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I'm a beginning runner and have only done a 5K, but I probably run about 3-4 times per week. I'm have pretty seriously flat feet and wear orthopedics in my shoes that were fitted by a foot doc. I started wearing them after a lengthy backpacking trip that resulted in my not being able to walk. We had to cut the trip short due to knee pain. It turns out the doc said something to the effect of my tendons were not tracking properly over my knees and I developed tendinitis in both knees. Also, I could rarely stand barefoot for any length of time without heel pain.

All this said, I've read here about the Five Fingers shoes and the benefits of running barefoot, or nearly barefoot. Is this something that I should attempt? Some have said that despite flat feet they saw huge improvement in foot strength which led to less feet problems. I read another that said running in FF's with flat feet caused some terrible ankle pain.

How can I determine what is right for me prior to investing in new shoes? Also, I'm not even sure what it means to run with the "proper" form since I find it strange that we're now supposed to be running on the balls of our feet? As a kid I was always told that was bad form. Interesting. I only know that I can currently run without any pain but the idea of strengthening appeals to me since that would mean less reliance on the shoe inserts. Thanks much!

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Possibly similar to this question (fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/2285/…). Check out my answer to it. –  Ryan Miller Sep 15 '11 at 14:35
    
What is your source about running on the balls of your feet? –  BackInShapeBuddy Sep 15 '11 at 15:16
    
@ryan-miller I'm more interested in the effects of running with flat feet and whether running "naturally" could improve my ability to not wear shoes around the house and decrease my dependence on my inserts. That said, I am interested in proper form as well, so thanks for the link. –  McArthey Sep 15 '11 at 16:11
    
@backinshapebuddy No real source except my grade school gym teacher - I suppose that's why I always thought it was common knowledge. We were told that running that way would cause shin splints. –  McArthey Sep 15 '11 at 16:12
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@mcarthey I also have flat feet and custom orthotics. After transitioning in May of 2010 to fore-foot strike, I no longer need my orthotics. But, regardless of stride, check out a specialty running store. Usually flat feet will result in a stability shoe with low arch support. –  Ryan Miller Sep 15 '11 at 17:46

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Before investing in new shoes, I would ask your foot doctor whether or not your foot condition will be able to tolerate barefoot running. Also, ask about ways to strengthen the arch and foot muscles, in a less demanding way than with barefoot running. The following exercises are examples of how to strengthen the foot and arch:

As for proper running form (in shoes), there are different thoughts. If you land on your heel, you are probably landing with your leg too far out in front of you. This can cause a variety of injuries. Toe running is usually seen with sprinting, not longer distance running because the up and down motion will fatigue the calf muscles over time.

Rather than landing on the toe or heel, you can land on your mid-foot, the ball of the foot or between the heel and mid-foot. This video describes the proper form as landing mid-foot with your foot directly beneath you. Generally, you land on the outside edge of your foot behind your little toe, and roll in to push off with your big toe (pronate). In your case, your orthotics control the amount of pronation so that you don’t roll in too far. This controls the alignment of your ankle, knee and hip.

Since you are new to running and are pain-free with your orthotics, you may want to stay with the orthotics until you build up your running endurance. Then you can try some short distance barefoot walking to see how your joints respond. If and/or when you do try barefoot running, work up very gradually.

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Great tips on exercises and great links. Thanks! –  McArthey Sep 16 '11 at 0:21
    
You are welcome. Hopefully the exercises will help. –  BackInShapeBuddy Sep 16 '11 at 7:41

Barefoot running puts a lot more stress on your feet and knees than running with good running shoes. Shoes that fit properly and with good cushioning are much better on your feet and knees. If you go to a store that specializes in running shoes, you can get someone to see what kind of shoe is good for your particular foot and running style.

There is anecdotal evidence that barefoot running can cause metatarsal stress fractures and plantar fasciitis. There has been an increase in injuries from barefoot running recently, but there has also been an increase in barefoot runners.

Vibram has been sued in a class action lawsuit over health claims pertaining to its FiveFingers running shoes.

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Do you have any sources or evidence for the assertion that barefoot running puts more stress on the feet and knees? I ask because I've seen a good deal of solid evidence for the opposite claim: that barefoot-style running using a forefoot strike is much better for knees and foot arches. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 21 '11 at 1:56
    
You can find lots of articles online. Here's one: running.competitor.com/2010/05/features/… –  xpda Sep 21 '11 at 2:03
    
I disagree with you, mostly because I put a lot of weight in this sentence from that link: "What is not known is whether barefoot runners are now disproportionately represented in physical therapy and sports medicine facilities—in other words, whether barefoot runners are more likely to develop overuse injuries than shod runners." I'm editing your answer to use quotes from that link, however, because I think doing so will buttress your case. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 21 '11 at 14:53
    
Watch out for plantar fasciitis. –  xpda Sep 21 '11 at 14:55
    
Correction: I'm not editing your answer because I don't see any quotes that directly support those specific statements, and I don't want to change your answer to say something more or different. I think it would be great if you added some quotes and links to your answer, though. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 21 '11 at 15:01

Just my two cents, but I have "flat feet" also and would not dare attempt running without good solid, supportive running shoes. I have naturally very high arches that tend to "fall" (I am an over-pronator) and I notice that if I run too many days in a row without recovery or if my shoes are starting to become worn-out I start experiencing severe pain in the arch and medial leg. It gets worse if I don't take a break from running for a day or two & wear good, solid supportive footwear. Currently I use Asics Duomax with the green superfeet sole support inserts and wouldn't dare running without something at least that supportive. I tried running in cheap shoes (i.e. less supportive) in my younger years and really hurt myself. Never again.

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The one thing you can be absolutely sure of when you go to a store that sells expensive running shoes is that they will recommend expensive running shoes.

Admittedly, that's not to say that that might not be the right thing for you. But I've found high-end running stores have a hard time with minimalist shoes. When you only have a hammer, after all, everthing starts to look like a nail.

My own experience in nearly 50 years of running is that VFFs and barefoot running have made the last 2 and a half years incredible. You learn so much about proper form -- it hurts if you don't do it right. But it does take some time to get used to minimalist running. Think months, rather than days. In my case, I think I'm only now beginning to reap the full benefit.

For right now, though, if you're running without pain, I'd be careful about changing anything. If you want to try something, find a nice grassy park or infield and experiment with 5-10 minutes of barefoot running. See how that feels. That's how I started and I knew immediately it was for me.

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