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.

Ahmed

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:

Causes:

  • 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. Flat feet are most certainly hereditary. My dad, sister, cousins, my 20 month old son, and I ( dad’s side) have severe( I mean rolling over onto ankle severe) flat feet. I was a monkey growing up; running every where, climbing trees and roof tops, hardly ever wore shoes and hated it. I went to the park, beach, friends’ houses barefoot. I Also spent most hours of my day, starting at a very young age untiI I was 26 years old, as a dancer, training professionally. That was many hours spent bare foot in the studio or with tiny ballet slippers in relevé. Yes you can strengthen all of the foot muscles to great functionality but you can not change the flat structure of a born with flat foot!

    BTW since I stopped dancing, I’ve developed all kinds of pain in my feet, knees, and neck, as well as balance issues. Dancing was the best thing I ever did for my flat feet and health!
    Cheers!

    Nancy wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • Most people are born with flat feet but as the child ages, the network of bones, muscles, and joints form into an arch that works as springs for the feet to
      absorb weight and force as we walk. Usually due to hereditary, some people never form arches in their feet. Others lose their arches due to tearing of the
      posterior tibial tendon, traumatic foot injury, diabetes, pregnancy, arthritis, wearing “the wrong” shoes or aging.

      People born with flat feet that stay flat feet can and do live relatively normal lives. I have heard of stories that people with flat feet don’t get into the army!
      This may may have been the case in the past, but now you are only prevented from joining if your flat feet cause pain. Having flat feet is not a curse if your feet
      don’t hurt!

      For those people who develop flat feet later on in their lives (after the age of 20) there are solutions to the problem. One of the solutions I would certainly NOT
      recommend is getting fitted with orthotics. This solution has and never will never make any sense to me. Let’s take a cast of a dysfunctional foot in a
      dysfunctional position and apply a brace/cast/immobilizing rigid insole to hold the dysfunctional foot in a certain position. If I placed a cast on your arm for
      8 weeks what would happen to the muscles in your arm? In this case an orthotic is actually counter productive and if a study was done on the subject I suspect that
      one would find that the flat foot becomes flatter after using orthotics.

      Flat feet, contrary to too many comments on the internet, CAN be cured in most cases. Most people with flat feet need to take steps to manage the discomfort. This
      is done with the help of foot exercises and insoles that provide proprioceptive stimulation.

      For a person who has arched feet but the arches are falling as evidenced through pain and visible lowering of the foot, you can take preventative measures. See a
      podiatrist who can prescribe proprioceptive stimulating insoles that will rehabilitate fallen arches.

      Sante!

      Patrick Malleret wrote on January 31st, 2013
  2. This is interesting. I’ve had flat feet since childhood and I remember doctors telling my mother how horrible it was and scaring her into buying inserts and ugly orthopedic shoes that I hated and rarely wore. Back then I suspected that my feet were probably a perfectly normal variation of human body structure and that it was just a non-problem to waste time on when I could be thinking about something that was actually important. Over time I’ve become set in that viewpoint as having flat feet has never made any more of a difference to my getting the business of life accomplished than having curly hair has.

    I wear some pretty structured footwear much of the time but I’ve always been one to spend all of my “discretionary” time barefoot. At any rate, my feet rarely cause me any pain or issues in spite of being significantly overweight for all of my life too. Maybe I do have a real problem but spending so much time barefoot has mitigated it. Maybe having flat feet really just isn’t that big a deal. I don’t know which it is but I’m not overly worried about fixing something that I have no reason to believe is broken.

    TJ wrote on February 6th, 2013
  3. hi my 2.5year old baby (girl) is flat footed ..is there anything that can be done to repair? pls advice.thanks a lot

    Sapna wrote on February 8th, 2013
  4. I didn’t bother reading the article. I was born with flat feet and can walk/run further than most people. I’ve been involved in every sport imaginable and have never had a problem or pain. So….whatever!

    Daniel Karam wrote on February 28th, 2013
  5. I have flexible flat foot (i mean i have flat foot when i’m standing on my full weight but normal foot when i’m not excerting any weight on d foot). My question is what can i do to make my foot normal even when i’m standing with all my weight on d foot and also can swimming alleviate or aggravate d situation because i like swimming,just wanna know whether to stop swimming or continue. I need an urgent reply please.
    Thanks

    Reedex wrote on March 8th, 2013
  6. I have flat feet, along with some foot problems: Hallux limitus and sesamoiditis.

    I was informed by my podiatrist that these injuries occurred due to excessive pressure on my big toe and sesamoid. A consequence of having flat feet while wearing minimalist shoes. Thereby failing to relieve the pressure of these parts of my feet.

    At my appointment I walked on a sheet of paper that shows you where the pressure points are on your feet. My entire foot looked fine, except for a big black dot (pressure point) on my big toe and sesamoid. Indicating that I had excessive pressure in these areas. Currently I am using thick soled motion controlled shoes, orthotics, and a home made “dancers pad” which essentially relieves the pressure from the sesamoid. With these things, I am experience a tremendous amount of relief in the pain and discomfort.

    My situation is that I don’t want to wear this stuff for my whole life! And I would love to transition to being barefoot. But that just seems impossible when doing so only aggravates those parts of my feet. Has anyone seen a situation like this where they had an injury or condition where orthotics would seemingly help, but in fact going barefoot was the solution?

    My alternative solution is to wait until these areas heal, and then gradually transition to a more minimal shoes.

    Sheena wrote on March 12th, 2013
  7. Hello there. Well, my parents say I have had flat feet since I was born. They said I have never grown an arch. I need help, because I am very athletic, and the shoes that I have to wear in volleyball cause my feet to hurt and occasionally I have shin splints. My dad wants me to try to find special exercises to strengthen my arch and I have found yours. How often should I do those, and do you have anything else that I might try?

    Macey wrote on March 19th, 2013
  8. I developed flat feet due to wearing an aircast for to long now I wake up with my feet turned out walking on the sides every morning help me please

    Sha wrote on March 24th, 2013
  9. Hi Mark,

    I’ve gone barefoot most of my life. I would go to the mall as a teenager in long skirts to hide that I was barefoot or in socks only. I went running for miles barefoot, across pavement, grass, sand and gravel. When I was 28 (4 years ago) I began having disabling foot pain and was told that it was a result of a lifetime of going barefoot. Also, as a woman who has had babies and who is quite small to begin with, the added weight can be difficult for the feet to bare.

    In any case, something to consider is that barefoot is good and healthy on natural surfaces, but on hard tile, wood, cement, and other unyielding grounds it doesn’t give them the same work out that our foot-healthy ancestors and neighbors ran and run around on.

    Kathleen wrote on March 26th, 2013
  10. hi, i have flat feet i think since birth and with knock-knees, and now at age 39 im experiencing pain on my knees specifically the interior ligaments. if i walk a lot like on a trip, pain visits me at night. i bought skechers shape up and still my knees ache. i read your article here just now and will do them from now on, do you think the pain on my knees will be cured after doing those exercise? do u have any suggested exercise for my knees too? thanks a lot.

    mina wrote on March 31st, 2013
  11. Hi thanksvfor the advice

    Do u thinm that vans are bad for the foot

    Kelvin wrote on April 30th, 2013
  12. Hello Mark, I have just came across your post/blog and want to thank you for the tips and advice given. I have flat feet that don’t really effect me much up until I start jogging, running or playing basketball. I get tired way too quickly and when I get in the habit of jogging or running on a daily basis I end up getting posterior shin splints within a few weeks time that are just really painful! I was wondering what your thoughts are on surgery or implants in the foot to create an arch?

    Mike Kaider wrote on June 1st, 2013
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. 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
  21. 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. :-(
    Thanks.

    Carol wrote on August 5th, 2013
  22. 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
  23. 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
  24. 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
  25. 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
  26. I’m very pleased to uncover this website. I need to to thank you for ones time for this fantastic read!! I definitely savored every little bit of it and i also have you saved to fav to see new things on your site.

    Free Criminal Records wrote on September 13th, 2013
  27. 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
  28. 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
  29. 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
  30. 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.

    Thanks
    Mo

    Monalisa wrote on November 3rd, 2013
  31. 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
  32. Hi Mark great article ,just wanted to know if barefoot rope skipping would help…

    Ed wrote on November 29th, 2013
  33. 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 Lems.com

    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

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