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Gear and Technology

What goes into the best running shoes for flat feet?

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There was a time when having flat feet meant something was wrong. Feet were supposed to feature a nice arch, and anything that looked different, the story went, required some intervention. This carried over to running shoes, too. Flat feet? Control that foot with orthotics and shoes.

Times have changed, however, and now we know that flat feet are often just the way someone is built. Here's how to find the best running shoes for flat feet, and other important things to know.

There's no tried-and-true method for determining if you have flat feet, and quite often, that's just fine. If you were born with flat feet — called anatomical flat feet — you've likely spent many years trying to accommodate them in your running shoes. But the truth is, your quest for the best running shoes for flat feet might be simpler than you thought.

That's also the conclusion of Stephen Pribut, DPM, a podiatrist and part of the clinical faculty at the George Washington University Medical School's department of surgery. "When I assess a patient, I'm looking to see what's worked in the past, what hasn't, and whether or not they're having discomfort," he explains. "Then I'll try to help them find a shoe that fits well and keeps their feet comfortable."
Sometimes, the discomfort flat-footed runners experience is due to a rush to automatically classify them as overpronators and then try to correct that motion. But that approach is quickly going by the wayside as podiatrists and runners have learned trying to control that natural motion doesn't serve much purpose, and might even cause running to be uncomfortable. Everyone pronates to some degree — it's part of the foot's natural gait — so fighting that motion isn't necessarily a solution.

If your feet are flat because your arches have weakened over time and collapsed, you might need to add some arch support in the form of a stability shoe for a time. But working on foot strength in the meantime should help you move away from so much control.

This can start with simple "toe yoga" exercises — lifting your big toe while the other four remain on the ground and vice versa — and advancing to towel scrunches, picking up marbles with your toes, and walking in your bare feet on a sandy beach, if you have one nearby. All will help your flat feet regain the strength they've lost, to provide a more comfortable gait while running.

Understanding your running-shoe needs

If you've been running long enough, odds are that at some point in your shoe buying process you did the foot "wet test." This often involved getting your feet wet, walking across some concrete, and having a shoe store employee deem your feet flat, "normal," or high arched. This would inform the shoe-buying process, and then out the door you went.

Today, the wet test is rarely used, and if it is, you should be a bit leery of the shoe store you're turning to for expert advice. Instead, says Pribut, work with your running-shoe store to find a comfortable shoe that fits well. "More often than not, you can start with a neutral shoe and go from there," he says. "I like shoes without too much cushioning or anything extreme in any direction. The shoe's last is important, as are trying several widths."

A shoe's last is the mould on which a shoe is built. Too narrow, or shaped in a way that doesn't allow a flat foot to find room in the footbed, and you'll be uncomfortable. Look to see that your feet make contact with the footbed and don't spill over onto the mesh sidewalls, which won't deliver the support you need while running.

Try on several pairs, have the running-shoe store experts watch you move in them, and ultimately, select the pair that leaves your feet happy. Most stores will have a return policy within a short period of time after, too, so if you're finding yourself in discomfort, take the shoes back and consider trying something different.

Brooks shoes that work well for flat feet

Again, comfort should be your highest priority when selecting the best running shoes for flat feet. Brooks makes several good "all-around" shoes that will likely fit the bill. Pribut is a fan of models like the Ariel or the Beast, both of which hit some of the more middle-of-the-road marks in specs.

If you're currently experiencing a fallen arch and need some extra support while you rehab your foot strength back to normal, consider a model like the Dyad 11, which adapts to your feet as you run. They're also roomy and allow space for a flat foot to get comfortable.

With some trial and error, even runners with the flattest of feet should be able to find their sweet spot in shoes. Before heading to the running store and giving new models a go, however, check in with your favourite foot or sports doctor to get their advice. Put it all together, and selecting the best running shoes for flat feet can lead to many successful miles ahead.

Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.

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Written By
Amanda Loudin

Health and science writer

Amanda Loudin running in a forest

I've been a runner for more than two decades, and a journalist for just as long. I'm also a certified running coach, and nothing makes me happier than marrying up writing and running. Find me on the trails with two- and four-legged friends.