Physical Therapists Using Clinical Analysis To Discuss The Art And Science Behind Running and The Stuff We Put On Our Feet

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The Monday Shakeout: Can People With Flat Feet Run in Super Shoes
By Matthew Klein

In this week's Monday Shakeout, Matt answers a reader question we received about flat feet and super shoes. Can one run in them? What should I check out if I do? He also breaks down flat feet in general and some myths around arch support.


With the excitement around super shoes, people of all abilities and functions have been gravitating toward them hoping for improved performances and race times. Whether everyone should be gravitating toward them is another question. We know that some people certainly respond to these shoes, while others may not. While a variety of super racing shoes now exist, a category that was once a staple has not been filled: a super racing stability shoe.  As softer foams and higher stack heights have become the norm, we have also seen a decrease in the number of stability shoes. The stability racing category currently only has one real shoe in it (Hyperion GTS), down from the many options we used to have (DS Racer, Adidas Mana, Saucony Fastwitch, Brooks ST series). The one option is not super as it does not feature a maximal stack height, a super foam or an internal plate/stabilizing element. There is evidence behind the differences in benefits between faster and slower runners, but not types of runners or foot types. As those with flat feet are often told to wear stability shoes, can they wear super shoes?

What are Flat Feet?

Before we answer that question, we need to better define what a flat foot is. People often assume that everyone with flat feet need stability shoes, but that is not true. "Flat" mostly refers to how high your arch is. Some people do not have an arch and have what are described as "flat" arches or feet, often called "pes planus". Others may have moderate to high arches, which are often called "pes cavus." There is evidence that suggests prescribing arch support based on arch height is not valid or helpful (Knapik et al., 2014). This may be due to the fact that just because someone has a flat foot, doesn't mean it is flexible or weak. Some people naturally have lower arches but have stronger feet. Some people also have flat arches and rigid feet. Adding stability and stiffness to an already flat foot can be problematic (too stiff) while those with adequate strength and control may find a stability shoe limiting. There is some evidence that those with low arches and flexible feet may benefit from arch support, but remember arch height is a static description. Assessing dynamic motion is always a better way to determine how someone actually moves and what they might need. 

So Can People with Flat Feet Run in Super Shoes?

So there are actually two different answers to this question depending on how you ask it. For those with flat feet that need stability, there is an answer. Most of the super shoes on the market are not stable. They are typically soft, high stack height and frequently have narrow platforms. This can be challenging for those that need stability and is something I am always searching for as someone who needs at least mild stability for longer races. Two of the best super racing shoes with stable elements are the Hoka Rocket X 2 and the Saucony Endorphin Elite. The Hoka Rocket X 2 has large sidewalls and a wider midfoot that make it one of the most inherently stable super shoes out there. This has been a go to racing shoe this year and I am extremely excited to test the Hoka Cielo X1 as it shares some stable elements that I am curious to experience. The Saucony Endorphin Elite features larger full-length sidewalls, a bouncy but slightly firmer super foam and a wider midfoot that is filled in on the medial side. It also features a lower arch height, which those with stronger flat feet may like as it won't dig into their arch. A non-super but stable racing option does include the Brooks Hyperion Elite series. I have given Brooks a hard time about this shoe given the cost and non-super midsole, but it does feature a stiffer midsole and wider, more inherently stable shape. For some, this may actually be a better option given that firmer can also mean more stable.

For those with flat feet that just need a low arch that doesn't bother their foot, there is also an answer. Stability is often less of an issue here if the individual has adequate strength/control. The biggest issue is that a higher arch height can cause irritation or rubbing. The Saucony Endorphin Elite is again a great option given the lower arch height but still features guided elements. It is a top level racing shoe that avoids the often aggressive high arch found in other super shoes. The New Balance Fuelcell SC Elite v3 is another option that despite a large medial sidewall has a relatively low arch. Finally, a non-super racing option with a low arch does include the Altra Vanish Carbon. Although the foam technically isn't super, it is still a great racing shoe that features a natural foot shape with a lower arch.

A Unfulfilled Market

So the answer the original question, yes, those with flat feet may be able to run in certain super shoes if they have the adequate strength and balance to do so. Unfortunately, for those with flat feet looking for a true stability super racing shoe, non exists at this time (the closest is the Saucony Tempus but it isn't truly a super racing shoe). However, for those with mild stability needs, there are a few options on the market that might work. Again, the runner will need to test the shoe to see if their mechanics can tolerate the inherently softer foams and more aggressive platforms. Those with flat feet who do not need stability also have a few options despite most super shoes having a higher arch. Both individuals may be able to handle running in certain types of super shoes. The first group, the flexible group that needs stability, will need to ease into this shoe type due to the inherent instability. If their mechanics cannot take the shoe, it may not be appropriate. We highly suggest not just jumping into these shoes and making sure that every athlete does the necessary strength and stability work prior to and during the use of these shoes. If this shoe type is problematic, we suggest looking at other stable options like the Saucony Tempus, Hyperion GTS, Launch GTS and other lighter-weight shoes with stability elements that can still be used for running fast. We will continue to hope for at least one stability super shoe but will have to find alternatives until that day comes.

References

Knapik, J. J., Trone, D. W., Tchandja, J., & Jones, B. H. (2014). Injury-reduction effectiveness of prescribing running shoes on the basis of foot arch height: summary of military investigations. J
ournal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy44(10), 805-812.


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Can Running Shoes Reduce Injury?

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