"I bet I have the flattest feet you have ever seen." This is what I told Mike Rowles at Occupational Kinetics before he did a foot scan of my feet last week. After it was done...he agreed. I have no arch at all. None. Here's the proof:
It might be hard to tell what's going on here, so take a look at what a "normal" foot scan looks like:
As you can see with the balanced, symmetrical foot scan, the greatest amount of pressure is being put on the balls of the feet and the heels - with very little pressure in between.
So how did my feet get this way?
It all starts when you are an infant. As I look at my newborn sons feet, they are flat. This is because his arches won't develop until he starts to walk. Most people's arches develop throughout childhood, but sometimes they don't develop. This could be due to normal foot variation or if a child is in hard-soles shoes all the time, the muscles in the foot will not develop properly. Researches in India found that flat feet were far more prevalent among people who wore footwear before the age of six. Kids who ran around barefoot for most of their first six years had better developed arches. Among children who wore footwear in a regular basis, 8.2% suffered from flat feet (compared to 2.8% of barefoot kids). Will my children have flat feet? There's no way of knowing right now, but we will make sure that they always have soft-soled shoes and spend as much time barefoot as possible as they grow.
How do flat feet impact running?
According to several studies I found, people with flat feet have a greater chance of getting injured than people with normal-arched feet. So while that's not great news for me, I knew this already. I've heard that running with true flat feet like mine is akin to runing on Jell-O. Flat feet lead to over-pronation (foot rolling inward when it supports the weight). Overpronation causes the legs to collapse inward with each footstrike. This can lead to overuse injuries from the ankle all the way up the leg to the lower back.
What can I do about it?
Since the very first time that I went to a specialty running shoe store, I was told to wear "motion-control" or "stability" shoes. These shoes have a very firm mid-sole and a medial post (dark grey foam) to help keep the foot from rolling in. I've followed this advice, wearing very bulky running shoes for the last 15 years. Since I can't go back in time and see if my "condition" was inherited or was developed through wearing shoes early in life, all I can do at this point is try and improve my feet as they are today. Believe it or not, I can strengthen and improve my arches and give me feet more symmetry and balance.
This starts by trying to do some drills and running without my supportive shoes. I started doing some of this last season, running a mile on the grass barefoot after most of my track workouts. Another thing I can do is spend as much time as possible barefoot. It's frowned upon at work, but about a year ago I did switch to dress shoes with no arch support. And if I'm at home, I'm barefoot. I'm basically trying to train the muscles in the bottom of my foot to work as designed.
There are also a few simple exercises that I can do to strengthen my feet. The easiest is to curl my toes under my foot. I do this while sitting at my desk, or at home using a towel. I pull the towel towards me with my toes. I also do toes spreads. This is simply fanning my toes out as wide as possible and hold for 10-15 seconds.
Will I ever be able to run long distances without some support in my shoes? I doubt it. But strengthening my arches can only improve my running form and help prevent injuries...which I'm obviously all for!