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:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. (I am also the person above)”One question though-does flipflops make it worse?” thats me o3o and so I wanted to mention I was born with it and inherited it by my father.

    Ariel wrote on April 14th, 2012
    • Normally, I would ignore questions like this, but since flip-flops with flat feet were an issue in my recent research I will respond here.
      Flip-flops are really too spongy for ANY feet, except for wearing in public showers and public pools, to help keep from picking up nasty fungal infections like Athletes Foot. They won’t make your flat feet any worse, but remember that even going barefoot will not change your feet.
      You state that you are tired of having flat feet. Maybe prosthetic feet would be more to your liking. There are lots of amputees who would love to have even YOUR flat feet. Just be thankful you have feet, flat or otherwise!

      Go barefoot to strengthen your flat feet, but they will always be flat, so get used to it.

      mark burgan wrote on April 15th, 2012
  2. I see what you are saying but from a practical standpoint it’s “fixing” it. Literally no it’s probably not. My left foot is a half size bigger than my right, has no arch, and my toes are squished, My pronounced Morton toe is part of the size difference. My right foot is not the mangled mess my left is because it was fitted with the proper size shoe all the time. This is clearly the reason my feet look like they came from two different people. Ditching conventional shoes as often as I can for Vibrams has absolutely helped. My calves are stronger my feet never hurt, my right arch has improved but the left one may be a lost cause. I think that pronation is what is being fixed though. I think as my calves and ankles get stronger I stand and walk differently and that is what is making my arch seem more pronounced. Either way barefoot is the only way

    onprcntr wrote on April 17th, 2012
  3. this theory of reversing and correcting can be place on a mild scale… The chinese in the old days use to “bind” there feet to make them smaller. By binding the toes backwords to for ones feet smaller…. The condition can be reversed to an exstense but when ones bone structure is archless there is no possiblities with out recontructiveness…..arch supports, foot exercises, and surgery seems like the only possiblities. walking in the sand does help…but reversing it entirely i think not….perhaps in time my study will be conducted and well prove this.

    na wrote on April 21st, 2012
  4. io have a big pepepeeeeeee

    na wrote on April 21st, 2012
  5. hey there. iv been suffering from flat feet since i was born. but i only started to get the pain a year back. it is horrible. i flex my foot a tiny bit and in return i get horrible pain. i’m in secondary 1 so during my 2.4 i need to stop for my pain. the doctor has given me insoles for my shoes. i’m also wear in stability shoes. the doctor himself said that my condition is serious. he said that my calf muscles are too short or something like that, due to my sudden growth spurt. pls help

    Karthik wrote on April 23rd, 2012
    • Sounds like you have the classic example of short gastrocnemeus/Achilles tendon syndrome. The only way to help with this is by stretching exercises by standing barefoot with the foreparts of your feet on a phone book (or other large book) and stretching your calf muscles. Orthotics (insoles) are NOT for your kind of flat feet. The insoles will only increase your pain and make your problems worse. Stability shoes will also not help you.
      Go barefoot as much as possible and perform the stretching exercises to pain tolerance frequently so you can put an end to your pain ASAP. Remember, though, you will always have flat feet. You just need to keep the pain from occurring and that will take some time and effort. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help, but be sure you can tolerate them. Naproxen seems the least problematic of the NSAID group. And the pain relief is for much longer periods (12 hrs vs 4 hrs for aspirin and acetamenophen).
      Your dr said your condition is serious. Too bad he seems to not have a clue as to what to do about it. I’ve devoted many hours and reams of paper to “get educated” about all types of flat feet, especially my own. Most drs are too busy with their case loads to dedicate any extra time to research. I’ve got all the time in the world since retiring.
      Try the stretching routine and in time you should feel a lot better. It might hurt some at first, but as the old saying goes, “no pain–no gain.”

      mark burgan wrote on April 23rd, 2012
  6. There is really only one sure fire way to reverse flat feet and that is to use Barefoot Science insoles. The insoles are clinically proven to rebuild the arch muscles of the foot in 100% of cases. Check out the following neutral test by someone who had flat feet all their life http://www.toesalad.com/reviews/barefoot-science-foot-strengthening-system . I will be happy to send anyone the clinical test results we obtained from Huddersfield University.
    Kind regards,
    Patrick

    Patrick wrote on April 26th, 2012
    • Sounds like your post is merely an advertisement for insoles. You are being too promising with a product that simply cannot work and for one simple reason that any anatomist (such as myself) can tell you: THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NO ARCH MUSCLES!!! The muscles of the feet act solely upon the toes. The only muscle/tendon that has any action on the arch is the posterior tibial (tibialis posticus) and that is in the calf of the leg with the tendon inserted into the talonavicular region of the foot. It is the ONLY muscle/tendon that one can be concerned with and NO insole will condition it to rebuild the arch. Only resistance exercises can help to strengthen it and there’s still no guarantee that the arch can be reestablished.

      Your “clinical” test results are like most other such-like nonsense that one finds in television advertisements for a lot of bogus products. 100% of cases where the arches were rebuilt with these insoles? Give us a break!!! No clinical test of ANYTHING can return such a percentage. So peddle your otherwise worthless wares elsewhere and not use this forum to promote PROVEN ineffective appliances for the feet. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons state clearly that orthotics (insoles) have no effect on the so-called correction of flat feet and you can tell this Huddersfield University that they are clearly deceptive. And don’t spam this website with your meaningless product promotions. This site is serious and no the place for such garbage!

      mark burgan wrote on April 26th, 2012
  7. Hi there, I have had flat feet since I could remember and my left foot has got worse over the years working retail.
    I work in a cosmetics department and on tiled floors so basically I’m standing all day for 8 hours.
    I noticed my left foot got worse and very pronated so I started not to wear my trendy shoes and opt for a more sensible shoe with insoles for support, I’ve even doubled them for more support, which on the whole feels more comfortable but later on my ankle is in pain especially at the end of the day and when I’ve taken my shoes off at home. Now I’m reading that these make it all worse, I don’t know what to. trust me if I would be working some where else but as we know jobs are not plentiful these days.
    Mr doctor I know is going to tell me what I already know and prescribe me something that I’m already use.
    I was about to invest in a ankle brace to help me straighten the pronation but decided to do a little more research and came across your site. I am going to try to walk more bare foot and try some of your exercises but what should I do at work?
    thank you.
    Anita.

    Anita wrote on April 27th, 2012
    • I know what you mean about having to work on your feet all day every day. All the occupations I’ve had required this of me and I have flat feet, too.
      What I would suggest is do as I did and wear boots. Women’s boots can be very fashionable and should help with the ankle situation. At home, barefoot is best, but at work you sound like you need some ankle support and braces really would be “over-the-top” ugly and a bit extreme.

      Try this and you should be OK after all day on your feet.

      mark burgan wrote on April 27th, 2012
  8. OK So Mark was a little upset with my first post. He found it to be too promotional. He owns the website so I will refrain from promoting here on in.

    Let me ask you all a question if you broke your arm and were forced to wear a brace/cast for 8 weeks whilst your bone healed, would you continue to wear that brace/cast after 8 weeks? Probably not!

    When you took the cast off your arm after 8 weeks, please explain how your arm would look like?

    Did you realize that there are 20 active muscles in each of your feet that support your entire weight day in and day out?

    Is there any exercise program on the market that allows you to exercise your feet muscles 8 – 10,000 times per day (the average person is supposed to make that many paces per day according to the American Association of Diabetics)?

    Hopefully Mark allows these comments to make it through to his blog.

    Patrick wrote on April 27th, 2012
  9. For the record, this is Mark Sisson’s site, not mine. I merely stepped up to the plate with apparently badly needed answers to peoples’ concerns with their flat feet issues as an anatomy maven. My studies in human anatomy, as well as comparative vertebrate anatomy, led me to this place where Mr. Sisson is just not answering peoples’ questions and concerns. I am merely a volunteer and we are open minded as we can be, but we are also “anti-orthotic—pro-barefoot” in our philosophy about what to do with flat feet. My feet are naturally so and have no problems with them or with any other part of my lower limb/pelvic/spinal structures as a result of having flat feet, so I can speak with great clarity as to the normally sound nature of most flat feet, as espoused by the orthopedic community.

    You, Patrick, are free to discuss anything you like, but we don’t like hype of any kind. Too much of that crap goes on elsewhere and Mark’s Daily Apple isn’t the place for it. We talk flat feet here, so you can bring up any issues concerning that with welcome open minds.

    mark burgan wrote on April 28th, 2012
    • Thank you Mark Burgen for clarifying ownership of the site. I also have taken on board your comment that providing my discussion points do not include any hype for my own products then all comments are welcome.
      I look forward to our exchanges.

      Patrick wrote on April 30th, 2012
  10. This is all a load of baloney. You think shoes are just a way to make money. These fancy “semi-shoes” are even more so. You look absolutely ridiculous doing something that’s not even SCIENTIFICALLY proven.One of the biggest forefronts of barefoot running http://www.barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/even has a disclaimer stating “Please note that we present no data on how people should run, whether shoes cause some injuries, or whether barefoot running causes other kinds of injuries. We believe there is a strong need for controlled, prospective studies on these issues.”
    Someone please SCIENTIFICALLY prove this works, because other then people claiming it works with HUNDREDS of people claiming it doesn’t it makes it hard to believe anyone without proper proof. What makes you so special that you can make these claims? You try and act like you are an informed individual, but you give us no compelling information. You gave pictures that showed differences, but how can you prove that these actually hurt your foot structure and not improve it. The natural way isn’t always the best.

    Joe wrote on April 29th, 2012
    • Joe, your ignorance is most profound and it shows. The scientific method involves a control group and who do you propose that be—-the group with shoes or the one that goes barefoot? We have to base our conclusions on empirical observation with populations that are unshod versus the ones who are shod. It just so happens that the barefoot populations perform better than the the one that wears shoes in all cases whatsoever involving the feet. Shoes can NEVER be better than the natural feet as shoes are confining the skeletal/muscular structures and inhibit the natural function of the feet.

      You say the natural way isn’t always the best? Just who do you think you are–God? You have clearly established yourself as a bigger fool than you realize and now all the world knows it. Good thing you omitted your last name.

      mark burgan wrote on April 30th, 2012
  11. Wow! It makes me so sad that we live in a world where going bare is unacceptable. Not just with shoes — don’t you ever want to throw off all your clothes on a hot day? Human customs are ridiculous. @_@ I’ve always loved the feeling of grass on my feet, especially moss. <3 I wear shoes all the time, even in the house because we have a lot of pets and I don't want to step in their pee. But screw it, it's just pee. I'm only worried about walking outside and stepping on a slug or something. Ewww~ I guess that's the one good thing about pavement. You get to see what's in front of you! I just hope you can't catch any diseases from walking on pavement. My mom said you likely can, but she's an independent woman with her own beliefs, and I find that many of her beliefs are not supported.

    I'm 15, btw. I'm glad I found this while I'm still young! I have suuuper flat feet and I assumed that it was genetic because my mom has flat feet, but now that I think about it, it's probably just due to the fact that families have similar customs (i.e. types of shoes). My dad actually has high arches.

    I wonder if there are any studies done in which one twin has developed a different arch than the other. That would go to show a lot.

    Jupi wrote on April 30th, 2012
  12. I have not been in conventional shoes for more than a few minutes in two weeks. I have been wearing Vibrams everywhere. I went for a hike in the woods and have done leg workouts with weights twice and walk everyday. the muscle on my shin burns and so do my hamstrings like they have never worked so hard. I credit that to the shoes. I was warned they would make my feet hurt at first and after long walks my toes get sore but it’s only because they are finally tasked with what they were designed for.

    onprcntr wrote on May 1st, 2012
  13. I have found an informational YouTube video that features the muscles of the sole of the foot and as you will clearly see, there are NO arch muscles. Please view to see for yourselves this fact.

    This video is presented by Dr. Nabil Ebraheim and it’s titled: “Muscle Anatomy of the Plantar Foot—Everything You Need To Know.” Go to this YouTube site:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBTsXyz8n7M&feature=relmfu

    mark burgan wrote on May 6th, 2012
  14. Hi there,

    I have flat narrow feet AA/B fitting. Now all my life I have worn flats or sensible shoes.

    I have had orthotics custom made as I was told it would help my foot pain I was getting. Yes it has sorted this out but means I have very limited choice of shoes to wear and live in trainers.

    I would like to wear normal shoes again but find without the orthotics in my shoes which are wider than my normal shoes, the toe pain triggers off again. What is the best solution here?

    tin sav wrote on May 8th, 2012
    • Stop wearing shoes. Shoes are the problem not the solution. I wear my Vibrams everywhere now or go without and my foot and ankle problems diminish more everyday. Free your feet!

      onprcntr wrote on May 8th, 2012
  15. Hi,
    I was contemplating on whether to pay for a pair of shoes for approximately
    600 sterling pounds with good arch insole tailor made built in? The company is called Good Arch originates from Taiwan. They printed my foot and said that I am flat feet although from the print of my foot, the curve is there but not very thin nor nor curve at all! My only problem is knee pain. I am in my mid 50s and overweight.
    Please advise whether I should go ahead and pay 600 sterling pounds for it!

    lotus wrote on May 11th, 2012
    • My answer to that question is ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! What a rip-off. The best thing for you to consider is over-the-counter supports if you feel that you really need them.

      As for the “footprint test” you were given, how stupid can that be. It is totally impossible to ascertain the height of the arches from such foolish nonsense. Arches are three-dimensional structures and footprints are only two. Sound like the Good Arch people are planning to take you for a “cleaning” (of your pocketbook, that is). My suggestion to you is to stay clear of these charlatan “snake oil salesmen” and take your business elsewhere.

      Going barefoot is the best for foot issues and any insole/insert/orthotic would merely be a “crutch” that will have you “addicted” to them for the remainder of your life. Those devices cannot and will not offer you a permanent solution to your knee pain. If the pain is really that much of a problem, then seek a MEDICAL opinion, not some phony shoe salesman’s. And for the money, you would be well advised to go for the medical approach.

      mark burgan wrote on May 12th, 2012
  16. This comment is for general consumption.

    Footprint tests are a fraud and everyone must realize that. To say one can determine the height and integrity of the foot arches by a simple footprint is the height of misrepresentation and is no way the manner in which feet should be examined. There’s a marketing strategy behind this and nothing else. Only a complete and thorough foot evaluation can determine if an individual requires orthotics for temporary use and orthotics are to only re-establish the subtalar neutral position (perpendicularity of the calcaneal eversion angle to the supportive surface), or no heel tilt, in order to only improve GAIT. Orthotics, like I’ve stated before, DO NOT TREAT FEET!!! ONLY GAIT!!!

    It’s astonishing that so much hype is given to these so-called “foot analysis” schemes and it would be wise to avoid any salesperson who attempts to take advantage of the unsuspecting by even suggesting one need arch supports based on the fraud of “footprint testing.” Arches are not flat, two dimensional structures. The have varying height under the curve and you just can’t say you have flat feet based on the width of the lateral pad of the foot. Use your head!!! BE SMART!!!!!!

    mark burgan wrote on May 13th, 2012
  17. Mark, great article!

    you hit it right on the head – evolutionary it’s use it or lose it/strengthen or atrophy. In our day and age there are actually three options: use it, lose it or artificial support (orthodics, etc.). The third one may be appropriate in certain specific situations (rehab, immediate need), but I agree that strengthening and going barefoot is the only viable longterm solution.

    One comment: a couple of times you mentioned “getting on your toes”. I’m assuming that you mean “getting on the ball of the foot”. Literally getting on your toes may only be for high level ballerinas. Given how informative this article is it may be good to include this greater specificity between toes and ball of foot.

    Benedict wrote on May 14th, 2012
    • Okay, this is fasinating and this will be long. Sorry, i was not able to read this entire post as i am a busy mom of 4 at home right now. Anyway, i am 46 and overweight…210. My weight has fluctuated between 210 and 245 with my pregnancies all over the last 8 years. My youngest is now 15 months old. It seemed my feet started going downhill after my daughters birth when i was about 40. I dont know if relaxin has anything to do with this. But now after having my 1 year old, i feel like i am falling apart. Three months after i had her, i tore cartilegde in my wrist and got really bad inflammation in my 2 nd toe joint. I have been able to get rid of most of the pain and inflammation wearing birkenstocks, but if i go for a walk i have to ice it as it is inflammed again. I have seen a podiatrist and he calls my feet very floppy and flexible! I have bunions on my big toes because of what he says is from overpronation caused by my floppy feet…leading to flat feet and pronation. I have mortons neuroma or metatarsalgia or both. I just pain 316 for orthotics and i had to stop wearing them after 3 days as when i took them off, i have very bad pain in my big toe that led to nerve pain going to the tip of my toe. It is getting better, but still painful. Oh, and i told him i went barefoot in the house all winter becausse everything hurt my feet. I used to always go barfoot and stopped about 7 years ago. I need to know if all is not lost. Oh and also, becua i have a bit of arthritis in my big toes, i am losing my flex. The podiatrist has painted a grim picture for me and all i want to do is get better, lose weight, get in shape and have painfree feet so i can go on hikes or dance, or zumba. I have young kids and i need to be active. I eill post a picture if need be. Please help with advice. Thnaks a bunch!

      Kathy wrote on May 19th, 2012
      • Okay, I decided to post pics of my size 10.5 feet.

        The pics of my feet showing an arch is actually having me resting my leg on the other.

        If you click on the photo, it will enlarge the photo.

        And, the pic of my left foot…I don’t think I had all my weight on it.

        http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v59/photobuckets/

        kathy wrote on May 19th, 2012
        • I read my post and realize it was a bit much, but wanted to point out that when i told my posiatrist that ii went barefoot all winter because my feet hurt whatever i had them in and i was sick of it he said that me going barefoot was a very bad thing to do. I also questioned my chiropracter and he pretty much said the same thing, which surprised me. It only makes sense to go barefoot. But with my issues right now of inflammation in my second toe joint, along with the loss of flex in my big toes (i am not sure how bad it is …but they still flex) i am now beginning to wonder if going barefoot is the treatment and somehow i can strenghten my feet so that there is less pronation, ,which will cause less wear and tear on my big toe, which apparently is leading to the artritis and bunion and loss of flex. I am going to go out and buy vff for all my kids and probably myself. Thanks again

          Kathy wrote on May 20th, 2012
        • I looked on-line and it is possible what I have is Capsulitis of the Second Toe

          kathy wrote on May 20th, 2012
        • Dear Kathy,
          I don’t know if you will read this, so I am posting this reply for any others who might be interested.
          Any practitioner that says to you that going barefoot is a bad thing to do is a “quack.” Orthotic inserts are not your solution. You stated your feet as being “floppy.” The best suggestion would be to look to subtalar arthroereisis implants in your feet to control excess pronation. Flexible flat feet will not respond to the worthless orthotics you are using and are merely aggravating your pain. You should tell your podiatrist to “cram them up his/her @%#” and seek an orthopedic surgeon’s advice. I have a negative view of podiatry as a whole and chiropractors should be never consulted for anything—I consider that “medical” practice to be ever so dubious.

          At first, I was not going to reply to your situation as my information has been obviously largely ignored. But for the infrequent browser of information may come upon these posts, I went ahead and responded. Maybe you will read my reply to your problem, maybe not. Good luck!!!

          mark burgan wrote on May 20th, 2012
        • Thanks for the reply. I am no where near having surgery though. Right now, my pain is minimal. What I meant by floppy feet, is that they are very flexible feet. Maybe it is one in the same. Do you think it is possible that I could do some barefoot walking and exercises and it would strengthen my feet enough to not have any more issues…or have those issues resolve themselves? thanks oh and what do you think about the vff’s?

          kathy wrote on May 20th, 2012
        • Dear Kathy
          Thanks for reading my reply to your problem. I was about to give up hope for this site.

          I have very flexible flat feet, also, and barefoot walking IS BEST for strengthening them. As there are no exercises to improve flexible feet, it would be futile to even try. However, it’s the prime objective to exercise the feet by walking barefoot over uneven surfaces such as lawn or better still, sand. This will help your feet to become more stable by muscular action as they work to negotiate supportive surface irregularities. As for the vffs, I like them as they are like barefoot and offer protection of the feet at the same time. If you can afford them, sure. Go for them.

          mark burgan wrote on May 20th, 2012
        • Thanks Mark, I went out and bought some vff’s. What is your opinion on the 2nd toe inflammation… …. caused by pronating…which apparently flexes my big toe out of the way and my weight goes to the 2nd toe? Podiatrist says all that joint action on my big toe is leading to a bunion and/or arthritis. My left foot is under control and right now, the inflammation is at a pain level of less than 1…so pretty manageable. I would like to be more active and have been waiting for it to get better before I start aerobics and doing some serious walking.

          It seemed this happened about the time I was wearing soft fit flops and sketchers tone ups. I am pretty sure they messed up my feet, because I started wearing them about 3 months after I gave birth to my last.

          So… I am stuck with the flexible feet. This may explain why I can’t balance well. Did you see the pics I posted? I would appreciate you to have a look see.

          Lastly, do you think going barefoot will help with the inflammation? Thanks again, Kathy

          kathy wrote on May 20th, 2012
  18. Dear Kathy

    The inflammation of the second toe was probably caused by wearing those Sketchers “Tone Ups.” That company is now being subjected to a class-action lawsuit at present for false advertising and the shoes, I understand, are extremely bad for the feet/legs. The only thing I can suggest, as I’m not a practicing physician, is probably try an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) such as Alleve or the generic version known as naproxen sodium. That always works for me with bodily aches, pains, and miscellaneous inflammation and the dosage that is recommended lasts for 12 hours. Try that. As for the pronation causing your capsulitis, I have my doubts as the feet must pronate some in gait for proper foot function. I feel your podiatrist is oversimplifying your condition by blaming your capsulitis on pronation. Like I suggested earlier, seek the sound advice/treatment from an orthopedist. The vast majority
    of those practioners aren’t out to sell you something like proven ineffective and otherwise worthless orthotics.

    I have not seen the photographs of your feet and even if I did, nothing can be learned from that. Feet can’t be evaluated from still photos and it would not be anything gained from viewing them.

    Go easy at first with the vffs. Like going barefoot, one must gradually work into it. After your capsulitis clears up, you can venture into activities like aerobics and longer walks. And if your capsulitis fails to heal, then perhaps you should look into having an orthopedic surgeon performing an capsulectomy (removal of the arthroidal-joint capsule) if s/he decides that’s the best option to clear up the pain. Just give it time and be as sparing as possible with barefoot/vff activity until you heal. Good luck!

    mark burgan wrote on May 20th, 2012
    • Thanks for all your advice Mark. I really appreciate it. I am going to try some penetrex on it and if that fails, go to Ibuprofen. It;s a year now since it has been injured…and obviously it is way better than before…but I guess it does take qa lot of time. As a side issue…or maybe not. I have been having tingling in my feet. I am not diabetic, had chemo, or an alcoholic. But something is going on with my nerves. Sometimes I can feel a zing go to the tip of my 2nd and 3rd toes. It seems like it is usually in the morning. But if I have had a walk, and I get in the car to leave, my feet are tingling more than if I had not walked. It is not painful…just bothersome and worrisome. I also have started getting muscle twitches in my feet and legs. At first, I thought it was low vitamin D as I think I have been chronically low for many many years and 2 months ago my d level was 25 and I brought it up to 50 in 2 months taking between 7,000 or 10,000 iu d3 a day. However, the tingling/twitching is still there. Again, maybe it is related and now my nerves have to heal?? I hope it may be as easy as that and not something more serious. Have you heard of this in any of your travels?

      kathy wrote on May 21st, 2012
      • First, you must be advised that I’m NOT Mark Sisson, the owner of this site. I’m a volunteer who has taken up the “torch” to answer peoples’ concerns with their flat feet as no one else would. I’ve studied anatomy, both human and comparative vertebrate, since childhood (I’m now 55)and have done extensive research on the subject of the human foot as I also have profoundly flat feet. You must have confused me with Mr. Sisson.

        As for the numbness and tingling in your feet and the twitching in your feet/legs, perhaps you should consult a neurologist as you possibly have some kind of nerve impingement in your lower spine, probably from wearing those “Tone Ups.” Get genuine medical advice and forget those “quack-titioner” chiropractors. I can’t figure how these guys ever received recognition as a medical field.

        mark burgan wrote on May 21st, 2012
        • Hi Mark, I have realized from the beginning that you were not Mark Sisson. I appreciate your posts to this forum. I do have an appt for a neurologist. I will post when/if he determines anything. Thanks : )

          kathy wrote on May 23rd, 2012
        • I had a nct and emg on my left arm and leg and they found nothing…despite the fact I have tingling in my feet and cubital tunnel in both arms.

          kathy wrote on July 1st, 2012
  19. i have flat feet.. 6 yrs ago at the age of 15 i was diagnosed with flat feet.i exercised & am wearing supports since then. but now suddenly my feet have started paining like hell that i cry out hardly at times. i cant even run & haven’t ran since 10 yrs. what to do???

    Amna wrote on May 21st, 2012
    • We’re “anti-orthotics” here, so my suggestion to you is ditch those supports and walk barefoot more. Perhaps in time your feet should feel a lot better.

      mark burgan wrote on May 21st, 2012
  20. is it normal for a person with flat feet to be unable to walk properly let alone run & have swelling in their feet?m just 20.

    amna wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  21. I have collapsed arches and I wear inserts in my shoes alot. I prefer to walk barefoot. (But not really when the weather is bad!!!)

    Maeve wrote on May 26th, 2012
  22. I know this post is old, but I have a need to gripe…

    I am flat-footed.

    As I was nearing toddler-hood, I was diagnosed with congenital hip dysplasia that was corrected through surgery, followed by a spica cast, and then with a hip abduction brace that I had to wear for maybe 6 months more, complete with attached shoes. I was not supposed to walk while wearing that brace (this was in the 60s), but perhaps in demonstration of my most dominant character, I stubbornly refused to sit still, and walked with that brace on anyway. The brace had a metal bar between the feet that held my feet about 2.5 feet apart, had shoes attached to it, and when I looked at it a few years ago, I saw that the toes of the shoes were worn completely through because I wanted to walk.

    Fast forward 30 years. I have flat feet, am pigeon-toed, and pronate to the inside when I walk. I have slight bunions, have suffered through formation of a heel spur, and while I’ve never (thankfully) suffered any hip pain, I do occasionally feel some knee pain. I hike A LOT. I walk A LOT. I buy some new hiking shoes – they are the Salmon Solaris, and when I put them on, I immediately feel something that I have never felt in a shoe – the sensation that I am tilted slightly back. It turns out that the shoes have a near-zero drop in them. My knees stop hurting, I can walk for 20, 30 miles without any heel pain, knee pain, etc., even with a loaded backpack. I continue to buy these shoes as I wear them out because of their extreme comfort. However, I cannot wear them all the time (I work for a federal agency, and have “required” boots to wear – I will never hike in them, though!).

    Fast-forward another 11 years. I read “Born to Run”. I buy VFF, I love them. I have been wearing them walking, running for 2.5 years. I walk around the house barefoot or wearing a felted wool slipper with barely a sole. While my arches aren’t visibly any stronger, my feet and ankles have more strength. My Salomon Solaris finally blow out and they don’t manufacture these anymore. I stubbornly hang onto them, however, because I cannot find a shoe as comfortable as these.

    Fast-forward another two years: I was so uncomfortable in Denver a couple of weeks ago walking in a shoe with a 1-inch heel that I took them off as I exited the light-rail and walked a 1/2 mile barefoot on the city sidewalks. I hadn’t worn those shoes in a year. I used to find them comfortable. Now I do not. That’s how accustomed I’ve become to the “zero-drop” gait and having my toes spread out as I walk.

    Meanwhile my Salomons have totally blown out. To continue with field work, I have to find a new shoe. I’ve been trying for 3 months now to find one, and have returned, oh, I don’t know, about 20 pairs of shoes to Zappos in my quest to find the shoe that works.

    Yes, I’ve tried the Vivo, and the Merrell “barefoot” types of shoes, etc., etc., and here’s what I’ve concluded:

    When you’re barefoot (or in VFF) and flat-footed and a pronator, that’s fine. But once you elevate that pronating foot with a thicker sole that’s built on a VFF-type last (meaning an ismuth where the arch is), not only do you pronate “off” of your foot, you also pronate off the entire stacked sole of the shoe, which puts stress on the ankle, the knee and probably all sorts of things I am not aware of. That Salomon shoe had it right. I think that the Altra zero-drop shoes have it right (but they don’t have a shoe I would take hiking in the places I go).

    So, if you’ve bothered to read all of this, are there any suggestions out there for other shoes to try? Need zero-drop (or nearly so) and wide toe box. So far I’ve tried Keens, Merrell, Salomons, Vivo, GoLite, in both women’s and boy’s (if I can find the right size). On the current list is (haven’t arrived yet): Patagonia, a Keen Ambler in a boy’s size (the women’s had a too-narrow toebox; the boy’s size appears wider), and a Garmont.

    Thanks for letting me ramble. Maybe I should get a blog…

    Stern Maria wrote on May 26th, 2012
    • Maybe we should start a shoe company together-LOL I wish I could help as I have been going through the same thing–trying to find a good hiking shoe. I had one I liked and of course the company changed the way they made it so I can’t buy a replacement. I also tried a lot of the same ones you did. The closest I have found is one called Nevados I tried on at GAnder Mountain–they did not have my size but trying on the half size smaller I could kind of get an idea of how it would feel. Haven’t ordered it yet though so can’t tell you if it will work. I have found that I cannot go totally barefoot–I need some support for hiking/walking/standing. My birkenstocks work well for walking/standing–with no heel lift and wide front for my toes but with some support they work well. They are a bit thick and stiff when new but soon break in great. But they don’t work for hiking–the sole is too slippery. I have also been disappointed in shoes that are supposed to be “barefoot” yet have a rise in the front–not sure what that is called but it is on almost all walking/hiking shoes. Also the Merrels are not at all like walking barefoot. I just want a hiking shoe which has zero heel or front lift and yet a little more support than totally barefoot–is that too much to ask?!

      Debrah wrote on May 29th, 2012
      • Thanks for the feedback! I’d love to try the VFF Trek. I’m about ready to blow through my second pair of VFF (Bikila)- they didn’t hold up well in this environment (gritty, sandy, rocky), and I saw that the Trek is advertised to be more rugged. I also found a hiking shoe that seems to work well, and has almost as comfortable fit as my old Salomons – it’s the Garmont Amica Lite. After hiking 22 miles in them in one go in all sorts of mountain/alpine terrain, ranging from just plain old worn-out trail to scary talus, I came back with nary a blister, and no pain in the feet or knees. I hiked in them right out of the box. So after I arrived home, I immediately bought another pair (well, almost the same – the Garmont Amica Leather – but the last and the fit seem the same) so I don’t have to go through this again for another few years. I didn’t see your comment on Nevados until after I purchased the Amica Lite – I’ll have to check it out!

        Here’s an irony – last week I was in Glacier National Park for a training, and figured I wouldn’t have any time after class to go hiking (because during previous classes, we never did), so I didn’t take any hiking shoes (not even VFF). It turned out that we were able to get out and hike every day, usually 5 miles or less per day. The only shoes I had were a pair of Simple Take-On elastic lace canvas sneakers. They worked fine for the trails we were on (very trampled and highly traveled; not too challenging). Thank goodness for that!

        Stern Maria wrote on July 20th, 2012
  23. I have flat feet and the pain worsen after my pregnancy.I found some sites long back talking about Yoga to relieve pain.God!that saved my life.I had terrible pain.After doing that Yoga(Pose called Veerasana-Hero Pose) every day, I am able to do my daily activities. This yoga drastically reduces pain.I am wrinting here becoz I want to help people who are suffering like me.

    Smile wrote on May 27th, 2012
  24. Okay so here’s my story:
    I’m 15 years old, ALL my life I’ve had flat feet. When I was little you could barely notice it, but now it’s extremely noticeable. I HATE my feet, there extremely ugly and I wish I had straight normal feet. Anyways, when I was little I would always be recommended to wear these soles in my shoes (because I got tired very easily from walking and be in SOO much pain from walking for a period of time, maybe a hour or less) Tennie shoes with hard arches in it always made it worse and the things doctors proscribed me never worked. Eventually I just didnt listen to my mom or the doctors and stopped wearing the sole slip ins they gave me. It felt SOO much better. I love walking around bare foot but I feel embarresed being around friends in any type of sandals or flip Flops or even showing my feet because of my extreme flat feet :/ is it reversible? Is surgery even a good option or what? Thanks for the help please reply :)

    Lola wrote on May 28th, 2012
    • I used to feel embarrassed about showing my feet. My sister, especially, would “helpfully” point out my flawed feet (among my other “flaws”). I finally got over it by telling myself that they were my feet, that they are what they are, that they function, and that I can walk further in one go than a lot of people I associate with – in short, they work. If people don’t want to look at them, they don’t have to, and I’m in no mood to hide or improve the appearance of my feet for others. And if acquaintances insist on pointing out the “flaws”, especially in my feet, then they probably have something to hide and would rather distract from it by bringing up others’ “flaws” as a conversational subject (trust me – my sister has plenty of valid flaws, and I never “helpfully” bring them up as a topic of conversation). My feet are what they are…

      If your feet are feeling better, then think about why you are considering surgery. If you’ve learned to be reluctant following the advice of those who want to “improve” your feet, and have settled into foregoing all of that advice, and are feeling better, would you consider surgery by yet another expert to be a viable option? Give it a think!

      Good luck!

      Stern Maria wrote on July 29th, 2012
  25. Hi, i`ve suffered from flat feet all my life. i found martial arts (kung fu, tai kwan doe) to be very helpfull with the strengthening of the arch muscles. standing on one leg, high spin kicks, streching the legs. eventually any sport that requires thyese type off exercises – ballet, gymanstics etc.
    good luck

    Avi wrote on May 30th, 2012
  26. @SternMaria, The VFF Trek might be the way to go. I have been hiking in my KSO’s and they did ok but the Treks have more grip in the sole.

    onprcntr wrote on June 4th, 2012
  27. I’m flat footed since births and I tried running barefoot on the sand for 10 minutes but when i finished my calves were so tight for the next few days that it was really sore to even walk. Should I preserve with running barefoot because it hurts running with inserts in but not as much as it did with out?

    Olivia wrote on June 14th, 2012
  28. I live for barefeet. I take my shoes off all the time, my big toes are not curved in yet I have flat feet. :( I always have too. Any other suggestions?

    Danah wrote on June 21st, 2012
  29. I have extremely flat feet and a very wide foot. My pain in my feet were in my arches but recently have switched to the outside of my feet. I have been walking in the sides of my feet and that tends to agitate my feet problems. Any suggestions on what to do to fix the pain on the outside of my feet.?

    Vanessa wrote on June 23rd, 2012
  30. Hi may i just start by saying this was a very intresting read and i am looking forward to trying out these exercises with my son, My son developed and was diagnosed with a medical condition called Gillian-Bara when he was just 6 years old from this condition he lost all of his balance and was unable to walk for a period, the condition mainly effected his core area, but from this caused alot of muscle weakness in the gluts,legs and core muscles. After having this condition for 6 months he started to become flat footed even thou he is 90% back to normal now he still has physio as his balance is still worse on one side but the biggest problem seems to be from him being flat footed he really enjoys sports [football] but his walking and running is affected especially after doing this for longer periods than normal [tournaments] he develops alot of pain to the side of his foot, ankle and legs, he has been seen by the orthopaedics who gave him inserts but i feel these have had no effect, do you think this will likely correct itself if he continues to progress with his condition, as the other muscles in his legs become stronger and his balance improves? It will be good to try out these exercises to see if it helps and makes improvements as i feel my son who is 8 now has his whole life ahead of him and we want to try anything to ensure he is enjoying and fullfilling this as much as possible, it is very heartbreaking and frustrating when this condition stops him doing things he wants to and as he is getting older he notices more himself and i dont want him to feel any different from any of his team mates. I will ensure to add any updates on his progressions with these exercises, and look forward to reading more articals that may have a possitive effect on flat feet that will hoefuuly help my son.

    Dawn wrote on June 24th, 2012

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