What are flat feet and, more importantly, what does having them mean?

Feet are called ‘flat’ when they have fallen arches and, as a result, overly pronate inwards – it is a fairly common condition. They can be hereditary, be the result of an injury, or a combination of genes, footwear and other lifestyle factors.

Because so much conventional (and expensive) podiatry pushes insoles to ‘support’ flat arches, many people with flat – or flat-ish – feet think barefoot isn’t for them.


Here’s why.

  1. What matters isn’t how HIGH your arches are but how STRONG they are.

Everyone is built differently, but having flat feet doesn’t mean they can’t also be STRONG feet. Strong feet are less likely to be painful feet that have restricted movement. Orthotic insoles restrict movement, potentially weakening the muscles of the arch. After all, how does immobilizing a muscle make it stronger?

      2. What matters more than how flat your feet are is how you walk (and run).

Barefoot inevitably means using all the muscles and tendons in your feet more, including the arches. Going barefoot and wearing minimalist shoes means you are more likely to have better gait when you run and walk, as your feet cannot land out in front of you in a crushing heel-strike. Mid-to-forefront landing, with feet under your hips and shorter steps can strengthen your foot muscles. So barefoot shoes might help you walk and run better, which in turn might help build up foot strength.

    3. There are some studies which support barefoot being beneficial for flat feet

While there is still a lot of research to be done, there are a few interesting studies to note. One Indian study compares schoolkids who are regularly shod to others who are regularly unshod. They found the regularly unshod kids had overall wider feet (a sign of foot strength) and presented with fewer flat feet, which may indicate flat feet cannot always be blamed on genes. Another study found positive changes in the arches of people who increased their barefoot activity. And finally, a third study found barefoot running did reduce the pronation of runners – something people with flat feet tend to do.



  1. Altman AR, Davis IS. Barefoot running: biomechanics and implications for running injuries. Current sports medicine reports. 2012 Sep 1;11(5):244-50.
  2. Russell RM, Simmons S. THE EFFECTS OF BAREFOOT RUNNING ON OVERPRONATION IN RUNNERS. International Journal of Exercise Science: Conference Proceedings 2016 (Vol. 8, No. 4, p. 42).
  3. Rao UB, Joseph B. The influence of footwear on the prevalence of flat foot. A survey of 2300 children. The Journal of bone and joint surgery. British volume. 1992 Jul;74(4):525-7.

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