Runners Guide To Flat Feet

Whether running is a hobby, passion or occupation, nobody wants their training to be unexpectedly interrupted by an injury. Sure, injuries may come with the territory but unfortunately, some runners may be even more prone to finding themselves limping rather than running.

All sorts of things can increase the risk of injury and, in some circumstances, flat feet are one of them. Given that up to a third of the population may have low to no arches, chances are that some of you runners out there are of the flat-footed variety

What Causes Flat Feet?

Flat feet are often hereditary and therefore you’ve had them all along. In other cases, flat feet can be the result of the connective tissue that forms the sole of the foot becoming stretched and weakened which allows the natural arch to fall, hence the term fallen arches.

The causes of fallen arches can be complex, but the most common include unsupportive footwear (make sure you check out our guide to the best running shoes for flat feet), injury through overuse, weight gain, or simply getting older. The good news is that no matter what the cause, in most cases the weakened connective tissues can be strengthened through following a foot-specific exercise routine.

Are There Different Types of Flat Feet?

Great question and as it so happens, yes there are.

You can be born with flat feet (the congenital version) or you can develop flat feet as an adult (the acquired version). Flat feet can also be either flexible (the most common form) or rigid. How do you know whether your flat foot is flexible or not?

With flexible flat feet, your arch is right where it should be while sitting but it “disappears” when you stand up and put weight on your feet. That happens because flexible flat feet only lose their arch (or get flat) when enough weight or pressure is put on them.

If your feet are flat 24/7, then you have rigid flat feet on your hands (so to speak!). Although not a substitute for a formal diagnosis, you can try this test: Go up on your tip toes, if your arch “returns”, then chances are your flat feet are flexible rather than rigid.



Some people inherit flat feet from their parents and are simply born with them. While others develop them as a result of external factors such as the following:

Bone deformity.

Improper bone development inside the womb or certain medical conditions can cause a person’s bone shape can lead to flat feet. These instances are usually described as “rigid” or “true” flat feet and often create more symptoms due to the leg mechanics being altered dramatically.

Tendon or Muscle Tightness.

Tightness in either the Achilles tendon or calf muscles can pull your foot out of alignment and cause the arches to fall.

Weight Gain.

Either due to pregnancy or fat gain, extra weight on your joints, particularly your ankles, can impact your mechanics and lead to a flat-footed posture.


As you can see from the above, many cases of flat feet come as a result of your ankle and foot mechanics changing. Injuries are another way in which you may be forced to compensate and change the posture of your feet. Over time, such changes can lead to imbalances and misalignment.

Are Flat Feet a Problem?

You’re reading this article, so it’s safe to assume that your flat feet are a problem – for you. However, it’s important to note that being told you have flat feet doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have problems as a runner… Haile Gebrselassie, twice Olympic gold medallist in the 10 000 metres and former marathon world record holder has flat feet, so you’re in good company.

The problem with flat feet is that they can make a runner more susceptible to other potentially problematic conditions, most commonly shin splints and overpronation, the latter of which can lead to pain in the ankles, knees, hips and lower back.

How To Fix Flat Feet

Okay, let’s cut to the chase: there is no quick-fix “cure” for flat feet. But, if your flat feet are making you sound like Mumble from “Happy Feet” every time you go for a run or you’re experiencing pain in your feet that’s making it difficult for you to run at all, this article will answer your questions on what causes flat feet and what you can do to help fix the problem.

How to Strengthen the Foot Arch

Foot-specific exercises can help to lift a fallen arch and thereby fix a flat foot, but only if you’re prepared to stick with the routine for a couple of months. Just like improving your running strength or speed, getting results takes time and effort.

Play Footsie:

The most important exercise to get into the habit of performing daily is any exercise that makes the muscles on the soles of your feet work. You can do this quite simply by playing some foot games. For example:

Pen pick-up

In bare feet, sit in a chair and scatter a collection of pens on the floor in front of you. Using just your toes, pick up a pen with your right foot and move it to a different area of the floor, then do the same with your left foot. Keep alternating between your right and left foot, and perhaps challenge yourself to deposit the pens into a waste bin. Even if you find it difficult to pick up a pen initially, the effort of trying is still fabulous exercise for the soles of your feet, so stick with it.

Short Foot:

The aim of this exercise is to strengthen the muscles on the soles of your feet.

  • Sitting or standing, place your feet hip width apart on the floor.
  • Place a coin directly under the ball of one foot.
  • Now, keeping the coin in place under the ball, try to slide it towards the heel of that foot.
  • The aim is to shorten the distance between the ball of your foot and your heel, keeping both in contact with the floor throughout.
  • Repeat the exercise five times with each foot.

With practice, this exercise can be done without the coin, but its purpose is to encourage you to keep the ball of your foot and heel in contact with the floor and to avoid lifting your foot by curling up your toes.

We’ve put together a handy post on the best exercises for flat feet packed full of helpful tips and tricks to help you with your recovery plan.

What About Orthotics?

Stability running shoes and orthotics can be helpful in terms of managing overpronation resulting from flat feet, but to fix flat feet, you need to exercise the muscles that have weakened and allowed the arch to fall.