What are the best running shoes for flat feet?

What are flat feet?

We define flat feet as feet with a low and not very pronounced arch. As a result, flat feet have more ground contact, impacting the way foot muscles, tendons, and bones function. The opposite of the flat foot is the hollow foot.

The height of the arch is commonly used to determine the type of pronation:

  • Low arch indicates flat feet and overpronationStability shoes are recommended
  • Medium arch means a regular arch and neutral pronationNeutral shoes
  • High arch results in supinationMotion control shoes may be suitable

You can quickly identify your type of arch with the wet feet test. We won’t go into details here since, as we’re going to see, it doesn’t matter too much ultimately.

Indeed, while it’s straightforward and prevalent, there are many problems with this model. For starter, there’s very little or no scientific evidence backing it up. Therefore, while the risk of injury associated with overpronation seems to be real (1, 2), nobody has found the cure in the shape of a running shoe.

Which running shoes for flat feet?

Currently, no empirical data is suggesting that choosing your running shoes based on your arch type could reduce the risk of injury.

In 2014 Knapik et al. studied military personnel in various randomized controlled trials (3). In these studies, the researchers classified the participants according to their arch type: flat feet (low arch), normal feet (medium arch), hollow feet (high arch). Then, they assigned each participant randomly to a study group. Runners in the first group received a pair of running shoes that matched their arch type. As a control, in the second group, all runners received stability shoes.

In the three studies, the scientists found no statistically significant differences in terms of injuries between the groups of participants. They conclude as follows:

Choosing running shoes based on the type of arch support did not reduce injuries. There was also no difference in injury rates between different brands of shoes.

In summary, if you have flat feet, you don’t need to worry about it when choosing your running shoes.

Comfort is king!

In the absence of scientific evidence supporting choosing running shoes according to arch type, we recommend selecting comfortable shoes first and foremost.

This advice may seem logical, but among the many recommendations that exist out there, it’s one of the few to be backed with scientific evidence.

Geng Luo et al. (4) studied the link between comfort and running economy (the amount of oxygen required to run at a certain speed). The researchers concluded that the group of runners equipped with the most comfortable shoes had a statistically significant increase of 0.7% in running economy.

Of course, an increased running economy doesn’t mean a lower risk of injury, but it seems like an excellent place to start in the absence of other empirical data.

In short, flat feet or not, go for comfortable shoes!

Stability shoes?

If you have flat feet, stability shoes may be more comfortable than regular (or neutral) running shoes. After all, despite the lack of empirical support, these shoes have been around for a while now, and some models are top-rated.

Here are a few that are noteworthy:

  • Asics Gel Kayano 27
  • Saucony Guide 13
  • New Balance 1500 v6
  • Topo Athletic Ultrafly 3

You can also check out our ranking of the best stability shoes.

Remarks, questions? Please share in the comments below.

Sources:

(1) Association between foot type and lower extremity injuries: systematic literature review with meta-analysis
Jasper W K Tong, Pui W Kong (2013)
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23756327/

(2) Foot posture as a risk factor for lower limb overuse injury: a systematic review and meta-analysis
Bradley S Neal et al. (2014)
Journal of Foot and Ankle Research
https://jfootankleres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13047-014-0055-4

(3) Injury-Reduction Effectiveness of Prescribing Running Shoes on the Basis of Foot Arch Height: Summary of Military Investigations
Joseph J. Knapik, Daniel W. Trone, Juste Tchandja, Bruce H. Jones (2014)
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy
https://www.jospt.org/doi/10.2519/jospt.2014.5342?code=jospt-site

(4) Improved footwear comfort reduces oxygen consumption during running
Geng Luo, Pro Stergiou, Jay Worobets, Benno Nigg & Darren Stefanyshyn (2009)
Footwear Science
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19424280902993001

Photo: Max McKinnon on Unsplash

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