If you have flat feet, running can sometimes be more difficult.
We’d rather not see you hanging up your running shoes on account of flat feet, and you likely don’t have to. But the unique stresses that running with flat feet can place upon the body might lead to aches and pains throughout your body, and some of these conditions can make running harder to endure.
Fortunately, there is often something you can do to counter the problems flat feet can pose for running. To understand what and how, let’s take a closer look at what flat feet are, how they trouble runners, and what you can do to fight back.
What Exactly Are Flat Feet? What Causes Them?
Having “flat feet” typically refers to having a low or collapsed arch in the foot.
Our arches are important to us for their ability to absorb and redirect the shocks of walking and running. Every time our feet press against the ground as we move, our arches are there to flex and take on our weight.
But with flat feet, the arches are sitting low or completely flat against the ground. A podiatrist can confirm whether your feet are flat, but you can also see evidence at home through a “wet test.” Simply dip the bottom of your foot in the water, then step with your full weight on a flat grocery bag or paper towel.
If you have normal arches, you should see a definite curve to your footprint along the inside of your midfoot. If you have flat feet, however, this curve will be very shallow or not existent at all.
Flat feet generally exist in two forms: rigid and flexible. In the rigid form, the appearance of a flattened arch will be constant. Those with flexible flat feet, however, may have a visibly standard arch when they are not standing. As soon as they start bearing weight on their feet, however, the arch will collapse.
As to what causes flat feet, the most common culprit is family history. Almost everyone’s feet are flat when we’re born, but some inherit the likelihood that the arches never fully develop, leading to flat feet in adulthood.
It is also possible for the tendons and other connective tissues that support the arch to weaken with age, causing a collapse of the arch. Any injury to these tissues can also contribute to such weakening and collapse.
Why Are Flat Feet a Problem for Runners?
There is some good news. Having flat feet does not always guarantee you will have any problems. About 20-30 percent of the general population has flat feet, and many of them have no symptoms from it.
Unfortunately, not everyone is the same. For some people with flat feet, it can affect their movement in a way that leads to excess stress building in areas that cause pain.
Among the most common culprits is overpronation. This is when the foot rolls too far inward during part of the stride cycle. This abnormal motion limits how well the feet can absorb the shock of each footfall, and can also shift how muscles and other tissues throughout the body act as they keep the body stable.
Overpronation can contribute to plantar fasciitis, shin splints, tendonitis, and even knee, hip, and lower back pain.
So it can be argued that overpronation is a bigger threat here than having flat feet. However, flat feet are much more likely to overpronate than anything else. The key to keep in mind is that flat feet can affect the way we move, which is what can lead to misalignment and pain.
How Can We Prevent Pain and Injuries While Running with Flat Feet?
As we noted before, having flat feet doesn’t mean you need to stop running. But if flat feet are causing problems (or are likely to cause them), it’s best to take preventative action.
Your running shoes will undoubtedly be a key in reducing your injury risk. Not only should your running shoes provide a proper fit, cushioning, and arch support, but also stability and motion control as needed.
If you overpronate, specific types of shoes can help keep that extra motion in check and your body better aligned while on the move.
For certain cases of flat feet – depending on type, severity, and how much trouble they may presently be causing – we might also recommend custom orthotic inserts to provide an even greater and more specified degree of corrective support and motion control for your feet.
The ways you approach your running can be helpful as well. You want to provide your body a good opportunity to adjust to the rigors of your activity, especially if you have just started running or haven’t run for a long time. The following tips can be useful:
- Warm-up before a run with some light jogging, lunges, butt-kicks, and other motions. We can help you determine the best for your needs.
- Try to stick largely to softer terrains. Clear, flat dirt trails are a good option. If you’re more limited to streets and neighborhoods, opt for asphalt over concrete, as the former is a bit softer and better able to absorb impact. Also, stay away from uneven surfaces that can make overpronation worse.
- Pace yourself accordingly. Start a running routine at a relatively low intensity, then increase distance and speed gradually – about 10% week-to-week.
Get Expert Sports Injury Treatment and Prevention
If you do start feeling consistent pain in your heels, shins, or elsewhere, don’t worry. We can help you determine what the source is and recommend a course of action to get you back to action. Our goal will always be to keep you running – safely and comfortably.
Schedule an appointment at Advanced Foot & Ankle Centers of Illinois by giving us a call or filling out our online contact form.