day my shins were so sore that I could not wear flip flops or shoes. I put on my vibram five finger shoes and spent the rest of the week pain free. I was leaping over fissures on volcanic shores. I am 59.. I am going back in January. I won’t go with out my Virbrams and I ordered the Xero shoes to wear when I am not wearing the five fingers. I can hardly wait.

    • Flattyfoot

      Don’t heel strike, tape up your arch, shin splints should disappear.

  • Martha H

    Just saw the Shark Tank episode. A few questions: I’ve been running in Bareform shoes. I can run up to 3 miles, but since I’m training for a half marathon, it’s hard to fit in short runs like these and keep up my mileage. Thoughts about this? Also, thoughts about whether barefoot running will help my plantar fasciitis? What do you do when it’s cold out? I live on the east coast, it’s been 20 degrees?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000547064729 Kenneth Scharf

    I’ve always been told that I had flat feet. I’ve worn shoes with a “Thomas heel” for years as a kid to help ‘correct’ the problem. I’ve been wearing minimal sandals (Lunas) and walking barefoot part time for about nine months now (shoes come off as soon as I get home from work and I don’t wear any over the weekend). Now when I examine my feet carefully I can see that I actually do have archs in my feet. Quite noticable actually.

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      I had flat feet my whole life until I took off my shoes and started running/walking barefoot and in Xero Shoes (which, BTW, are closer to barefoot than any other sandal).

      • Tracy

        This was my concern as well. Flat Feet, Plantar Fasciaitis and the addition of significant bone spurs on one heel. Have you run across anyone who has added some padding on the inside heel of your shoes? I was thinking about actually gluing some small gel inserts, like you would buy for ball of foot, onto the heel for my bone spurs.

        • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

          I haven’t heard of anyone doing that, Tracy.

          The whole idea behind barefoot running and walking is that if you DON’T have padding, you’ll quickly adapt to walking/running with less force… and that by ADDING padding, we tend to land in a way that puts more stress on our bones and joints.

          Similarly, PF is often caused by that same kind of heel-first (and hard) landing (because it puts the PF in a weak position when your foot plants.

          Flat feet… well, I *had* them my whole life… until I started going barefoot/Xero and strengthened my arches.

          • Tracy

            Hmm, I’ll have to see what happens. The strengthening probably wouldn’t help the bone spurs. I lost all of the natural cushioning on my heel so I’m just walking on those points.
            Do you do yoga by any chance? I’ve raised my arches a little through that but haven’t been disciplined enough to make significant changes.
            Anyway, foot trace in your email, and I’m looking forward to the finished product!

          • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

            I’ve done yoga in the past, but don’t do it now. Our customer service manager (and resident ultramarathoner), Bill, is a yoga person.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marilyn.wagner.9615 Marilyn Wagner

    I have found that if I wear anything other than birk’s or hafflinger’s I develope plantar’s faciaitis. any thoughts about this?

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      How are you barefoot?

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      How are you barefoot?

    • http://www.facebook.com/Blipe27 Michele G Rogers

      Gastrocnemius is tight.

  • Kyle

    Brian mackenzie from crossfit endurance gives an excellent instructional video on rebuilding the feet for anyone looking to strengthen their feet. Simply go to youtube, type his name and rebuilding the feet. He is a huge expert on barefoot/posed running.

  • mariam

    I hv high arches. I wear customised insoles cos my knees hurt possibly fr the high arches. In fact my recent pair of commercial insoles actually injured my knee. Will gg bsrefoot help. Fee insecurr without my insoles.

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      Take off your shoes, go for a short walk, and find out.

  • Julia

    It is so refreshing to hear people advocate barefoot for high arches! All my life I was told they needed “support” and to put my shoes back on. :) Free the feet!

  • Susan Zimmerle

    I love to be barefoot. I spend as much time barefoot as possible which is what doctors is saying is the problem with the pain in my arches and heels. I have spent most of my life wearing flip flops or nothing on my feet unless absolutely necessary but I have to admit my feet hurt a lot. I just don’t understand how it can get better for me if I continue to do what I’ve always done and not wear shoes?

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      Flip flops are horrible for your feet and are very much NOT like barefoot, let alone Xero Shoes (see http://www.xeroshoes.com/notflipflops).

      I’m not a doctor and couldn’t diagnose you from a blog message even if I were… but I find it unlikely that being genuinely barefoot (or as close as you can be, in Xeros) would cause the problems you’re describing.

      The premise behind being barefoot is that you can USE your feet the way they’re supposed to be used, and feel things you’re supposed to feel.

  • http://www.TennisFitnessLove.com/ sixftlion

    Steven, I just found your website and shoe. I am amazed what a great information you have here. I plan to order mine, but have a question about progressing into the shoes. I am a tennis player and my feet are beat up from playing on the concrete all the time. I overpronate, and many years ago I developed a huge bump on the back of my heel. The last few years I have been keeping my feet in semi-ok shape by training the intrinsic muscles, tibialis posterior and all. Lately, I have been cheating on my foot training, and boom, developed a serious weakness in my right foot and the bump got swollen and painful. When I am trying to walk with front/mid foot strike (no heal strike), the foot is so weak that it cannot hold the weight of my body when I need to push off for the next step. I have been off the tennis court for a week, searching what my next approach should be. I have the Vibrams (haven’t used them much lately), and I think your shoes are much better. I think I need them (besides wanting them :-) ), only I wonder how my transition to the shoes should progress with my weak foot and painful heel. Thanks for all the great articles, videos and comments. Very impressive!

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      For you, the transition into Xero Shoes should be thought of like the transition to barefoot. That is, if you’re fine barefoot, great. If not, and you’re using being barefoot as a strengthening program, then you can do that same thing in Xeros… but you can be on more surfaces and in more places.

      Make sense?

      • http://www.TennisFitnessLove.com/ sixftlion

        Thanks, Steven. Yes, I am going to use the shoes for strengthening my feet (as walking barefoot). I have been now walking on my front-foot only in my regular shoes (one hour walk with my dog) to see how it is going to feel. I definitely feel different muscles working. Heading to order my Xeros now :-)

  • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

    Rachel,

    Again, I had crazily flat feet my whole life, but don’t any longer. I have no doubt that you can strengthen the muscles in your feet and ankles just as you can any other muscles in your body… by USING them.

    If you progress with your distance slowly, and use your feelings/experience as a guide (if it hurts, back off, e.g. — see http://xeroshoes.com/barefoot-running-tips/how-to-run-barefoot/), I don’t know of anything intrinsically dangerous about running barefoot.

    Regarding VFFs, though…

    One of the important aspects of transitioning to barefoot style running is FEEDBACK. You need to feel the ground, and feel how your feet are contacting the ground.

    In my experience, and what a number of studies show, is that most VFF wearers don’t naturally change to a mid-foot or forefoot landing. I’ve been on the track and seen hundreds of VFF wearers who heel strike like they’re in traditional running shoes. And my thought about why they do that is: VFFs diminish the sensations you feel too much.

    Regarding the cold… see http://www.xeroshoes.com/cold

    Regarding your leg pain — I’m not a doctor and I can’t make promises, of course. And without seeing you run, I can’t even provide adequate coaching. I can, though, say that from my experience, most calf issues are related to:

    a) Form
    b) Simply using your calves too much — either by overstriding and using them to decelerate every time you land, or by pushing off too much rather than lifting your foot off the ground by flexing the hip.

    I hope that helps.

    • Rachel G.

      Thanks Steven, I think I might try out a pair of Xero’s and transition into running with them while switching off with my regular running shoes. They’re way cheaper than VFFs anyway. Thanks for all of your help! It’s good to hear that if you could strengthen your arches that I might be able to as well.
      -Rachel

  • Jana Voogt

    Hmm….hope this is the case!!!

  • Oyashi Brandon Chew

    Hey i have flat foot and when the point where my foot is supposed to arch swells up, dont know how to start running barefoot, could u help?

  • Krista

    What about those of us with high arches & very little fat pads. I literally feel like I am walking on the bones of my feet. Orthotics are not helping….very desperate for some relief.

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      The height of your arch isn’t the problem. The STRENGTH and flexibility of your arch is the critical piece of the puzzle. The question isn’t “How are you in orthotics?” it’s “How are you when you’re barefoot?”

      Let’s start there.

  • becca

    Hey! I’m hoping that I can get some advice or wisdom here from somebody who has been where I am in the barefoot transition.

    A little background: I’ve been running BF for about 2 months, with lots of shorter (less that 1/2 mile) runs and 5 or six 1 mile runs. My first few one mile runs felt great! I’ve been limited to a mile because I always stop as soon as I feel my form failing (reaching forward with feet, cadence dropping, pushing off) However, one day, After a barefoot run I started to have a weird painful sensation on my inside ankle below and to the side of the bony protrusion on the inside of the ankle. I waited a week for it to feel better and went out for another run. About 5 minutes into the run, I felt the pain again, but tried to play with my form to make the pain go away. It didn’t work. Since then my plantar fascia has started to have pain also. I have found some trigger points in my calves that seem to refer pain to the plantar fascia, so I’m trying to work out those knots.

    My left leg/foot/ankle NEVER hurts. I’m getting so frustrated with my right leg and foot because I’ve tried to do with my right foot exactly what I do with my left foot, but I’m not succeeding because the pain is still here. I’ve read through the “how to run barefoot” and “getting started” points, practiced the cues and form guideline, but my right leg and foot is still acting up, getting worse everyday without having even run in over a week

    I’m beginning to wonder if I should even make a BF transition. Any ideas?

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      Hi Becca,

      Sadly, just reporting symptoms doesn’t give me the information I would need to make a truly meaningful suggestion. For that, I’d need to see you run.

      That said, here are some ideas:

      If you’re getting PF pain that seems to be calf-related, that suggests you’re overusing your calf, either by reaching out with your foot to land, trying to stay on your forefoot (vs. letting your heel drop naturally), or pushing off with your foot (rather than LIFTING your foot off the ground by flexing at the hip.

      The “good news” is that your left side is fine. I’d suggest going back to SHORT runs where things don’t hurt, and don’t try to add distance for a while.

      But if you’re not running and it’s getting worse, that’s a whole other story. You may need medical attention, because things shouldn’t get worse if you’re not doing anything.

  • Lynn

    I need to say, that I have high arches and a wide foot. I have a hard time wearing shoes. I live in the midwest. All summer I stand up paddle board and surf. I walk, lift weights and have a very active lifestyle. I wore running shoes in Hawaii 2 years ago and hiked up to the top of a mountain to see the view. (8 miles). The hike down began to become very painful. My shins swelled. I could not walk wearing shoes. Flip flops were worse. I had brought my Vibram 5 fingers. I put them an and wore them the rest of the week pain free. In dresses and everything. I did not care what they looked like. We climbed around black hard volcanic shore lines where we had to jump from place to place. I was super sure footed in the Vibrams. The barefoot sandles are also going with me this time. (January) I will wear one of the other the whole time I am gone. The Vibrams saved my trip. I was amazed.

  • Lynn

    I forgot to say…I am a 59 year old grandmother

  • Kimberly Ilene Osborne

    Yep the arch supports kill my feet and also shoes that aren’t flat bottomed thats why I’m looking into these shoes
    I didnt do it because of barefoot running style books but rather because my feet didnt hurt in non athletics flats felt better and barefoot is the best too bad I have to have closed toe shoes at work wish yall had a style for the times I am not allowed to wear sandals or go barefoot like flats with roomy toes please consider making them or custom flats

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      Let’s just say “stay tuned” for now ;-)

      • Shawn

        Excited to hear more about this! Love all 4 of my pairs of Xero Shoes and was actually researching and playing with the idea of trying to turn a pair into closed toed for the same reason.

  • Amy

    All through out school i wore orthodics but still had pain, then when i started wearing ‘less’ supportive, flat shoes it went. Ill never go back from xero shoes!

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      You’re preaching to the choir! ;-) I wore orthotics for 30 years, and never found a pair that “worked.”

      Since ditching them 5 years ago, I haven’t had a problem.

  • Hayley

    I have been running BF and Minimal for 4 years now. I have loved it and would never go back to clunky chunky shoes. My problem is that I do feel like my peroneal (specifically the peroneus brevis) muscles and ankles take a beating sometimes. I feel like this is due to my extremely high arches. I do have strong feet and I believe I do not over stride ( I probably need to watch a video of myself). Some runs I feel great and have no problems and than others I am tight! Any suggestions or ideas on what I may be doing wrong? Thanks for your help!

    • http://www.xeroshoes.com/ Steven Sashen

      Watching a video could be a BIG help (it often is).

      And, without seeing you, it’s hard for me to say anything specific… so here are a few thoughts that may or may not help ;-)

      1) Do less. When the pain starts, you stop. You may need time to build up your strength.

      2) Read http://www.xeroshoes.com/blister … it’s not about your situation, but the way I handled my big barefoot blister may be useful/relevant

      3) RELAX. Many muscular issues come from using more force than necessary. Ask, “How can I alter my gait to use less effort and relax more?”

      4) Work ‘em out — sometimes people with high arches need to stretch, roll, massage and otherwise loosen up their feet a bit.

      5) Pay attention to the good runs — when it feels good, notice what you’re doing and see if you can feel the difference when you’re having a less-good run (this is related to #2, above)

      Keep me posted.

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