One key part of your foot's anatomy that's crucial for both health and performance is the medial arch. In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know about keeping your feet healthy, including how to pick the right running shoes with arch support.
An older man recently came into the running specialty store where I work, sat down on the bench in front of me, and said, "Don't skimp when it comes to taking care of your feet. That's my only advice."
I couldn't agree more. Taking care of your feet is important, especially for runners who keep their feet under a lot of stress.
Understanding the medial longitudinal arch
If you dive deep into how your feet function, it seems miraculous. The many joints, muscles, bones, and tendons that make up the foot work together to keep you healthy and moving efficiently. Determining if you need running shoes with arch support can be a daunting task, but once you're better able to understand the anatomy of your foot, it's easier (and even fun!) to figure out.
The medial longitudinal arch (MLA) is the arrangement of foot bones responsible for helping keep the body balanced and aligned. It acts as a springboard to propel you forward while running or walking and helps to disperse some of the load on impact.
It is also important to understand the two phases of the running gait cycle (the sequence of events during running from when one foot contacts the ground to when that same foot contacts the ground again): the stance phase and the swing phase. According to an anatomical guide to this amazing body part from StatPearls, the stance phase starts when your heel strikes the ground and the sole of your foot faces upward. Mid-stance, the MLA flexes to become longer and flatter as the front of your foot flattens out. While this phase is happening, the ligaments and tendons in your foot store mechanical energy.
Once the arch reaches its maximum length, it reverses course for the swing phase and shortens until the heel leaves the ground. That stored mechanical energy is released as power, which propels your foot forward in a stride.
Low, medium, and high arches
You might have heard or read about the importance of determining your arch profile and finding running shoes that offer the right amount of arch support (or no arch support, if that's what your feet need). Everyone's feet are different, but arches generally fall into one of three categories:
1. Low arch (or flat footed)
2. Medium arch
3. High arch
People with low arches may experience no issues while running — that's just the way your feet are shaped. But sometimes, it may mean you have a weakened, overly mobile arch that's prone to instability. If you have a low arch or flat foot, your ankle may collapse inward, causing alignment issues that occasionally affect the knees and hips.
People with high arches, as you can imagine, sometimes have the opposite problem. High arches can be rigid and tense, not allowing for enough flex recoil to act as shock absorption and balance for the body. This lack of mobility in the arch of the foot can cause stress on the ankle, shins, and knees.
People with a medium arch likely have a pronounced arch that has strength but also flexibility. There's enough power to allow the arch to tense and relax when balancing on uneven terrain and enough flex and recoil to allow for shock absorption when moving forward.
There's no arch profile that means you're a naturally gifted or not-so-gifted runner, however. With proper foot care and support from shoes, you can protect your feet and play to their strengths.
How to determine your arch profile
There's a simple and effective practice for determining your arch profile at home called "The Wet Test." First, dunk your feet in some water. Either on flat pavement that will show a wet spot or on a piece of paper, stand in a natural pose that will record a print of your wet feet. Alternatively, I encourage you to print one foot at a time, since this better reflects your profile while running (you're never on both feet while running).
If you can see your whole foot in the wet footprint, with a wide middle part, you likely have low arches or flat feet. If the middle of your footprint is just a thin line connecting the heel to the ball of your foot, you probably have high arches. And if the middle of your foot looks about halfway filled in, you probably have medium arches.
While this test is fun, remember: It's not a medical diagnosis. To get a proper reading on your profile, seeing a podiatrist (specialized foot doctor) or running store expert is more accurate.
Do you need running shoes with arch support?
Getting fitted for the right kind of shoes can greatly affect your running experience by offering the right amount of cushioning. Everyone's feet and needs are different, so take the time to try on a number of shoes and road-test them if possible to make sure they're comfortable. (Some running stores will let you take a lap around the parking lot.)
There are commonly three categories of shoes:
1. Neutral cushion running shoes are ideal for runners who have a medium arch with a healthy pronation (the flattening of the foot). Shoes like this have minimal arch support and allow for the foot to move a bit more naturally while still offering some padding.
2. Stability shoes are designed for runners with a medium to low arch with mild overpronation (a flat foot or inward roll of the arch). Stability shoes commonly have a medial post, also known as a guide rail. This piece of dense foam or plastic runs through the arch and into the heel. It keeps your arch from collapsing and your ankle from rolling inward.
3. Motion control shoes are reserved for runners who have collapsed, flat feet with more severe overpronation and inward collapse of the ankle and knee. Motion control shoes often have a higher post or guide rail to offer additional support under the arch and heel. They also usually have a wider base to offer additional balance and stability.
The next time you need new shoes — or if your current ones are giving you any kind of foot, ankle, or knee pain — visit your local running specialty store to get properly fitted by an expert. For now, spend a little time researching online to ensure you're wearing the right shoe. Again, be sure to try on several pairs to compare and contrast and find the right fit.
Whatever kind of arches you have, supporting your feet in a healthy way can bring you one step closer to your running goals.
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.