The Flat-footed Runner

Here’s a bomb-shell for you: every single one of us was born with flat feet. In fact, all human children have flat feet until they’re about three years old. The characteristic arches on the insole of your feet are caused by tight tendons that hold your feet together and lift that portion up. For the first few years of your life, though, these tendons were loose which allowed the entire foot to hit the ground.

In some cases, however, these tendons never tighten and the arches never form. Others, too, can lose the arch due to injury or just through the aging process. Regardless of exactly how it happens, when these tendons loosen flat feet develop. While many people live with this condition, flat feet can make exercise – especially walking or running – extremely painful.

The Full Effect

We frequently overlook just how much control our feet have on the rest of our body. The simple truth, though, is that if our feet aren’t operating properly, the problem will radiate up through our ankles, hips, knees, back, shoulders and neck.

Most of the problems associated with flat feet come about because flat footed runners are more likely to overpronate than people with healthy feet. Overpronation refers to a negative stride pattern in which the ankle roles inward immediately after the heel hits the ground. This, and other complications arising from flat feet, can not only force unnatural angles on your joints and pain throughout your body but it also makes walking more physically demanding. Writing in the journal Prosthetics and Orthotics International, several researchers operating out of the School of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation in Turkey found that people with flat feet actually work harder and consume more oxygen when walking than people with normal arches.



The easiest way to test if you have an arch or not is to look for one. While standing normally on the ground with your feet about shoulder-width apart, the insole of your feet shouldn’t touch the ground. You can also test your stride by walking with wet, bare feet on a level concrete surface and examining the resulting prints. The footprint should have a sharp curve around your insole, indicating that it isn’t touching the ground.

It’s important, as well, to be sure which type of flat feet you have: rigid or flexible. The best way to determine this is to see a podiatrist, whose trained eye will be able to see whether or not an arch forms when you stand on your toes. If an arch does form, your have flexible feet. If not, they are rigid.


Arch-supporting orthotic inserts are usually the easiest treatment option to give your feet the arches that they are so sorely missing. These can be purchased over-the-counter or custom made.

As with most athletes, but especially those with flat feet and stride problems, your choice in footwear is incredibly important. Selective stability or motion control shoes can be purchased which will help to retrain your step and stop you from overpronating. To test whether or not you overpronate, inspect the soles of your old running shoes. If you’re an overpronator you’ll see increased wear on the toes and inner edges.

Physical therapists, orthopedic specialists and athletic training experts can generally perform a gait analysis for you to check for overpronation or other problems with your stride.

If you do have rigid flat feet, treatment can be a little more difficult. In some instances, surgery many even be necessary.

Listen to your body and pay attention to your stride and running technique. With the proper form and equipment, flat feet don’t have to slow you down.

Have you overcome flat feet? Please share your experience with us in the comments!






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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.