Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
8 Oct

How to Strengthen Your (Bare, Flat) Feet

About 20% of adults have flat feet. A small subset of the population suffers from hereditary flat foot, but most of it is developed. Very few of us are actually born with flat foot. In this post I’ll explore what you can do to avoid flat feet in the first place, and if you already have them whether it is possible to reverse the damage.

Since publishing blog posts on ditching shoes, alternatives to going barefoot, and others I now receive regular reader emails like this one:

Dear Mark,

I’ve had flat foot all my life (18 years so far) and always wondered about the cause from an evolutionary stand point, and any negatives that might come from it. I vaguely remember the doctors subscribing foot supports and a lot of unnecessary products which I haven’t used in a decade. I don’t have any problems that I know of, but just wondering if there’s any alterations I should make to my workout routine to benefit me more? Thanks in advanced.


Great question, Ahmed.

First, how do we develop flat feet? Almost every online resource gives a few stock answers for the cause of flat foot. Most places say something like this:

Causes of Weak Arches:

Flat feet can be hereditary and present themselves at birth. For others the condition can occur as a result of mis-treating the feet – for example wearing high heels for prolonged periods of time, or wearing shoes with no support.

Flat feet or fallen arches can also result from:

  • Weakened muscles in the foot due to aging
  • Weakened muscles in the foot due to injury

Or this:


  • Weakened muscles due to aging or heavy strain placed on the feet.
  • Standing or walking for long periods in high heels.
  • Wearing shoes that don’t provide proper arch support.

Okay, weakened muscles in the foot I can buy as a cause. In fact, it’s almost certainly one of the primary causes of flat foot. High heels aren’t doing us any favors, either, although I’d amend that one to include anything with even slightly-raised heels as a causative agent. I cannot, however, agree with the contention that lack of shoes without “proper arch support” is the problem; I’d even say that it’s the exact opposite. Try “Wearing shoes that do provide proper arch support” instead. Shoes do little else but provide an environment that our feet simply haven’t truly adapted to.

Our genes want us to be barefoot. In fact, it’s the only environment they know, having been born into a shoeless existence. On an individual scale, you could say we adapt to our shoes, but not on a genetic level. Evolutionarily, we’re still walking on the same bare feet Grok used to get around his environment. In fact, hominids have been obligate bipeds for over two million years. Our feet were arguably the first things to develop. Before the big brains, the complex tool making, and the language, our ancestors were walking upright on feet that looked remarkably similar to our own. But don’t tell that to the guys at Nike. They’re convinced those millions of years of natural selection still weren’t enough to produce a working, functional foot that doesn’t require manmade supportive footwear (unless, of course, you buy the Nike Free, in which case the lack of support is suddenly beneficial – awesome logic, huh?).

The Evidence

Before I get carried away on a tangential rant against athletic shoes, I’ll try to stick to the topic at hand. We know that shoes alter the structure and function of the foot. I mean, it sounds like plain common sense, but there’s also some concrete evidence. Back in 1905, an orthopedist named Dr. Philip Hoffman conducted a “Comparative Study of Barefooted and Shoe-Wearing Peoples” (don’t you just love old research?) and published his results in the American Journal of Orthopedic Surgery. He also took a ton of photos.

Here’s one of a foot that rarely – if ever – saw the inside of a shoe.

Note the wide toes, and how a straight line can be drawn through the axis. Looks pretty healthy and stable, right?

Now look at this photo of a pair of feet and the shoes they’re shoved into.

Notice the narrow structure and the cramped toes, especially the angle of the big toe. It’s pointing inward!

Shoe wearing acts quickly, too. Here, Hoffman snapped photos of two sets of feet.

Foot A is that of a child who has worn shoes for a mere three months, while Foot B is that of an adult who’s gone barefoot his whole life. Three months was all it took to drastically shape the child’s feet. Already his big toe is turning inward.

In the end, Hoffman concluded that of the “one hundred and eighty-six pairs of primitive feet examined, [he] did not find a single foot associated with the symptoms of weakness so common in adult shoe-wearing feet, which are weakened by the restraint the shoe exerts over function.” He also noticed that foot development was remarkably similar, in all populations, up until the introduction of foot wear. Shoes, it seems, have an undeniable ability to alter one’s natural foot structure.

But wait: there’s even more. Researchers in India found (PDF) that flat foot was far more prevalent among people who wore footwear before the age of six. Kids who ran around barefoot for most of their first six years – the formative years, it turns out – had better developed longitudinal arches and less flat foot. Among children who wore footwear on a regular basis, 8.2% suffered from flat foot (compared to 2.8% of barefoot kids). No other factors had comparable impacts. Adults didn’t have higher rates of flat foot than the kids, unless they reported wearing shoes as children. Why do we wear these things, anyway?

If you’ve got kids or are planning on it, you may want to take a good long look at their shoes – or lack thereof.

What Can You Do About It?

Okay, that’s all very compelling, but what does a guy like Ahmed do about his condition? Whether it was inherited (not likely) or developed through footwear usage, he’s still got to deal with a pair of flat feet. He can’t go back in time to age four and throw out his baby sneakers. He can’t erase the years and years of shoe-wearing, years that may have exacerbated his problem (kudos for ditching the orthotics, though!). Is Ahmed beholden to his situation? Are his feet forever altered?

No! Assuming his flat foot was developed, he’s still got the genetic potential to improve his feet and – at least partially – restore some of his natural structure and strength. You’ll still technically be flat footed, but you should be able to restore total functionality to your feet.

The first, perhaps most important step is to stay away from orthotics and shoes with “plenty of arch support.” Rather than help you solve your problem, shoes with arch supports prop you up and lead to weak, atrophied foot musculature. Your feet aren’t grasping, pulling, pushing, and flexing inside a pair of athletic trainers; they’re growing soft and growing weak. Fixing, or at least mitigating, your flat feet is going to require some serious foot strength.

Next, spend as much time as humanly possible with your bare feet. If you’re at home, remove your shoes as soon as you enter. If you’re heading out to take the dog on a walk, try circling the block in your bare feet. Mail’s come? Shoeless. Early morning paper? Barefoot. Living room workout? Do it without shoes on. You’ve got to learn to use your feet again, and the best way to do so is to simply live, eat, breath, and sleep barefoot.

Try toe running. When I haven’t done any serious barefoot work (which is very rare, actually; I’m almost always barefoot or in minimalist footwear) in awhile, I’ll hop on the treadmill in my socks (to reduce slippage) and do five or six minutes of light jogging. The catch is that I make sure to stay on my toes the entire time. This strengthens the ligaments and muscles (there are over a hundred of ‘em in the human foot) and prepares them for future activity.

A Few Simple Exercises to Strengthen Your Feet

Do toe spreads. Sit, stand, or lie down and fan your toes out as widely as possible. Create space between each toe. Hold this position for ten seconds, and repeat the exercise ten times daily per foot.

Point at things with your toes. Pick something, anything, in the room and point your toes at it. Now flex your foot. Hold it for five seconds, then release. Again, do this ten times per foot each day. For extra work, try tracing the alphabet with your feet in midair each day.

Get on your toes. Stand on your tippy-toes and just walk around for five minutes each day. Never let your heels touch the ground for the duration. Barefoot toe treadmill work is a worthy alternative.

Try side walking. Stand up (barefoot, of course) and get in a shoulder wide stance. Bend your knees slightly and roll onto the outer edges of your feet. Keep the weight on your outer feet and slowly raise up on your toes. You should feel your longitudinal arch stretching; once you do, hold that position for five seconds. Repeat five times each day.

Walk in sand. Sand is never the same. If you kick off your shoes and hit the grains (yeah, I just coined that phrase: “hit the grains”), you will be catapulting your virgin bare feet into a chaotic, ever-changing environment that will force them to adapt. Hyperbole aside, walking barefoot in the sand is a highly effective way to strengthen your feet.

I can’t stress this enough: go slowly. From the previous pictures, it’s obvious how much of an impact shoes can have on our bodies. For many of us, a lifetime of shoe wearing means the risk of overtraining our bare feet is possible, or even likely, if we don’t exercise caution. You don’t want to leap blindly into barefoot sprints with severely flat feet and risk injuring yourself even further, do you? Do the strengthening exercises before anything else.

Again, the damage may be done, and the flat feet may be permanent. I’m obligated to say it. There is, however, a lot of anecdotal evidence, especially on some of the barefoot running sites, that suggests people with flat feet can prosper without shoes (and even cure their condition), but there’s little in the way of actual, concrete evidence. We do know that shoes affect the structure and function of our feet; what we don’t know is whether the damage can be reversed. You can certainly strengthen your feet simply by removing your shoes and going barefoot as often as possible – and I highly doubt we’re forever beholden to an artificial adaptation. We often hear about people adopting the Primal Blueprint and turning their lives around in a month after eating the Standard American Diet for years, because our genes are hardwired to prefer certain things and our bodies can recover from an awful lot of abuse. Maybe our feet are the same way. Maybe actual structural changes can’t be completely overcome, but I’d be willing to wager that through careful, targeted foot exercises and a focus on barefoot living, we can make them almost irrelevant.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on flat feet and a barefoot existence. Hit me up with a comment. Thanks for reading, everyone!

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. I’ve had flat feet ever since I could remember (now being 24), even having toddler-sized inserts. I had stopped for years until I was about 12 years old I started getting frequent lower back pain. Thus, my doctor referred me to get orthodics (inserts) for my shoes. I’m not going to lie, ever since then, I do not get lower back pain. However, I STILL not able to be on my feet for many hours! For example, being at a theme park all day was highly painful for me by the 3rd or 4th hour…which can’t be normal. I was wearing converse with my thick, usually helpful, inserts and found that it wasn’t enough. I found this article very enlightening and will try to walk barefoot more often but I’m scared to think of NEVER wearing orthotics, since it was worse when I didn’t wear them. Then again, I’ve always been accustomed to wearing shoes all the time. I’ve found that when I do not wear my inserts my feet inevitably start to hurt and once I put on shoes with the inserts, they immediately get relief.
    Also, the part of walking in sand scared me because whenever I go to the beach, rarely, and have gone boogie-boarding, I can only be in the water and sand for an hour or so before my feet AND ankles start hurting!! How is this supposed to better my feet? I feel like it brings a tremendous amount of muscle stress/cramping to my feet.
    Any feedback would be appreciated, thank you.

    Melanie wrote on June 5th, 2013
  2. It’s really too bad that there aren’t more success stories and more evidence out there to help flat foot runners. I have read about a few successes and I’m still optimistic that I can turn my situation around. Or at least keep it from getting worse. I was born with flat feet and I am a runner. I’ve run 3 marathons but have injured myself each time either during training or after the fact.

    When I started running with five fingers, that was the first time I realized how bad my form was. When I ran through dirt and traced my steps back around I could see the imprint left behind and it wasn’t pretty. I could clearly visualize how my feet were hitting the ground and it was bad running form. I made barefoot running a small part of my marathon training but couldn’t really do more than a few miles in them. The majority of the miles I ran were in my motion control shoes, which I always used to wear for the few years I had been a distance runner.

    The last marathon was eye-opening. Looking at pictures of myself while I was running in the thon was scary. I didn’t know how bad my motion control was until I saw those pics. I injured myself a couple of weeks after the thon during a short run. It was my IT band and I knew exactly what caused it based on the marathon pics.

    Since that injury I have sworn off everything that’s not barefoot or near barefoot. At work I wear “dressy” flip flops and have my shoes off most of the day (kinda laid back here). I have only been running in my barefoot shoes and really concentrating on staying true to proper running form. I still haven’t been able to do more than a 10k, but I’ve been injury free for the 5 months I’ve been running since the last injury. I ran a PR 10k a month ago in barefoot shoes. I’m happy to report that my 10k pictures were a vast improvement over the pictures from the last marathon. The motion control issues were drastically reduced.

    The problem I have with high mileage now is blisters. I think it’s somewhat to do with a shoe that fits a bit on the large side. But it probably has most to do with my motion control which, although improved, still needs a bit of correction.

    The moral of the story here is: listen to your body and have patience. There are no quick fixes. I have to remind myself that I’m trying to undo years of running in bad shoes with bad running form and a lifetime of wearing bad shoes. Luckily, I love to run and I’m strong-willed so I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

    Good luck!

    jelly feet wrote on June 6th, 2013
    • Hey, are you still having problems with your form/marathon/flat feet?

      Keyla Reynoso wrote on October 9th, 2014
  3. Since finding this article I have been practicing walking on my toes / balls of my feet to strength my arches, (which are nonexistent)…prior to doing this I have been in a great deal of pain, especially in my right ankle but also my knees and hips. I limp noticeably which a very embarrassing thing when you work the front desk of a chiropractic office. I have been take OTC pain meds, topical pain ointments and my boss gives me adjustments every time I ask, but while relief was temporary, the pain always comes back making me feel crippled…BUT since I started walking on the balls of my feet (not resting my wt on my heels as little as possible) the pain in my right ankle has decreased from an 8 out of 10 (10 being highest in pain) to about a 2 and my hip pain has all but disappeared. I also barely limp at all… I just walk like I am trying to be quiet lol which I can certainly learn to live with compared to constant pain!!!! Thank you so much for this article!!! I am starting to feel normal again! YAY!!!

    Gayle wrote on June 23rd, 2013
  4. Would these exercises and lifestyle changes also help someone who inherited flat feet? I noticed that you point out many times that most flat feet are not inherited, even when people think they are, because shoes can alter feet so quickly and so young. Though you may be skeptical, I think it’s likely that my flat feet are inherited. My father also has them. I have seen baby videos where my feet look flat. I have seen a Christmas ornament of my foot print when I was one, and it’s observably flat. I can remember trying to walk on the outer edges of my feet in pre-k because my feet hurt. Because there are a minority of people out there with genuine inherited flat feet, and for the sake of theory, I was hoping you would address how much progress this minority can hope to make.

    Charley Peterson wrote on June 30th, 2013
  5. I am 13 and have been diagnosed for 1 year and I really want to know why orthodics are bad because I have been ussing em for 1 year.

    Ryan wrote on July 22nd, 2013
  6. I have just been diagnosed with acquired flatfoot after a right knee surgery. There is severe tendonitus and my foot is caving in a bit. Do you really think barefoot is the answer and do you have any other people who have shared this condition and its limitations with you?

    gayle petrie wrote on July 27th, 2013
  7. Hey Mark,

    I just found your post…all these years later. My question is: Will wearing flat, unsupportive shoes (and going completely barefoot more often) impact plantar faciitis? My doc told me to wear shoes with arch support (even shoes like wedges) so that they ligament on the bottom of my foot that attaches to my heel isn’t tugging back and forth when I walk. (Which I guess is what would happen if I were to wear, for instance, flip flops.) Any thoughts here?

    Ellen wrote on July 30th, 2013
  8. hi, I’m a 16 year old female and have had flat feet for a while now. I also think that mine might be hereditary as my grandma has flat feet and so does my uncle. As a child I was always running around barefoot yet I have very flat feet now (flat as a pancake literally!). I went to the doctor a few years ago and he said I had flat feet (quite bad). He gave me a specially moulded orthopaedic insole however, I felt they made my flat feet worse and stopped wearing them. Recently I have noticed that I keep getting lower back pain usually after standing up on my feet or walking for long periods of time. After standing up for over 15 minutes, the ache occurs and can be very painful and distracting. I think it might have something to do with my flat feet but im not sure? I find it quite worrying seen as I’m only 16 years old. I was hoping you would have some knowledge on this matter and any advice for me. Thanks Mark

    sabah wrote on August 1st, 2013
    • Sabah- I spent the years from age 12-18 with debilitating knee pain from flat feet (my doctor kept telling me it was growing pains). Even after I got orthotics any longer runs or walks would leave me in a lot of pain. Over the last few years I have switched to minimalist shoes- you can get cute ones from companies like Vivobarefoot or I’ve even worn cheap flats from H&M. I always go barefoot at home. I now have strong arches and no pain- totally recommend this, but make sure to start gradually. Some websites like Merrell shoes have good exercises for starting the switch. Good luck!

      Emily wrote on August 1st, 2013
      • Thanks Emily, i’ll check out the shoes! 😀

        sabah wrote on August 8th, 2013
  9. Hi Mark, I found his post after looking up foot exercises on-line and I must comment. I’ve been told I had flat feet from an early age but growing up in the Deep South I rarely ever wore shoes unless I had to for school or Church. I loved going barefoot in spite of stubbed toes. I was a gymnast as well and developed plantar fasciitis but just lived with it for years and years.

    Fast forward to a few years ago when I heard of barefoot running. I was the first to go for it sans shoes- loved every minute until one day my knee gave out. It appears that my flat feet were causing my knees to turn inward as well. Then my Plantar fasciitis caused such terrible heel pain that I am now in a night splint at night, double orthotics and an ankle brace during the day along with icing and prescription cream for pain. Also have a heel spur and had to see a chiropractor for subsequent hip and back pain as well.

    It’s been about six months since the pain began and only now am I beginning to feel some relief and hope for getting on with my life. (I am a very busy mother of ten children.)

    Please, please stress to those who have flat feet to continue wearing supportive shoes. I love the flats and being barefoot more than anybody, but I love my health better and will wear supportive shoes for the rest of my life. I am all for foot exercises to build muscles in the feet but not for running barefoot anymore. :-(

    Carol wrote on August 5th, 2013
  10. Hi Mark, I would really like to try everything you are suggesting to try and strengthen my feet I’m even willing to use the vibram 5 finger shoes a lot of the time if this works. However, I’m worried it will not work and actually cause my feet more problems. Since a child i have always walked with my right foot slightly turning in. When I was 22 I badly strained the ligaments in my foot and ankle, I was in crunches for 3 months my foot has been weak ever since. I am now 44. I’ve been prescribed insoles which were moulded. If I do not wear these with secure shoes I get a lot of pain in my inner right ankle which slants slightly outwards compared to the other foot. If I walk Bearfoot around the house for a day I will have a lot of pain the next day. Yesterday I tried barefoot but walked around on my toes. I also walked on the outer sides pulling in my toes as this pulled the inner ankle in so I reckoned that might strengthen the ligaments and muscles to where they should be. The other thing is my podiatrist said flip lops are the worst things for your feet and I should always wear a well supporting shoe. In my case do you think she could be right? Or domyou think I could have a chance of,making my feet better myself? Thanks Catriona

    Catarina wrote on August 10th, 2013
  11. I question whether strengthening the feet will fix flat feet. Here’s why.

    I guess I have flat feet, as my feet look like the first example picture of flat feet on the wikipedia page. They certainly don’t look like the picture with supposedly “normal” arches!

    This never caused me any problem or bothered me in any way until recent years. What happened recently – well, over the past decade and a half, since about age 35 – was that I started seriously strengthening my feet for competitive ballroom dancing. The result was that the muscles in the feet – the flexor brevis hallucis and flexor brevis digitorum muscles – got much bigger and more than filled up the space under what little skeletal arch I have. Now the whole bottom of the foot is in contact with the floor even when I’m barefoot. In shoes and even in padded flat footwear, the muscles end up squashed, which gets a bit uncomfortable after a few hours.

    I think it’s possible that after the bones in the arch fuse in childhood, there isn’t anything we can do any longer about them, irrespective of genetics. Some environmental issues are permanent.

    It’s also possible that there’s some other fix that will cause the bones to adjust, but strengthening the feet is not that fix.

    Warren Dew wrote on August 11th, 2013
  12. My grandpa had to go barefoot in the Depression, and he became bedridden (read = useless farmhand) for many months because he got poison ivy on the soles of his feet.

    I have tried going barefoot in the house, and the pain of my heels on tile was unbearable. I NEED a cushion for my heels.

    I have also tried playing indoor soccer barefoot, something my bruised feet took quite awhile to forgive me for.

    Juding from the pictures of the shoeless-since-birth feet, it’s obvious there’s a much-increased risk of stubbed toes since they are spread out much further.

    Other people have raised concerns about gravel/small but sharp objects on the ground, the brutality of concrete, (I wince as I think of my heels), and extreme temperatures. Sure, socks can help some, but they make it much easier to slip or simply not have as strong a grip. And besides wearing out much faster than shoes if worn alone, socks have no protection from liquids: I have reverted back to rubber slippers after stepping in a puddle of dog urine in my socks.

    Even going barefoot is more slippery than most shoes’ non-slip grip.

    Finally, if we really should live “as nature intended,” then we’d still be living in caves with no air conditioning, heaters, or modern appliances/luxuries, since nature sure didn’t intend for there to be any place in northern Minnesota with temperatures above 20 degrees in January. Same goes for clothes: no coat allowed; “nature didn’t intend it.” As much as the early Native Americans revered nature and lived off the land, (these being the people who would most likely advocate going barefoot), even they wore mocassins (and clothes!) long before the white invasion.

    So, no thank you, I prefer my heel-cushioning orthotic shoes and the protection and warmth they afford. Let’s not forget that shoes (and boots, and spiked soccer shoes, and boat shoes…) were created for a reason, either.

    Stacy wrote on August 16th, 2013
  13. I feel like the population of people born with flat feet here is underrated…
    Mt siblings have flat foot from birth, i do, my sister’s in law, nephews,nices, brother’s in law. I know it’s hereditary, but that doesn’t mean everyone in my family, but if its hereditary there must be more then just 3% or something that you didnt even mention…

    flat foot guy wrote on September 1st, 2013
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    Free Criminal Records wrote on September 13th, 2013
  15. Interesting to read this. Some of us really were born with flat feet that have flattened through age. Now, when I put my foot down in the sand I just leave an oval print, no indentation for an arch whatsoever. You can see people who’s ankles are collapsing inwards, like mine, because of flat feet….Ugg wearers are often a good example.
    I have seen people at the hospital and had orthotics made, that were hopeless. I have bought orthotics from my local chemist that work a treat, but best of all is the wonderful physio I saw who said that I need to strengthen the muscles that support the feet. Now, 5 mornings a week I do simple exercises that take about 3 mins but have made SUCH a difference to my life it is unbelievable. Now I can walk without aching and I can wear shoes that don’t necessarily support my ankles. So for me, it’s a combination of exercises and arch supports and now I can walk anywhere for a long time. Thank goodness!

    Rhea Williams wrote on September 21st, 2013
  16. what is recommended for a person who hates wearing shoes and wears them as little as possible, – goes barefoot around the house, walking the dog etc, but has developed falling arch problems? I have always had really high arches, but now have plantar fasciitis and also achilles tendonitis that has been getting worse the past couple of years in my left foot and now is starting in my left foot?

    Annie wrote on October 4th, 2013
  17. Hi,
    My feet are dead flat and i have recently ditched my orthotics. I have a pair of VFF and every day go out for a walk and a little bit of slow running thrown in as i have noticed that running and walking technique differ a little from each other. I have done some research and always watch how people walk and have noticed that before the foot strikes the ground it is supinated which i didn’t seem to do before. The feet in the above photos of the person that has never worn shoes doesn’t appear to have arches. Is it necessary to have arches.

    Lance Marler wrote on October 13th, 2013
  18. Hi!
    My daughter is 9 and she weighs around 50.46 pounds. I noticed that when she stands her knees come closer than they should be. Doc says she puts more pressure on her toes than the heels while walking. (She loves Ballet :( ). She has to wear shoes to her school daily for 9-10 hours.
    I was about to order insoles when I came across this page. I am stuck! I do not even know if she has flat feet :(
    Please suggest.


    Monalisa wrote on November 3rd, 2013
  19. I am interested in the techniques describes; however, I am skeptical. I am a dancer so I do many of these activities on a regular basis, standing on tip toes, point at things with my toes, etc. Yet I still have foot pain. In fact, I have the most foot pain when I am dancing or walking around with bare feet. Any advice?

    Elizabeth wrote on November 18th, 2013
  20. Hi Mark great article ,just wanted to know if barefoot rope skipping would help…

    Ed wrote on November 29th, 2013
  21. If you’re looking for shoes that are appropriate for work and formal situations, yet are minimalist and fit the natural contour of your feet, check out

    I haven’t tried them yet personally, but I’m super intrigued and eager to go try a pair on. They sure look super comfy on their website!

    Greyson James wrote on December 11th, 2013
  22. At age 13 my arches fell, probably a result of sitting at home reading instead of getting any exercise. Previously I had fairly normal looking feet.

    Hurt just walking.

    I started playing tennis. I did not play because I wanted to get fit or because I thought it would heal my feet. Just wanted to. Painful and frustrating. Within a week of starting, I was playing every day. By the end of summer I typically played 4-5 sets of singles a day, every day. My feet hurt like hell.

    After about 2 years of this, I noticed I had arches again and my feet no longer hurt.

    Although my recovery was probably aided by my youth, I suspect some people of whatever age can recover from foot problems by exercising their legs more than they probably think they can.

    Now 65, my feet are still strong. I played 3 hours of tennis yesterday outside (also shoveled snow off the courts).

    Stephen Lehr wrote on December 13th, 2013
  23. I tried stretching my feet but every time I do I get a bad muscle cramp in the center and so I stopped… what should I do?

    Yesenia wrote on January 21st, 2014
  24. This was great stuff…could not believe my eyes! Was attracted soon as you mentioned the evolutionary bit.
    It was a startling coincidence. I will be 80 in March and have had confounded foot
    problems all my life. Started to do Hatha Yoga a few years ago for this problem but
    for a multitude of others! By chance got to look at some additional foot exercises on the net and these included the very intrusive and make-sense exercises you’re
    advocating …they work! I concur with your comments of the adverse effects of shoes, but at least only last week I bought myself a pair of wide-fitting shoes, not high and in which I give my feet so much more freedom.
    The result of all this! It grows more positive by the hour. (should have said my feet are as flat as boards! and it’s been no fun, and all sorts of hip problems, and
    1cm plus length difference in my right leg.)
    It was great stuff again, and if I work at it: the exercises and diet, too, should have
    inter alia a wonderful pair of feet …or at least ones that will be adequately functional. Thanks for the common sense and knowledge.

    Nathan Morris wrote on January 29th, 2014
  25. I like your ideas about strengthening your feet. The only one I am unsure about is side walking. I have flat feet with my ankles rolled inwards (now trying to not let it worsen). My dad also has flat feet. He walks exactly the way you described as side walking on a day to day basis even with shoes on. I picked up the same walking out of imitation I guess.

    What I want to say is, I still have flat feet (flexible type). However due to years of walking where you roll your feet inward; putting weight on the outer edge of your feet, my dad developed bow legs where his knees arches outwards when his feet are together. So now his knees are causing him a ton of pain. So yea.

    dubs wrote on February 4th, 2014
  26. Had flat feet since a child. Used to be agony when in junior school when in gym asked to climb ladder several steps, then jump off = ouch, saying that mildly.
    Since then? I have and do walk barefoot or in socked feet as much as I can.
    Was given arch supports etc etc etc, but never did me any good, nor did any exercises – the foot man I saw said my feet were the flatest he had seen.

    Suffice to say, years have rolled on, had a few accidents that have caused major probs in other areas, hence now I’m disabled.

    Pain never too much off an issue in my feet, till now, one foot [ probably due to using a crutch when I try to go out – cant seem to use both crutches and hold shopping same time ] so that probably is/has weakened my right foot more. Have alot of pain underfoot now and that foot swells badly – doesnt help that I’m disabled, not mobile due to other major pain etc and mainly housebound and I’m only mid forty.

    Last few months can only wear slipper boots if I do go out and, only found out that not any one of my single shoe / boots I have fit that foot, so barefeet and slipperboots at the moment and alot of pain when trying to weightbare / walk on right foot.

    Will try to keep right leg/foot rested high to reduce swelling when I can and, will try your alphabet stretching [ I do circle foot, wriggles toes etc etc etc ] but will try anything.

    [no, cant go to dr as he took early retirement , I’d been a patient of his since I was born, so he knew about all my problem, his replacement new female gp is hopeless ]

    Angie C wrote on February 12th, 2014
  27. I have “flexible” flat feet that still have “spring”. They’ve been like that for several decades.

    I go barefoot anytime I can–walking barefoot but not running barefoot. At cold temperatures low as 40 degrees F and up to hot temperatures with a heat index of 100 degrees F–I have a wide range of temperature tolerance. Not just grass and smooth dirt either–also on sidewalk (smooth or slightly rough), or asphalt (blacktop or gravel embedded asphalt). Not just short distances–often for as long of a distance as my feet can last (before getting sore arches and walking becomes much more delicately overall) but also stopping periodically as needed if the I feel too much burn from the scuffing and/or stopping periodically on shade spots or cooler surfaces as needed before the feet burn way too much on hot surfaces. So, when I do go barefoot more than just throwing out the trash or going to check the mail, my feet get a multi-hour/longer distance workout for that day (also including any driving barefoot and shopping in grocery stores or warehoure stores barefoot).

    Arch observations? I if I sit relaxed and put my feet up, they have an arch, somehat low. If I point my toes still sitting relaxed, the skin on the sole of the foot gets more “wrinkly”, but the arch does not increase. If I stand feet fully on the flat surface, I can barely put a finger under the arch. If I stand on the balls of the feet and toes on a flat surface–then the arch gets significantly higher. If I stand only on the toe pads on a flat surface then then the arch gets really higher–very close in height to what someone’s foot with a high curvy arch looks like when standing on a flat surface. That means the arch is not rigidly low when relaxed and almost completely flat when standing at *all* times–it still has strength, so it still has spring.

    But when I walk, I can see the arch stretch only a small amount (if I am walking past a building with a reflective window) but it never gets higher than it was when I was standing still with the feet fully on the flat surface. I leave entire foot-shaped footprints in the sand when walking on beach near the water, completely foot-shaped wet footprints after getting out of a pool and walking on a pool deck, and when I walk barefoot almost the entire foot except for about about the last half inch or so of the sole nearest the middle of the arch is the dirt pattern (when it gets dirty on paved surfaces).

    Except for informational purposes in this comment, I don’t care if the arches fall that much and look almost completely flat when standing or walking–my feet seem strong enough to go 5k to 10k on moderate temperature mostly smooth paved surfaces. I’m not trying for high arch feet, nor high arch footprint shapes, nor high arch barefoot dirt patterns.

    That said, if I do have to wear shoes then I *do* wear arch support inserts (for closed shoes) or arch support flip-flops (such a Keen brand men’s flip-flops)–the arches are going to fall anyway, so why let them fall anymore from unsupported shoes?

    Heatfooter wrote on March 19th, 2014
  28. Hi mark

    I have a flat foot have have effected my knees. I have pain on the left side of my kne of my right leg.
    Any solution for that please let me know .

    Pallavi wrote on March 19th, 2014
  29. Yo, I don’t know if you still reply to people here, just wanna ask for your advice on something..
    I’ve got almost totally flat feet from an early age, I’m 19 years old and been doing exercise for most of my life. Now, because I have to join the army for 2 years (it’s mandatory in the country I live in) I want to join the special forces team. They basically run and walk around a lot, like 40 miles a week maybe…
    I am pretty athletic and in good shape, I can do any and all types of exercises they do and have enough stamina to do them, but I’m worried about running, because when I run around 1 mile in normal sports shoes my feet start bothering me.
    I will join this unit, but I can leave if I can’t handle it.
    So is there any advice you can give me, that can help improve my performance and reduce permanent damage to my feet, or should I simply visit a professional?
    PS. I practice Judo 3 times a week, meaning I do barefooted exercise that often.

    Nick wrote on April 1st, 2014
  30. I have had chronic knee pain. It appears the problem is not my knee but my feet. I have large inward turning big toes which people say are bunions but i have had them all my life. My arches are flat. The pain in my knee is dreadful. I am about to get insoles however i have recently started with yoga and like the idea of strong feet. I have been over last few days engaging my feet and i can feel it pull on my knee.
    I would love some advice. I sit most of the day as i am a therapist.

    vivienne wrote on April 25th, 2014
  31. Thank you for sharing! I suffer from flat feet (although until recently I never considered it suffering). I also have a rather large collection of heels in varying heights. About a year and a half ago I wore a pair of heels out with friends and did a considerable amount of walking; my feet haven’t been the same since! I started to notice pain in my arches and calves the day after wearing heels. I started to wear more flip flops and going barefoot and then when the winter came, shoes were the last thing I wanted to wear (except for the warmth they provided). I am really new to the Primal idea, but one of the first adaptations I made was going barefoot, and buying minimus footwear. I’m happy to see the exercises which I will be doing shortly when I head to the gym. I do agree with going slowly, but then again, I’m not an avid runner by any means.
    Thanks again!

    Sheila Wilkins wrote on April 28th, 2014
  32. So, I enjoy hiking, the sort where I pack a rucksack with a tent, cooking stove and food and then disappear for up to 5 or 6 days.
    The thing that holds me back is always my feet, after a day of my strongest painkillers not working I have to give up!

    I don’t have flat feet and in everyday life don’t have much problem with my them. They have always been narrow and are quite small for my height and sometimes the arches just randomly hurt as though I’ve pulled a muscle in them for a day or two.

    Already I never wear shoes at home and I flex my toes all the time because I have this terrible habit of clicking them :s What else can I do to stop that pain when I walk long way?

    Rebecca J wrote on May 14th, 2014
  33. Im nineteen years old and Im actually unsure whether my flat feet were genetic or developed. I know however that I was diagnosed when I was thirteen and given inserts that did nothing but put my feet through dire pain every day. So I wuit wearing them after about a year. And ever since, Ive had issues using my feet properly. Ive been slightly overweight most of my life, and I know that makes the sitiation worse. What I want to point out though, is that with flat feet, your feet arent the only parts of your body at risk. It also destroys the muscles supporting your knees. It has caused my knees to shift inwards and I constantly walk on my feet, feeling immense irritation from my nonexistent inner ankles up my calf to my knee. I feel it 24/7 and I just want to find a way to avoid that pain without having to pay to go through a painful surgery. This is an old post, but I hope to still recieve a response of sorts.

    AJ Stone wrote on July 7th, 2014
  34. My feet are so flat that my shoes tears the sides of my socks I have cut my shoe wear to every now and then and they ask me were are my shoes I tell them my shoes hurt more then broken glass so I just wear white socks most of the time.

    Ian Christopher Alexander wrote on July 16th, 2014
  35. hello
    my son, who is ten have severe flat feet and using orthotics different every year. He hates all of them. orthotics are very expansive but still no change at all. I am so worried about him. please let me know what else I should do for him. I am going to make him do bare foot and foot exercise. anything else I should do for him. please let me know.

    my email is

    farzana wrote on July 20th, 2014
  36. Oh,thanks God who make me see your opinion.I’m sure i can get rid of cracking and popping in my ankles with these.I hope i can do better in gymnastics from starting my 16 years old age.
    Thank you
    Amir Hussain from Iran.

    Amir Hussain wrote on July 27th, 2014
  37. I don’t know what the fuss is all about with having flat feet. I’ve had flat feet for my whole life of 57 years and I would not trade them for arched feet ever. My knees are straight and I don’t have any pain anywhere in my entire body. In my opinion, all those silly exercises and / or even worse, orthotics, are merely a waste of time and in the case of orthotics, big money. For those of us so gifted, my advice is to “get used to them.” Flat feet are a blessing.

    mark burgan wrote on August 11th, 2014
    • here’s a tip from me to help those gifted with flat feet. Stand with the balls of the feet on a book and stretch the muscles and ligaments to the maximum and let the arches rest completely on the floor. This will allow the feet to relax and not hurt anymore as the full weight of the body will be upon the soles of the feet.

      mark burgan wrote on August 25th, 2014
  38. Hello,

    I did enjoy reading this, although primitive lifestyles were shorter than the current life expectancy. Now that we can live much longer, maybe our feet are not holding up and we need arch support to help with collapsed arches.

    I am not a doctor and do not know the answer. According to this article, I probably have weak arches because I love arch support.

    Rebecca wrote on September 10th, 2014
  39. I was born with flat feet (and the flattest you can imagine ;)), so I know how it is.

    Good thing is when I was little, I always walked barefoot – my parents had to remind me to at least wear socks at home 😉 because they were worried I might get sick from the marbled floor (it’s pretty cold), but I never did. It was the best period of my life.

    Later I forgot to go barefoot. Now I want to get myself those funky ‘shoes’ with toes that you wear, Mark :) How are they called again?


    Adi wrote on September 18th, 2014
  40. I have had flat feet since I was born. The doctors prescribed orthopedic boots, never helped. I was always clumsy, falling down stairs, tripping everywhere. I got older, still fell down stairs, wore heels – still tripping. I am now 25, I don’t fall anymore, and I have a LITTLE arch in my feet!

    About three years ago I started doing yoga. The more you get into yoga, you have to pay attention to EVERYTHING…including your feet. In any standing pose, your toes should be spread out, like the exercise shown above, stretching them out, grasping the earth – with your big toe always north. When we lie down, most people that have feet problem, their feet face in towards each other – versus out. Its wrong. Every step, every pose in yoga, your feet should be parallel, either pointed, flexed, working various muscles in the foot. And it doesn’t stop there. Through yoga I learned I had weak ankles. It made so much sense, all the falling. No one ever said, “Hey, work on your ankles – they support your whole body and just like everyone was born with different body parts, maybe yours are weak!”.. You stand so much on one leg, alternating, standing on your toes, this will all help you walk properly. WALKING. No matter what you do, until you fix your walking you will NOT improve your flat feet. Notice your feet. If your feet go to ANY side, even a little bit, you are not walking properly. Point your big toe when you walk, and walk STRAIGHT. We should be grateful we have a flexible foot, we just have to work the muscles. If anyone needs further explaining or anything I missed… You can contact me, I have a lot to say and hopefully help you :)

    Keyla Reynoso wrote on October 9th, 2014

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