Runners, naturally enough, need to take better care of their feet than the rest of the population. Unfortunately, they're also more likely to develop foot-related problems, or suffer from pre-existing issues that wouldn't have been of much concern if they'd never started hitting the streets to begin with. One of those conditions is flat feet, and it's one that runners need to know about.
Here's a quick overview of everything you need to know.
What Are Flat Feet?
In a normal arch, there is a strong upward curve in the middle of the foot. This curve is stabilised by the tendons and ligaments in your feet and low legs. When those tendons and ligaments weaken, the arch will collapse, creating flat feet.
Why Should Runners Worry About Flat Feet?
Your feet support your entire body, so any problems with their structure are potentially serious. However, problems from flat feet are more common in runners due to the repetitive stress that they place on their feet. With flat feet, your tendons and ligaments weaken. This means that your foot is less strong and flexible than normal, often resulting in pain throughout the feet, lower back, and legs. You're also more likely to overpronate, meaning that your foot strikes the floor and then roll inwards.
For these reasons, runners with flat feet tend to be more at risk of developing overuse injuries. For example, people with flat feet are more likely to develop shin splints.
Do I Have Flat Feet?
Runners with flat feet will often find themselves experiencing pain across the middle of the foot due to their weakened ligaments. Due to the foot's inflexibility, it's also likely that you'll find that your calf muscles feel extremely tight after each run.
The best thing to do is see a podiatrist, but you can also take the 'wet test'. Simply lay a towel on the floor, wet your foot, then stand on the towel. Your foot will have left an imprint. If you have flat feet, the imprint will show almost all of the sole, with no real thinning in the middle to indicate the presence of a healthy arch.
Do I Have to Stop Running?
In short, no. It is estimated that around 30% of the population have a moderately to extremely flat foot type, and most of them don't even know it, so this is never going to be debilitating.
However, you do need to make some changes. The most important thing to do is make sure you buy the right running shoes – there are plenty made that can correct overpronation. Instead of just picking a pair of running shoes off the shelf, make sure you go to an actual running shop. One of the team will be able to look at your feet as you run, then provide a shoe that will correct your stride.
You should also pick up a pair of gel or foam inserts. These can be slipped into both your running shoes and your everyday shoes to help prevent any injuries. Just make sure you change them every six months or so – regular high-impact exercise will tend to nullify their benefits over time.
Flat feet won't go away, but they are easily treated. If you think your feet might lack a healthy arch, there's no need to hang up your trainers. Just make sure you take the appropriate action. Contact a podiatrist to learn more about foot care.