Choosing the best running shoes means sifting through a lot of information. In order to choose the right pair, you will be offered the following advice: determine what kind of feet you have and buy the running shoe designed for your type of feet. We have indeed been well-trained by the running shoe industry. Today I can buy running shoes for overpronators, running shoes for underpronators, and running shoes for flat feet. I have been told that excessive running can lead to fallen arches. But by choosing to buy running shoes with special arch support I can avoid that fate.
Is it true? Does running without special arch support lead to fallen arches and the development of flat feet? Flat feet are common in infants and toddlers. This is because the longitudinal arch is not yet fully developed. So one could say flat feet are normal, up to a certain age anyway. The arch of the foot develops throughout childhood so that we have got normal arches by the time we are old enough to vote. That is, if our feet are allowed to develop naturally.
“Putting your feet in shoes is similar to putting them in a plaster cast,” according to Dr. Gerard Hartmann, Ph.D. in “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougall. Hartmann goes on to say,”If I put your leg in plaster, we’ll find forty to sixty percent atrophy of the musculature within six weeks. Something similar happens to your feet when they’re encased in shoes.”
Find me kids today that get plenty of exercise and have not been wearing shoes from a very young age. Runners used to wear regular old sneakers when they ran. Wearing thin-soled shoes meant their feet had a lot of work to do. As a result, their feet were stronger for it. For them, cheap, flat sneakers worked just fine. Enter Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman and his “moon shoe” for his fledgling Nike brand in 1972 and suddenly the human foot became a very flawed thing.
If running shoes with special arch support are really necessary, how did we do so well for so long without them? How do we explain the remarkably successful and remarkably long, running record of the Kenyans? Long distance running did not begin in the 1970s.
An article in the April 2006 edition of Journal of Sports Sciences examined the factors that make Kenyans such fantastic long distance runners. After taking everything into account, the one thing that stood out? The successful runners came from regions of the country where the kids ran to school every day. They did not walk, they ran. And not just a couple of blocks but five to ten kilometers to school. Then home again. And they did this without arch support compliments of Nike, Asics, or New Balance. They ran barefoot.
This begs the question. Is flat feet caused by wear and tear and a lack of proper arch support in your shoes? Or could it be that flat feet is caused, in part, by the arch support in your shoes making the muscles of your feet weak and unable to withstand the load demands of daily walking and running? Our feet are made up of 26 bones held together by 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. It is the shape and tension along the curve that makes an arch so strong and able to carry loads in excess of its own weight. By putting a support under the arch of a bridge, the balance is broken, the bridge fails. Could the arches of our feet react any differently?
Maybe the barefoot runners are on to something. You decide.