Know this: You're not exactly screwing your feet over if you just choose running shoes based on style, but going against your foot type can be uncomfortable, at the very least. "Wearing the wrong shoes may lead to problems such as lowered performance, discomfort such as in plantar fasciitis and runner’s knee, injuries, and even early-onset arthritis," says Miguel Cunha, DPM, podiatrist and founder of Gotham Footcare. "It’s important to identify whether you have a flat, normal, or high arch because shoes designed to compensate for the impact of your feet can help prevent injuries and improve structural alignment and performance."
To sum up the main reasons why flat-footed runners should look for specific sneaker styles, Jena Winger, senior footwear product line manager for Brooks Running says there are two to consider: "The first is fit—a truly flat foot is likely to hang over the edge of a shoe built on a more standard, semi-curved base, particularly in the medial midfoot area," she tells me. "Second is function: A flat foot can be either mobile or immobile and there are specific types of footwear and technologies that will work better for one type over another."
The star features of flat-foot-centric running shoes, specifically, mainly revolve around comfort and support. Dr. Cunha specifically recommends sneakers with flexible toe boxes, firm midsoles, and rigid heel counters. "This provides flexibility in the forefoot where our toes naturally bend while maintaining rock solid rigidity in the heel of the shoe to protect our heels when we absorb all the impact and shock with each step we take," he says. "A spacious toe box allows your toes to move freely with no restrictions, which minimizes discomfort placed on flat arches. And a well-cushioned footbed and anatomical arch support hold the plantar fascia and prevent it from collapsing in to minimize fatigue and pain associated with flat feet."
So plenty of cushion is ideal. “Someone with flat feet may very well need quite a bit of support in their shoes, but a flat-footed person may also have quite an efficient stride," says Claire Wood, New Balance's head of performance footwear. "The height of the arch is one factor of finding the right shoe, but not the only one."
That's why it's also key to look at the heel inside the shoe along with the arch height—Dr. Cunha advises to aim for a deeper heel cup. "This maintains proper foot realignment and proper pressure relief with heel strikes," he says. Besides that, it'll minimize excessive pronation or a collapsing of the arch (which are things that lead to foot pain). Also, opting for more flexible soles as opposed to rigid ones helps flat feet to have a more natural motion when walking, and prevents further arch fatigue.
If you tend to pronate a lot, which Dr. Cunha says tends to happen with flat feet, he recommends looking for a dense supportive arch to keep your foot from collapsing. "These shoes tend to be fairly stiff and will flex only near the toe area," he says. "When picking shoes for cross training, choose a wide toe box for comfortable lateral movement as pronating feet will collapse and spread within the shoe. When picking shoes for running, pick a shoe with stabilizing roll bars to help protect the arches." And if all else fails, Wood suggests heading to a running specialty store to help you figure out what's right for your foot type.
Keep scrolling for the expert-approved running shoes for flat feet.
Dr. Cunha likes these for flat feet since they have a foamy, cushioned midsole for support and comfort. And the shoe was especially engineered for softness and stability, according to Wood. "This sneaker fits a variety of foot types, so we highly recommend it for someone with a low to no arch," she says.
He also likes these sneakers, as the Saucony feature a "forefoot stretch zone" and cushioning system that absorbs impact, making it easier on your feet. There's also pronation control to help prevent pronating inwards.
These Mizunos has enough cushion to absorb impact, and the upper part of the shoe actually moves with your foot for the best comfort.
Asics Gel-Nimbus 20, $100
These Asics are packed with ultra-soft cushioning, but they're also really lightweight. The midsole also absorbs shock, and the heel provides support as you're pulling up and down during a run.
Brooks Ariel 18, $160
The cushioning in this Brooks sneaker actually molds to your feet for plenty of support, and the external heel counter keeps your foot stable. There's even a "crash pad" that helps with a cozier landing that won't hurt your feet upon impact.
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